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Working Cow Horse
Reining Cow Horse

Working cow horse also known as reined cow horse is a form of competition very similar to reining, cutting, team penning and ranch sorting. In the 18th century, before working cow horse became a sport, ranchers in California developed a training system to teach their horses how to intimidate an individual cow, separating it from the herd for branding and other handling with ease. The cows in California were known for being half-wild and dangerous. The roots of the methods used are in European dressage. These California horses were so sensitive to the signals given by the cowboys that they were nicknamed “hair-trigger” or “whisper” reined horses. At the time it took up to seven years to fully train a finished reining horse. The first three to four years were on training the basics using a bosal Hackamore. After the horse mastered his basics in the bosal hackamore he would go a year with the bosal and the high-ported spade bit. That way the horse could learn how to carry the bit. After that the horse would spend several years refining his techniques in the spade bit until he was considered “made”. In the 19th century during the gold rush a large amount of cattle ranches dissolved and the remaining ranches started to use more modern farming techniques. By the 20th century the reining cow horse went from being a necessity to a luxury. On October 30, 1949 the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) was established as a non-profit organization in the state of California.


There are three parts to working cow horse competition. The horse and rider are judged on their performance in a reigning pattern, herd work and fence work. Horses are judged on their accuracy, timing and responsiveness as they cut a cow from a herd quickly, quietly.

During a 2 ˝ minute time period a rider must quietly walk into a herd and separate one cow, work that cow from side to side preventing it from returning to the herd. Up to three cows can be worked within the time given but all one at a time. The rider then must run a reining pattern including loping big past circles and small slow circles on each lead, rundowns with siding stops, spins in each direction, lead changes in each direction and backing up. They must also do fence work with one cow. This demonstrates their ability to control the cow on the short end of the arena from side to side and they must allow the cow to run down the long side of the fence, cut it off forcing the cow to turn in the other direction. Then they must take the cow into the center of the arena moving it in small circles in both directions.


Working Cow Horse Breeds

Quarter horses are normally the breeds used for this event because they often have a natural cow sense since they are the common horse found on ranches. Other breeds such as Morgans, paints, Appaloosas and Arabians are competed with as well.


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