1 Point Reining Penalties

1 Point Reining Penalties

The NRCHA uses the NRHA penalty system with an exception for the “scotch” on the approach to the stop. The NRCHA has this penalty, but the NRHA doesn’t.

Horses are required to be on the correct lead throughout the circle maneuvers.

Circles are divided into 4 equal quadrants. For each quarter circle a horse is out of lead, it is a 1-point penalty.

The tricky part is that the “quadrant” starts where the horse is out of lead (either by missing a change or falling out of lead). So, it’s critical to know exactly where the horse was out of lead and whether it’s for 1 stride or 1 quarter circle, it’s a 1-point penalty.

If a horse goes further than ¼ circle, it’s another 1-point deduction for each quarter circle. In the small slow circles, the quarter circle is small and the number of strides will be less to get a 1 pt penalty.

If a horse missed a lead for ¾ of the circle, it would be recorded as a penalty “3”, versus one that fell in and out of lead 3 times which would be a penalty 1,1,1.

The hardest 1-point penalty is when a horse falls out of lead for only 1 stride. It happens so fast, that it is commonly missed.

Being a few strides early or late on a lead change is also a 1-point penalty. Leads must be changed cleanly in within a stride or 2 of the center for credit. If you’re not certain if they’re too early or a bit late, just come down on the maneuver score.

The scotch can be another tricky one. There is seldom a “yahtzee” on scotches. A “Yahtzee” is when everyone makes the same call. For the scotch penalty, the horse must assume the stopping position and has to be asked to continue forward to the stopping area. When a horse anticipates the stop, but doesn’t achieve the position, it bring the maneuver score down, but isn’t a penalty. The scotch should be obvious, otherwise average the poor approach with the actual stop for the maneuver score.

Over or under spinning 1/8-1/4 is a 1 point penalty also. It can depend on where the judge is sitting, whether it is called or not. Consistency is what’s important with the 1-point penalties and they are very meaningful in how the horses place.

The last one is slipping the rein. That means that 1 rein is being held shorter than the other. If the horse’s head is exaggeratedly tipped to the inside of the circle or spin, the judge should look for the telltale “bubble” in the reins. If you don’t see an obvious one, don’t take the penalty.

It’s important not to get negatively biased and hunting for penalties. If they jump out at you, record them, then decide how much it should affect (or not) the maneuver score.

Consistency and fairness are what makes a really good judge and that requires lots of focus!




Rating is probably the least understood and undervalued part of run content in a fence work, yet besides position and control, could be the most important. Rating is a skill that both horse and the rider can and must develop. It is crucial in steer stopping, cutting, going down the fence, boxing, as well as in our newest box/drive class.

Rating is when the horse eases into position, then adjusts his speed to match that of the cow, enabling the rider to throw his rope or squeeze him forward to stop a cow on the fence or stop him as he moves across the pen. Horses and people that can read a cow have a definite advantage over those who can’t, but it can be learned.

Cattle signal acknowledgement of the horse being in a position to control and dictate to them usually by dropping their head slightly indicating that they are getting ready to “set up” and turn. They can also roll an eye or flick an ear. If we are in good position rating along beside a cow, then increase our speed just a bit, all the while, watching the cows head, we’ll see that tiny signal just before they stop and turn. When we see them start to “set up”, if we drop down into the saddle as an additional cue to our horse, it also prepares us to stay in balance as our horse stops on his hind end to turn.

On the fence, rating starts when the horse is leaving the corner and continues until the rider is ready to circle. Good rating both up and back are crucial to receiving full credit in the rate box and important to a high scoring fence run. If a horse doesn’t rate well, it’s difficult to nail the turns and receive full credit there too. In the box/drive class, this is one of the most difficult skills to learn and has a box of its own for both directions that you go. If the cow slows down, the rider must also and not go by it in the box/drive class.  I liken it to merging from an onramp into traffic on the highway, as you ease your way into the flow of the traffic. We also need to rate our cow when circling and the same cow-signals apply so we don’t overshoot.

Rating a cow in the herd work is similar because you’re moving into position to get the cow to stop and turn without overshooting it. Same as when you move across the arena while boxing. The more you focus on their head and as you see them start to set up, drop down into your seat, the more successful you’ll be in helping your horse get to the bottom of the stop before initiating the turn. This will help you get in sync with your horse and cow and achieve a rhythm in your run that is very pleasing to watch and increases your control of the animal.

In steer stopping, the horse leaves the box and goes right to the position of control just off the steer’s left flank. He should stay there and not run up on the steer for as long as it takes until the rider throws his rope and signals the horse to stop. If the horse doesn’t rate well, the rider has to throw from the awkward position of being too far behind or up too far on the steer. Even if he successfully catches, there will be no credit for rate.

Start watching cattle and learn to recognize when they are starting to set up. Watch the rider’s body as they sink down into the saddle to encourage the stop and help them stay balanced in the turn. When the horse rates well, it will never miss a beat and thus eye appeal and position and control all go up. It’s a skill worth working on and will increase your odds of winning!

Let me know what you observe as you start watching for these things.


Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part Three

Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part Three

During the run down the fence, if your cow tries to come off it and you are right there, it probably won’t try again. Whatever a cow gets away with once, it will usually try again.

Also try to make the first run down a long one to give you plenty of time to set up your second turn lest you end up with a penalty by not catching it before the corner. It will also take more air out of the beast and show off your ability to rate.

