Team Penning

Team Penning
Team Penning – worldwide appeal

Team Penning is another hugely popular event – worldwide. Inevitably it has its own association in America where the United States Team Penning Association provides a specialist organisation. Together with Canada, there are reckoned to be about 93,000 team penners in North America. It’s also very popular in Europe. There, the French Working Horse Association organises World Championships in the sport. you don’t have to look far to understand its popularity. The competition is fast moving and the consequences of poor teamwork or inept horsemanship are an unseemly tangle of horses and cattle. A moment’s mistake gets cows everywhere with horses hot on their heels.

The fundamental nature of this class is teamwork and there’s something to do for everyone. Indeed, it can get a bit out of order if everyone in the team wants to do the cutting. We watched amused one time when a “dream team” assembled itself consisting of three of the best cutting horses in England. The riders hadn’t actually worked together as a team before and onlookers held their breath in anticipation of a master class in the art of team penning.  What they got was a hectic display of cows and horses running in all directions as the team piled as one into the herd and spread it all over the arena in seconds flat!

The wonderful thing about cows

Because the wonderful thing about cows is that they are just as much up for a bit of sport as the horse and rider. The rules specify that the herd should not be of mature cows. That’s because old ‘uns are usually more interested in standing and chewing their cud. But, obviously, they should’t be too young either. Yearlings or thereabouts are just about right. They are young enough to enjoy a bit of mischief but not so young as to be at risk.

The size of the herd needs to be big enough to provide enough cows to generate a strong herd instinct. But, for team penning, the herd mustn’t be so big as to be unmanageable within the confines of the arena. The cows are numbered prominently enough to be able to see their numbers from the back of a horse. This also helps the judge and spectators to know that the right cows are being worked!

Stuart Powell & Storm

Stuart Powell & Storm


The Team Penning rule

Worldwide, there are dozens of team penning associations and each has its own variations on a general theme as regards rules. the following is therefore a general indication of the average.

The objective of team penning is that within a 2 ½ minute time limit, a team of three competitors must cut three designated cows from the herd and pen them. Regardless of the size of the arena, the dimensions in the diagram (below) must be followed. Markers at either side of the arena indicate the start line.

As each team must work with three head of cattle and leave a substantial herd, its best that this class is only held where a good size herd of cattle is available. The cows are individually numbered. Each team is told on the start line the three numbers they have drawn. The judge ensures that each team has no three cows the same as another team.

Time limit

The contest is timed with a maximum time limit of  2 ½ minutes. The judge acts as starter and the team is on the pen side of the start line. The time starts when the nose of the first horse crosses the line. The team then cuts its three allocated cows. The cut cows are driven to the pen and penned. 

The clock stops when all three cows are in the pen and the nose of the first horse enters the opening of the pen. At that stage, that rider can call time. However, the clock continues running until any fourth unwanted cow is on the cattle side of the start line. If it’s still there when the clock stops, the team will be disqualified. 

The judge gives a thirty second warning before the 2 ½  minute time limit. A team can call for time with only one or two designated cattle penned. However all un-penned cattle must be on the cattle side of the start line, or the clock will continue as previously described. Teams penning three cattle place higher than two, and two place higher than one, regardless of time.

All three competitors must be on the pen side of the start line when time is called. Failure to be in this position causes disqualification. A team calling time with any wrong cattle in the pen is disqualified.

The herd must be settled for the same length of time for each team.

Team Penning Setup