Working Ranch Horses: Training Tips

Working Ranch Horses: Training Tips

Cowboy Tripp Townsend shares 10 secrets to take a ranch horse from green to broke.

Tripp Townsend and Sixes Sixgun cut a cow on Crofoot Ranch (Credit: Journal)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Lindsay Keller with Tara Matsler

A good ranch horse is hard to come by, but Tripp Townsend of Earth, Texas, says if and when possible, taking a few steps to adequately prepare a green horse for his first day on the job can go a long way for the horse and cowboy’s safety. Tripp focuses on training the ranch horse to handle a rope, and by going slow, he avoids “baptism by fire” learning experiences.

  1. Begin broke. The more broke a horse is before you start using it for ranch work, the better, says Tripp.
  2. Introduce the rope. Tripp desensitizes green horses to a rope in the round pen. He gets them comfortable with the rope swinging at all gaits.
  3. Teach them to take a pull. Before a live cow is introduced, Tripp attaches his rope to a railroad tie or large log to simulate the cow. He pulls the log forward and backward so the horse learns how to handle the weight and pressure from both directions.
  4. Use a mechanical steer. Mechanical steer dummies pulled by all-terrain vehicles are another way to teach a green horse how to track a “cow” and get used to the rope.
  5. Tracking. Once the horse is comfortable with the rope, Tripp brings a lead steer (a slower cow) to the round pen to teach the horse to track a live animal. All he wants is for the horse to be following the cow on its own accord without the rider having to guide it.
  6. Start swinging. While tracking the steer, Tripp swings his rope. But if the rope distracts the horse from the cow, Tripp goes back to just tracking until the horse is focused in on the cow again.
  7. Breakaway. For the horse’s first roping experience, Tripp uses a rope with a breakaway honda, designed to break and come off the cow’s head when the rope comes tight. This way, the horse gets used to having the rope thrown, yet doesn’t have to feel the weight of the cow on the end of the line.
  8. Add a stop. Once the horse is comfortable tracking and catching the lead steer, Tripp ropes without a breakaway honda and lets the horse understand what it is like to stop and pull a cow.
  9. The buddy system. Once comfortable with roping in a contained environment, Tripp loads up the horse and takes him to the pasture. Tripp takes along someone else on a seasoned ranch horse. This helps ensure his green horse’s first day on the job will be a smooth (and safe) one. Training a green horse for ranch work takes time. A good first experience will go a long way to molding a dependable partner.
  10. Don’t skip corners. Most good cowboy wreck stories start something like, “Well, I was riding this colt and I had never roped on him before ... ” You can get by skipping some or all of the above steps, but if you cowboy for very long, cutting corners will eventually bite you, Tripp warns. And, being a working cowboy is not too fun and maybe not even possible if you are hurt.


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