Cattle & Ranch Horse – two divisions
When you introduce a horse to a cow, that’s when you start to live. Cattle & Ranch Horse is actually two different divisions on the Western Riding competition circuit and Ranch Horse is the more recent addition. Such cattle events as Cutting, Working Cow Horse, Team Penning and Solo Penning have been around for a lot, lot longer. And in the context of the genesis of western riding competition, you can understand why. It’s what cowboys did for fun on their days off
But no matter whether it’s cattle or ranch, it’s the best fun you can have with your boots on.
Of course, the grand daddy of them all is Cutting and, once again, you will find a multi-million dollar sport behind that in the USA. However, many find Working Cow Horse provides a bit more action and, once a horse has got “cow sense”, it can just as easily do either.
But it’s in the team events such as Team Penning (another class that’s huge internationally), Team Sorting and Team Trail that the novice cattle horse can acquire the confidence to tackle the solo cattle classes. And if you have the opportunity to bring your horse up working with cattle, he will naturally develop all the characteristics we look for in a versatile horse. But, especially in England, we don’t all have that kind of access.
The tendency in the UK is to develop the horse through the Western Games and Show Classes. You then take up Cattle & Ranch Horse as the icing on the cake when everything else is in place. But beware. Once you and your horse have worked with cows, you will never be the same again. It’s like a drug and whenever you enter a competition with Cattle & Ranch Horse events on the schedule, you will be waiting for your fix just like a drug addict!
Cow sense – the key to a good Cattle & Ranch Horse
The key to a good Cattle & Ranch Horse is “cow sense”. In the arena, it’s important to let your horse size the herd up before you ask it to work. We all know our beloveds have a 6th sense but cows do too.
There’s no question that a good cow horse approaching a herd will be getting their attention the minute he walks into the ring with them. The cow horse commands them straight away and you must spot the ones that haven’t noticed your horse. Ignore them because they haven’t got the sense to realise that their life is about to get complicated. Because you really are looking for a cow that’s going to enter into the spirit of things with your horse and let the judge and an admiring audience see what a downright master of all things horned and four legged is the horse you have under you.
All depending on the job at hand…
Much depends, then, on what you’re about. If it’s a Cutting contest, you are looking for the cow that’s lively enough to enjoy a bit of cat and mouse. A cow doesn’t always realise that it’s the “mouse” but it doesn’t matter as long as it has the spirit not just to accept the situation. They are the ones that didn’t even look up at your horse as you approached and are the ones that couldn’t care less. Ignore them.
After that, you’re looking for a cow that’s not going to be so nifty as to beat your horse. In a cutting contest, you can do that by watching the action before it’s your go-round. If you plan it right, you take a go as a turnback before you go in for a cut. This is your chance to match your horse against a prospect before you do it in anger. After that, it’s just a matter of recognition because cows aren’t numbered in a cutting contest. Was it the one with the curls on his face or the one with the s**t on its bum….?
Working Cow Horse
With Working Cow Horse, you don’t get to select your cow. The judge picks it after you’ve completed your “dry work” (a simple reining pattern). You’ve now got to sum up your cow right smartish. You’ve only got 2 ½ minutes to show your horse in this section of the class and just sitting there staring at the cow while it stares balefully back at you isn’t going to get you off to a good start with the judge. So you have to read your cow on the hoof; so to speak (sorry – couldn’t resist that!)
The spectacle of a fully trained horse working a cow is such that the inclination is to go at it hard and fast from the start. However, the “spectacle” is the result of hours and hours of quiet work to produce a horse that knows his cows and what’s needed of him according to what the cow is doing. It takes time and trouble but sitting a horse that’s got cow sense and being able to leave him to get on with it is what it’s all about. You’ve got the best seat in the house and there isn’t a better feeling in the World.
Unless your horse was born and brought up on a working ranch, leave Ranch Horse competition until he’s proficient in the traditional Show and Cattle classes. Western Games don’t feature in Ranch Horse competition but, otherwise, Ranch Horse classes come from the traditional western riding competition classes. They are given a working horse twist.and it usually means that your horse must show a bit more versatility. For example, Ranch Trail has a few more tasks such as a log pull that have more to do with ranch work than a series of pole step overs in a show ring.