Blanketing Considerations

Blanketing Considerations

It’s blanketing time of year and there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to blankets. Here are a few to ensure your horse stays warm and comfortable:

1- Is your horse turned out or kept in a barn? If he’s turned out, you’ll need a more durable canvas blanket especially if he is out with his buddies. It should also be waterproof as horses given their choice of being in or out, normally choose out, even if the weather is terrible. Also, whether they are in or out, pay attention to the temperature. If they sweat under a blanket, not only does the salt take a toll on their coat, but a damp blanket from sweat as the evening cools, can cause them to get chilled. If you have a high denier count and it’s waterproof, it probably won’t breathe well so be sure to take it off during warm days.

2- If you have stickers or even shavings, a fleece lined blanket can be literally a pain as everything will embed itself into the fleece. It might be better to go with a canvas or nylon lining, though “loft” can help trap warm air and keep them more comfortable.

3- A good-fitting blanket is very important. Don’t just use a previous horse’s blanket who was about the same size. If it’s too big, it’ll ride too far back and rub the horses withers on top, or hang way low on their chest in front. If it’s too small, they’ll rub the hair off in front of their shoulders. Most well-known blanket manufacturers use a good cut so their blankets fit most horses well. My experience with cheaper blankets was usually a poor fit in the front.

4- Do you want to be able to take it off over their head and be able to adjust it in the front? That’s a nice option, just be sure to get one that has an easy to adjust front, so after a few weeks, it isn’t welded shut, but not so easy that it comes undone while they’re out playing.

5- Are you going to use a hood for the winter? If so, be sure your blanket has 3 D-rings to attach it to or the hood will wiggle around all the time and probably rub their mane out.

6- Layers- I always preferred a sheet during the day and a blanket over the top of that at night. It cut down on chore time and kept them comfortable at most temperatures.

7- Do you use lights? This might need to be addressed in its own article, but keep in mind that when you keep a horse under lights their hair stays nice and slick, so they can no longer keep themselves warm enough. The same goes for horses that have been clipped. The more hair removed, the more blanket fill to consider using to compensate.

8- Forage – If the temperatures drop below the horse’s 41-degree thermoneutral zone, they will be using more energy to stay warm. This means, their normal calorie intake may not be enough and extra forage can help them maintain their body temperature. Plus, eating and digesting food creates heat.

9- Acclimation – Have you recently moved from the previous winter?  Maybe you’ve moved someplace colder than the prior year and your horse needs to adapt to its new environment.  A blanket can help them acclimate to the new climate.

10- And let’s not forget “sleezies”. They’re great, except for the poor folks who have to put them on and take the off! There’s a pretty good learning curve with sleezies.

Signs Your Horse is Too Hot
• Sweating – this can be under the blanket, along the neck, or behind the ears
• Heavy breathing
• Change in behavior – could be more lethargic or restless
• Rubbing the blanket to try and remove it

Signs Your Horse is Too Cold
• Shivering
• Tucked up tail to try and keep warm
• Seeking shelter or huddling up with other horses
• Change in behavior like pacing to try and warm-up
• Weight Loss – typically a more long-term sign that they’re too cold

A quick trick to check if your horse is comfortable is to place your hand under their blanket near their withers. Does it feel cool or too warm?  If so, you can adjust your blanketing needs accordingly.

Those are my basic considerations when it comes to blanketing. It’s so nice when a horse doesn’t get too shaggy in the winter. That way when you ride, they don’t get so hot and dry off much quicker. However, if that’s not a consideration, letting them go “commando” is the easiest option. I noticed that the unblanketed horses always slicked off quicker in the spring.


Judging Questions

Judging Questions

I was recently asked a couple of questions for an article on judging for the Reined Cow Horse Training Online that I thought it would be fun to share and get you all to weigh in on.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in the show pen? 

I said, “Not taking advantage of the things the rider has control over. In the reined work for instance missing the middle of the arena on your circles, not making your big ones faster than the small ones, not running to the stop, and being sure you get past the markers before stopping are high on my list. In the fence work it would be allowing there to be separation between you and the cow (ie losing some position and control), and not taking advantage of earning credit by also rating the second direction down the fence. In the herd work it’s hard to earn credit unless you cut and quit in the middle of the pen and cover both sides of the cow while working.” So if you want to maximize your score, you’ll need to do those little things. They sure add up and are under your control.

