The scene at the Washington International Horse Show will change for the first event tonight and Saturday night. Gone will be the white jumps and the greenery. The only props to remain will be cattle.

The performers and their riders will be different, too. No smooth English tack, hard hats and jodhpurs. Riders will be in tooled western saddles and wearing cowboy hats and chaps.

Opening the next two nights will be the only western class in the International, cutting. The event gets its name from the practical purpose of the performance, removing a calf designated by the rider from a herd of cattle and cutting it off when it tries to return to the herd.

A good cutter must have athletic ability and an inherent ability to anticipate which way the calf is going to try to go.

Once the calf is picked up, the rider's principal job is simply to stay aboard and let the horse go its own way. In fact, a horse loses some of its maximum 80 points per judge in a show if the rider is detected giving obvious cues, such as reining or spurring.

Cutting has become a major competitive event throughout the country, with 6,600 horses competing this year, according to the National Cutting Horse Association in Fort Worth.

Some of the nation's best horses are entered here. Two of the top money winners so far this year are here. Hey Lil Sis, ridden by Bob Bouget of Branch, La., was ranked 10th, and Lemac Goodbar, ridden by Don Munn of Wichita Falls, Tex. was 13th, according to NCHA records through Oct. 8.

Winners of preliminaries today at Columbia Horse Center will compete at 7:30 tonight for the nonpro championship and Saturday night for the open championship.