Fence Work Credit Part B – Run Content Credit and Debit

Fence Work Credit Part B – Run Content Credit and Debit

In my last fencework article, I went over boxing, rate and form and quality of your turns. In this article, I’ll continue with the run content boxes of position and control, degree of difficulty and eye appeal.

Position and Control

I think most judges would agree that this is the most important element of the fence work. We can all forgive a little loss of eye appeal, or some other minor toe stub, if you maintain excellent position and control. That means there is never any significant separation between the horse and the cow. In other words, you could rope the cow easily at any time during the run. In this high-speed event, control is crucial, so no one gets hurt. What it really means is every second, you’re dictating to the cow, where it’s going to go and where you’re going to turn it. And, you have total control of your horse, and are able to maintain position on the cow to execute this. Anytime there is “separation” from the cow (ie distance), it should be reflected negatively in this box. If it is a full-fledged “loss of working advantage”, the penalty (an “A” 1 point loss of working advantage) will go in the box above the part of the run where it occurred. Or, if it is a general lack of control, you might have a minus in the position and control box. 

Degree of Difficulty

Degree of difficulty can refer to the cow’s extreme speed, or recalcitrance. If your cow isn’t a challenging one, it’s impossible to have a stratospheric run. The general rule for a new cow is “can the rider mark at least a 70 on the beast?” But, no matter how difficult your cow is, you won’t receive any credit if you don’t get the job done. And likewise, the more difficult, and the better you do, the more credit you will receive in that box.

Eye Appeal

The “eye appeal” box is used for negative marks to take a rude horse’s score down and show why. On a really good run, it can be the box used to get it up to a great score.  Everything else being equal, the horse who goes wherever he’s pointed, with no resistance (mouth shut, head where it belongs), and handles a cow with a high degree of difficulty, will always be the winner. He will look the best, while appearing to do the least, and make it look effortless to control the most challenging bovines. He’ll give you goosebumps, and make you wish you could steal a ride on him!

Any of these boxes can be ++ or = (double plussed or double minused). If I find myself saying “OMG, how could that horse go any faster and exhibit any more control”, I might be thinking ++ on position and control or degree of difficulty. Likewise, if a horse spits the bit several times, I’m probably going to be a = the eye appeal box.


Every horse circles one way better than the other. If you have the choice, go his better way first. For maximum credit, always try to circle in the middle of the arena (ie not down by the out gate or side walls). Be sure you have enough cow left to create some degree of difficulty. And, always change sides when the cow is aimed towards the center of the pen. It’s considered a loss of working advantage if you lose it to the wall while circling. Fast circles in the middle of the arena, drawing down to a tighter circle should be credited more. This is a very important part of the run, because it’s the last thing the judge sees, so finish strong!!

Below is an example of a fantastic run by one of my all-time heroes Doug Williamson. I had the honor of being one of the judges at this event. We all marked him 77 (with full plusses in every box), but I don’t think an even higher score would have been out of line! Please enjoy watching a master craft a masterful run. 

Click Here for Doug’s video.


Reining Essential 4 – More Advanced Backing

Reining Essential 4 – More Advanced Backing

When I introduced backing, we reviewed how to start a green colt backing from the ground (or an older spoiled horse who needs a “life review”). 

Today, let’s go over how to advance your horse in backing.

While mounted. From his back, use the same rein action you used successfully from the ground. Put just enough tension in the reins to keep him from moving forward, while you gently bump your horse’s sides (both legs simultaneously) with legs in neutral position, increasing pressure (with your legs) as necessary to gain response. Keep enough tension on the reins so he doesn’t push “through” the bit, but no harder. 

Again, ask for just one step at a time. The moment he complies, release all rein and leg pressure and praise him. Gradually ask for more steps, without worrying at this point whether he’s straight.

Remember, a horse learns from the release of pressure, not the application of it. If you make it easy and rewarding to take 1 step, then ask for 2, really soon you’ll have 10, no problem!

Once he’ll move back willingly three or four steps, begin asking for straightness, as well. Because of natural asymmetry, most horses will tend to back with their rear end veering to the right. To prevent this, apply pressure with your right leg a few inches behind neutral position to push his butt back to the left, using your right rein as necessary to help align him. (Eventually, we’ll correct this by moving his shoulders to the right, instead, but that requires more shoulder control than we have at this point.)