What is the one thing you wish you could tell everyone before they walk into the arena? 

I answered, “Relax and have faith in your training. Take a deep breath and let your horse do its job. If you have a horse that can mark a 72, don’t try to mark a 74 (because more than likely, you’ll end up a 64). Ride the horse you’re riding.”

And last, I was asked what I would say to the person who grumbles about their score? 

That was an easy one! “Go watch the video with somebody who really knows and who will be honest with you. If you still disagree with the score and you can put your “humble hat” on, I think at a weekend show that it’s ok to ask the judge after the show is over, how you might improve your score.” 

I also encourage everyone to take advantage of the NRCHA Judges Seminars. You can learn so much there about what the judges are looking for and how to take advantage of credit earning opportunities.

I’d really like to hear how you all feel about this, so please share. And if there’s anything you want more information about, let me know. If I can answer it I will, and if not, I’ll get someone who can.

Until next time,



2-point Reining Penalties

2-point Reining Penalties

I received a lot of good feedback after I did the 1-point reining penalties article, so I thought I’d cover the 2-point reining penalties in this article.

If there’s a lot of interest, I’ll continue with penalties in the other events.

It’s a 2-point penalty for missing a lead around the end of the arena as you start into the rundown. We discussed previously that it’s a 1 pt penalty to be out of lead for every quarter circle, but after your second lead change, you only do a half circle before the rundown is initiated. So, the most you can be penalized there is 2 points for being out of lead for ½ a circle before initiating the rundown.

Now, if you are cross cantering down the arena for your rundown, you probably won’t be in a credit situation even if you stop well, because the approach to the stop wasn’t great if you were on 2 different leads.

Failing to run by the market before initiating your stop is also a 2-point penalty. Unless the tractor driver accurately cross-dragged at the marker, it’s very difficult to tell. It’s also difficult to review, as the video is dialed in on the rider and you have no real reference points.

The rule states “failure to run by the marker before initiating the stop.” If a horse hits the ground a few times while stopping and the first of those skips or bumps is before the marker, then technically it’s a 2-point penalty. Getting past the markers is one of the only things you can control in your run, so make sure you get past the marker before you start to stop.

Freezing up in a spin means that either you or your horse quit spinning before the last quarter. If that were to happen during the last quarter of the spin, it would just be a 1 point or ½ point underspin penalty.

Breaking gate can happen anywhere in the pattern. It most frequently occurs during the lead change or when slowing from the big fast to the small slow circle. It also can happen if the horse lopes off on the wrong lead and breaks while the rider is trying to get changed. Sometimes if a horse slips out of lead behind and the rider doesn’t keep the horse moving as they try to get the hind lead caught up, then a break may occur. A break is defined as “the cadence of the lope is disrupted or not maintained and only occurs while loping.”

Jogging beyond 2 strides also incurs a 2-point penalty. The steps of the hind feet are usually counted when reviewing a jog off. When you count 4 steps and then there’s a fifth or more, the 2-point penalty is assessed.

BTW, when reviewing if a horse backs too many steps, it’s easiest to count the steps of the front feet, whereas the hind feet are counted if it’s a trotting penalty.

On a trot in pattern, if the horse doesn’t stop before executing the lope off, the 2-point penalty is incurred.

And last but not least, if a horse stops in the first quarter of the circle after a lope departure, it’s considered a break of gait. If it happens anywhere else, it’s considered adding a maneuver and is a zero. This is because sometimes when a rider lopes off on the wrong lead they’ll stop and ask for the correct one. A case of muscle memory!

To incur less penalties, if that happens, keep loping and do a lead change. If you do that, it’s only a 1-point penalty as long as you accomplish it in the first quarter of the circle.

That’s it for 2-point penalties and a few miscellaneous ones.

When you’re first starting to show or are trying to get together with a new horse, just try to stay out of the penalty box. If you can have a clean run with no penalties, that’s a 70, and 70 is a good score.

As you get more confident, you can work on crediting maneuvers.

Let me know what you think.


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.