Working Ranch Horse

A classic format with a ranch horse twist, writes Philip Holliday.

As the name implies, this is the ranch version of working cow horse but, inevitably, the ranch horse version asks for a little bit more. It’s probably the most exacting routine you can work with a cow horse but it’s one of those that you can’t really just have a ‘have a go’ at as, apart from anything else, it ends with roping the cow.

Working Ranch Horse

But don’t let that put you off, you only lose five points if you don’t catch the cow – there’s lots of points to be gained apart from that! The class combines the reining ability and cow sense of the horse and you will be judged on your horse’s ability, cow sense and smoothness.

There’s a lot to do and you get eight minutes to do it with a warning whistle at the six minute mark. You start by leading your horse into the ring saddled. You must then remove the bit completely from your horse’s mouth, re bridle him and then ground tie him (that’s just letting the reins hang to the ground and telling him to stand) before going around and picking up each of the horse’s feet. This has to be a quiet, well behaved horse!

Now comes the reining pattern. This will have been selected from one or two fairly basic patterns and you will be judged in the usual way for a reining class. Next the cow. This part is much the same as working cow horse but not so structured. Your first job is just to take a cow away from the herd and hold it at the prescribed end of the arena. If the cow has got any kind of spirit at all, this may involve a bit of dancing on your horse’s part but you should get to the stage where the cow realises that your boy is in charge and stops trying to get away. Hold that for 10 seconds. You then have to take the cow down the fence, making it turn at least once each way.

Working Ranch Horse

Now comes the tricky bit. All you need to do before you’re done is rope the head of the cow. For this you must have a ‘break away’ honda on your rope and although you’ll score highest if you casually unhitch your rope from its holder on your saddle, throw a couple of loops into it and then cast it for a clean catch, you won’t score a lot less if you can just get a loop over the cow’s head. A miss incurs a five point penalty so it’s not the end of the world if you don’t manage it. But if you do, the feeling of getting that far after having performed well in the rest of the class is just supreme.

Forget barrel racing, never mind cutting – if you can come out of a working ranch horse class with your held high, you’ve shown the world what a class act you and your horse are!