Reined Cow Horse 101, Part 2

Take your horse showing to a new level with this detailed look at the rein work and cow work components of reined cow horse competition.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Reined cow horse is one of the most thrilling and demanding of all performance-horse events. Combining reining, cutting and solitary cow work, the event challenges the skill of both the horse and rider.

In Part 1 of this series, we learned about the history of reined cow horse and one of its components, herd work. The second and final part of this series will detail the other two components, rein work and cow work.

Rein Work

This phase is similar to reining, as the horse is judged on precise maneuvers that include circles, sliding stops, spins and rollbacks. The National Reined Cow Horse Association has 12 approved rein work patterns. Because AQHA works closely with NRCHA, its alliance partner, the 12 AQHA working cow horse rein work patterns are identical to the 12 NRCHA rein work patterns.

Each entry works individually, and judging begins the moment the horse enters the arena and ends when the horse comes to a complete stop.

The best reined cow horse is easily guided on a loose rein and is controlled with little or no apparent resistance. A horse that exhibits bad manners is penalized, and all deviations from the exact pattern are considered a loss of control.

Credit is given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority of performing the pattern’s various maneuvers while using controlled speed, which raises the difficulty level and makes the horse more exciting and pleasing to watch.

Interested in cattle events? Purchase AQHA’s “Working Cow Horse” DVD to learn more about this exciting cow-working event.

Penalties, between one-half and five points, are assessed for:

    • Over or under spinning
    • Jogging
    • On the wrong lead
    • Slipping a rein
    • Anticipating moves (scotching)
    • Failure to run by marker before stop is initiated
    • Freezing up in a turn or rollback
    • Breaking gait
    • Spurring or hitting in front of cinch
    • Blatant disobedience such as kicking, biting, bucking, rearing and striking

A no score is given for:

    • Failure to complete pattern as given
    • Using two hands on the reins in a bridle or two-rein class
    • Horse balking
    • Leaving the work area before pattern is complete
    • Fall of horse or rider
    • Backing more than two strides when backing is not called for
    • Jogging in excess of one-half circle or one-half length of the arena

Cow Work

The climactic cow work is the most thrilling of the three events. It demonstrates the ability of the horse and rider to control the movements of a cow down the fence and in the center of the arena.

For this class, the horse is expected to be alert and attuned to every movement of the cow and should appear to be working almost on its own.

The cow work begins with a horse “boxing” the cow, in which the contestant holds the cow on the prescribed end of the arena for a sufficient time to demonstrate the ability of the horse to contain the cow.

The rider and horse then take the cow down the length of the arena along the rail, making at least one turn each way. The horse should appear to control the cow’s movement rather than simply galloping in pursuit of it. When making turns, the horse holds the cow to the fence, keeping it from running to the center of the arena. During the turn, the horse uses himself in a controlled athletic manner, using his hocks to stop and drive out of the turn, while using his front end to balance and run.

The final portion of the cow work is called “circling up.” The contestant works quickly and efficiently to drive the cow toward the inside of the arena and into a full circle one way and another full circle in the other direction. The circle’s size, symmetry, speed and relative balance from right and left are controlled. The circles should be completed before the cow is exhausted.

The greater difficulty of the performance, the more credit is given. The difficulty might be due to the extreme speed or stubbornness of the cow, or the cow’s reluctance to move down the fence when sufficiently driven by the contestant. The most controlled cow work with the uppermost degree of difficulty is usually marked the highest.

Penalties, between one and five points, are assessed for:

    • Loss of working advantage
    • Using the corner or the end of the arena to turn a cow
    • Changing sides of arena to turn cow
    • Horse running past cow
    • Slipping a rein
    • Turning cow before passing middle marker on first turn
    • Going around the corner of the arena before turning the cow
    • Biting or striking cow
    • Exhausting or overworking cow before circling
    • Hanging up on the fence (refusing to turn)
    • Knocking down the cow
    • Not getting one turn each way
    • Spurring in front of cinch

Curious about the difference between reined cow horse and other cattle events? Purchase AQHA’s “Working Cow Horse” DVD to discover another thrilling cow-working event.

A no score is given for:

    • Turning tail
    • Using two hands on the reins in a bridle or two-rein class
    • Fingers between the reins in a bridle class, except the two-rein class
    • Balking
    • Horse out of control or running over cow
    • Leaving the work area before work is complete
    • Fall of horse or rider
    • Schooling of the horse between the rein and cow work when the cow work immediately follows rein work

Not for the Fainthearted

For beginning reined cow horse competitors, NRCHA offers limited classes - non-pro limited for adults and youth limited for riders 18 and younger. AQHA’s counterpart to these classes is called boxing. In NRCHA limited or AQHA boxing classes, the horse and rider first perform the rein work pattern, then perform cow work, where the horse “boxes” the cow for 50 seconds. During this cow work, the contestant and horse demonstrate their ability to contain the cow, building essential skills to one day move up to going down the fence.

It’s understandable why the reined cow horse event is not a piece of cake. Not only is it tough, fast-paced competition, but it also takes plenty of patience and training to perfect the athletic prowess of these horses. But in the end, the event is a breath-taking experience, for both the spectator and the exhibitor.