angle-left Turning a Cow Horse into a Rope Horse

Turning a Cow Horse into a Rope Horse

How to set the foundation when turning a cow horse into a rope horse with help from AQHA Professional Horseman Les Oswald.

rope horse breaking from box (Credit: Journal)

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There is a knack to turning out good rope horses, be it for roping competition or work around the ranch. Paying a lot of roping dues through the years has positioned AQHA Professional Horseman Les Oswald at the top of that game.

Cow horses make great roping prospects, Les says. Having a broke cow horse to start with is a helpful asset when adding a fourth dimension, the rope. But don’t think the addition is a slam-dunk. 

Time Well Spent

Transitioning from the performance pen to the roping arena varies with the individual:

  • Assess the horse’s guide-ability. “(We receive a few horses) that you can barely lope in a circle,” Les says. “People want us to rope a steer, but I don’t know where that steer is going when it leaves the box and I have to be able to guide the horse until he figures out that pattern.”
  • Get them comfortable tracking something around where they don’t have to think about stopping. Once they’ve learned to follow well, try to heel on them for a week or two. 
  • Mitigate quick and catty behavior by heading on slow steers or practicing everything at a walk. Too much anticipation from the horse to stop a cow isn’t always productive.
  • Teach them to break flat out of the box. Les spends plenty of time in slow mode, making sure his horses are leaving the box and running flat instead of elevating their front ends. 
  • Build the horse’s confidence by using a breakaway rope. “I use a breakaway when I first start so a steer never turns and looks at us, which keeps the horse from getting scared at the end of that stop,” Les says. 

Boxed In

Asking a show horse to stand relaxed, yet alert, in a roping box can be asking a lot. With cattle banging the chute, metal doors slamming and other distractions, it is not uncommon for horses to become unsettled and fidgety.

  • Walk a lot of circles in the box to help calm nerves. Try turning the horse away from the cow when in the box. If the horse continues being nervous, I’ll make it turn toward the cow so it can see the cow. 
  • Stop, stand and relax. Once quiet, back the horse into the corner, never letting his feet stop moving until his rump is completely in the box corner. 
  • Keep their attention. Les holds his reins and rope as if he is ready to break, run and rope a steer. Les doesn’t give the horse any clues whether he’ll be standing or chasing a steer. When Les releases his hand, he wants the horse to break flat and go.