Don't Have a Cow

Don't Have a Cow

There are other ways to train a cow horse or cutting horse when cattle aren’t available.

Dan Roeser, riding a chestnut horse, boxes a black cow (Credit: Tara Matsler)

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"Journal, The American Quarter Horse Journal" logo

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

No cow? No problem, says reined cow horse trainer Dan Roeser. The Marsing, Idaho, trainer has methods that don’t use cattle when working his cow horses, whether he’s training a green youngster or maintaining a seasoned pro. He told the Journal how riders can incorporate these techniques into their programs.

1. Circling Backwards

Even when I have cattle, I still back my horse in circles to prepare him to work a cow. By doing this, you can pick the horse’s shoulders up and have him step the way that you want.

I’m a big believer in making a horse’s footwork really solid, and this really helps with that. It teaches the horse to move his front end over and shift his hind end just a little bit so he is ready to turn off of it. The more a horse knows where he is going to put his feet, the more confident he is.

When you back a horse in circles, you have him step back with his inside front leg and lift his shoulders up and over. You want him to move his hind end just enough to where he takes his inside hind leg, picks it up and moves it in position to pivot off of it. When he is set up, you easily let him turn out of it.

You back around in a circle three or four strides and then just let the horse turn out of it like he was making a move with a cow. The move doesn’t have to be a big leap as if there was really a cow there. It can be very soft.

So what you want to do is just back, back, back, release.

In this article, AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning shares his step-by-step process for the back-around drill.

The back-around drill, as demonstrated by Al Dunning. (Credit: Journal)

2. Using a Flag

Another thing I do a lot is use a flag, but I don’t have my horse jumping around with it.

Instead, I want him to see the flag, chase it across the fence, stop, rock back maybe two or three strides and turn out like he does when he is backing in a circle. I use the flag as a confidence builder for cow horses.

I think that the flag is really, really great for footwork but not good for making a horse cowy, because a flag can’t show expression.

3. Working a Person

To make a horse cowy, I use a person on foot because he can show some expression like a cow. This is a tremendous advantage, especially if the person on the ground knows what you’re trying to accomplish.

The thing about working a person on the ground is that person can do whatever it is that you want them to do. If there is something your horse needs to work on, you can have that person do the thing your horse has a problem with over and over again.

For example, you can have the person go off on one end and stop so your horse has to wait on that end. Or if your horse is blowing through big turns and losing contact with the cow, you can have the person start turning and then make one step back so the horse leans to stay hooked up.

If the horse wants to leap ahead a little bit when working a cow, the person on the ground can step toward the horse to help drive the horse back on its hocks. This is kind of a footwork exercise because it’s the same as you’re doing when backing in circles. You’re moving the horse’s hips just a little bit to where he’s giving ground and turning.

To make a horse sharper and a little cowier, you can have the person on the ground fake some of his moves instead of taking one step back like he’s turning and then turn back into the horse.

Another good thing is to work a person on the ground right before you show. I try not to ever make somebody work on the ground more than just a couple of minutes.


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