Western Riding originated in America where much of what happens in the competition arena originated in contests between cowboys on their days off; showing what a good working cow horse could do when it was put through its paces. Thus, the essential quality of a western horse must be to work with cows: cutting a single cow out of the herd (and keeping it from rejoining its mates), penning a cow, sorting cows from one herd to another and driving them.
Cow Horse Characteristics
It’s the characteristics of a good cow horse that generate the qualities we look for in western riding competition You need a quiet and responsive horse to work in a herd of cows and you can trace any of the Showing Classes back to this need for a gentle and patient attitude.
But the same horse must also be able to jump instantly into action to deal with an errant cow. You can’t underestimate the sheer speed of a young steer (especially without the burden of a rider on its back). The herd instinct in cattle is incredibly strong. Take any cow away from its herd, and it jinks, ducks and dives as though its life depends on it. All it wants to do is get back to its mates in the herd. For a cow horse to deal with that, it has to be able to jink and duck and dive just as much as the cow. And those qualities are then seen in Western Games.
A cow horse is an athlete par excellence. Whether it be Cutting Horse, Working Cow Horse, Team Penning or Solo Penning you see all the qualities mentioned above. And in a competitive spell that lasts no more than 3 minutes. In these classes, you will see the cow horse working quietly in and around the herd. The explosion into action happens only if a situation calls for it. After that, horse has to come down in the blink of an eye from concentrated, intense acceleration, jinking, stopping and starting. It must become just another calm and collected presence in the herd. It’s awe inspiring. Mounted on a cow horse at such times is one of the most intensely exciting horseback experiences. Give it a try!