Often the cow forces the rider to have to loop it. After the first turn, if the cow comes off the fence at more than a 30* angle, I’d consider this option though it doesn’t increase the degree of difficulty or your control of the cow, it does usually set you up for a better second turn.

As long as there’s no separation (loss of control), the loop is seldom a penalty. (See the illustration below. The horse is the brown arrow and the cow is the black blob. Please excuse my lack of artistic technique.)

Depending on the speed of the cow, it’s usually a good idea to take a 3rd turn. That sets you up to circle in the middle of the arena which is where we’re supposed to circle anyway and makes it easier to stay away from the out gate and the arena walls.

Bovine psychology dictates that it’s easier to control a cow the further they are from the herd and the gate that brought them into the arena in the first place! Be sure to get all the way up to where your horse’s nose is on the cow’s ear before you start making them circle lest they lean back into you making either or both of you fall down.

Then, be sure to circle the first way at least 360* before you switch sides, always being sure to change while the cow is heading towards the center of the arena and not the side wall.

If you lose one while switching sides, not only is it a 1 pt penalty, but it can be very difficult to get them off the wall again when they are tired. Then, it’s just a matter of circling going the other way before you hear the wonderful sound of the judge’s whistle blowing!


Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part Two

Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part Two

Position and control are the most important elements in a cow horse event. You want to be the mirror image while working.

If you draw a wild one you are in the right place at the right time trying to control it, and the cow doesn’t honor you, you should be awarded a new one. If you’re not, then the judge shouldn’t blow the whistle even if it runs right by you.

If there’s no new cow, the show must go on and it’s your job to try to work with what you’ve got. It’s the “luck of the draw”.

Whatever you train your cow to do while you’re boxing is how it will respond going down the fence. If you get it stopped and controlled while boxing then there’s a good chance it will honor you when you step in front of it to turn it going down the fence.

When it’s time to leave, I like to be around the middle of the short wall giving myself enough time to start driving the cow and get in sync with it as it approaches the corner.

I put my horse’s nose right in the cow’s flank. The pictures below show Lyn Anderson in perfect position to drive the cow through the corner and leave just right. (see below)

Getting through the corner is a very important part of the run. If you’re too far behind, it might come off the fence and circle you back to the short wall. That’s very expensive in terms of your score.

If you get too far ahead, you will turn the cow back too soon. But if you leave just right, there’s a really good chance to have an excellent run.

This is not only because you’re right there rating it, but the cow knows you’ve got him in your crosshairs and is less apt to throw you a curve ball.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how fast a cow will run once it’s lined out. They fib to us a lot. Some of the ones you could barely get to move while boxing, run down the fence like their hair is on fire and visa versa.

You want to keep steady pressure on the cow so it smoothly lopes through the corner and lines out down the fence. You don’t want to give it any options. This is not a democracy. You want to put the cow right where you want it.

If you can leave right with the cow, you won’t have to run to catch up, and you’ll be able to rate it down the fence choosing where you want to turn it.

Should you draw a cow with a sensitive set of brakes ie it stops while you’re boxing before you even get to its head, be prepared for it to want to turn when you’ve barely gotten up beside it and same when you circle. It’s really easy to overshoot that kind.

Some horses like to drop their shoulder on the cow side (lean towards it). When that happens, the cow won’t want to turn because it can’t see any place to go but forward, and around the corner you go!

If your cow needs to catch another gear, you can drop back just a bit and putting your horse’s nose towards it’s flank, you can drive it faster.

Fast or slow, accurate rating is very important for control and a good score. When you rate well, you can make your move and sneak past the cow going only 1 or 2 mph more and assure yourself a better turn than if you were playing catch-up and passed it going 5 or 10 mph faster.

Judges never like to see separation between the cow and the horse, that’s what control is all about.


Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part Two

Making Bad Cows Good Down the Fence Part 1

In a reined Cowhorse contest or a cutting, the cattle are the most important single factor.

In the cutting at least you get to choose, so you only have yourself to blame if you pick poorly.

In the reined Cowhorse contest, you don’t know what you’ve got until it walks through the gate. It might be a Ferrari in overdrive or a gutless four cylinder.

It pays to do your homework watching the herd work portion of an aged event, as you might recognize your beast as it makes its entrance for the boxing or fence, but that’s not always a realistic strategy.

If you’re at a weekend show, the best you can do is watch the classes ahead of yours for characteristics that run through the herd. Watching the open class might make you queasy thinking of all the not-so-good things that could happen to you, but you’ll learn a lot about the cattle that day.

Knowledge is power and armed with it will help you make better decisions. Usually, the cattle have come from the same ranch, are the same breed and have had the same handling and feed, but every cow is an individual.

You’ll get the whole spectrum of personalities over the course of the day, but things like hot weather, drawing late in the afternoon, the ground, or being first or last in your set can have a big influence on the cattle.

How you handle the cow you draw can make a bad one good or a good one bad.

All the studying and preparation that you’ve done may go right out the window when they let your cow in as there’s always a few renegades, but your percentages of that happening are low.

If you do get a wild one, plan on being more defensive immediately. Approach it slowly with caution and when you make any turns don’t allow your horse to move towards it. Give it an opportunity to settle before you get into its bubble.

If it just runs fence to fence, it probably won’t get much better, so get started down the fence as soon as you’ve taken enough of the edge off.

If you draw a slower cow, prepare to be more aggressive stepping right up to it and make some noise if you have to.

Whatever you do, don’t bore the judge on one like that.

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts before I write the next 2 installments on this topic!