In my next article on reining, I’ll troubleshoot the different ways our horses evade backing straight or backing at all! 

Fence work credits Part A – boxing, rating, quality of the turns

Fence work credits Part A – boxing, rating, quality of the turns

Let’s go over ways that the score for a fence run can go up (or down) from a 70 by getting credit in the run content boxes. In this article I’ll go over boxing, rating and quality of the turns.

Boxing – your score can go up if you step right up and challenge your cow, and maintain excellent control over it, especially if there’s some degree of difficulty. If you can keep it in the middle 3/4 of the back wall ie not going fence to fence with it, that will help too. You also need to “tee your cow up” correctly to go through the corner smoothly, because that can make or break your run.

What will reflect negatively in that box is if you dawdle and don’t get into position and start working your cow, allow it to drag you around or go from fence to fence. If there’s a high degree of difficulty, but you don’t maintain position and control, you will be below average in that box. One of my pet peeves is when the horse isn’t in the bridle and doesn’t turn when asked, or puts his head the wrong way when he does. This can be addressed in the “eye appeal” box, in the “boxing” box, or both.

Another thing that happens frequently, is the rider’s trying to go, but the horse gets a little ahead and turns the cow back. I’m referring to before you actually get lined out, so it’s not a 1 point penalty. Instead, it’s usually considered a run content issue and will be reflected in the “boxing” box.

Rating – Rating is when the horse runs down the fence with the cow in perfect position to control it (neither too fast, nor slow, neither too far behind nor ahead), and then allows the rider to inch him past it, enabling him to perfectly synchronize his turn with the cow. Many runs start off with a good rate down the wall, but not so good coming back. Either the horse or the rider gets in too much of a hurry, or in exiting the turn, position was lost. This makes it necessary to accelerate too much to catch up, and then hard to throttle back before turning the cow. All of this causes the rhythm of the run to suffer. In order to credit that box, you need to rate the cow in above-average fashion both up and back.

Form and quality of turns – If your rate is good, you have a much better chance of your turn being above average. That’s because your horse is dialed in and going a speed only slightly faster than the cow when it turns. Set up like this, he should be able to nail it and exit well. There are 3 parts to the turn. They are: entering it, the turn itself and the exit. At no time during any part of this, should there be any separation between you and the cow. When the cow and horse synchronize the turn, and there’s speed, and perfect form. It’s hard not to gasp and even harder not to put a big + in the turn box!

Reining Essential 4 – Backing (green horse)

Reining Essential 4 – Backing (green horse)

Backing up is important because it’s not only a maneuver in itself but also the correction for a poor stop. 

At this point, however, backing doesn’t mean the same as it will later on (when we’ll want it super-straight, very fast, and in response to few visible cues).

For now, we just want to introduce the concept clearly, calmly, and patiently. The worst thing you can do at this point is to try to go faster and sacrifice correctness and softness.

Because so many of you are working with green horses, I want to go over how I start one backing from the ground.

The goal. Your horse will maintain a soft face (that is, no bracing against the bit) as he takes a few willing steps backward, reasonably straight. 

Here’s how: from the ground. With your horse in a snaffle bit and saddle, stand facing him, just off to one side so you’re not directly in front. Grasp a rein just behind the bit with each hand, and apply gentle backward pressure as you did to ask him to bring his nose back and down in the face-softening exercise. If necessary, slide the bit gently from side to side while maintaining soft pressure on both reins. 

When he responds by dropping his nose down and back, don’t release the pressure as you did for face softening. Instead, maintain a gentle, intermittent pressure and cluck. If he hesitates, be patient. It’s better to wait him out (he’ll give in eventually) than to start applying more and more pressure. Most horses are willing to do this for us if we’re patient and ask for just a step or two at a time in the beginning. If he still won’t step back, apply pressure over his lower face (where the hackamore would rest)to encourage him to unstick his feet.

The moment he takes a single backward step, release all pressure and praise him with hands and voice. Remember, that a horse learns from the release of pressure, not the application of it. Then repeat, over time asking for two backward steps, then three.

At this point, don’t worry about whether he’s perfectly straight as he backs. You’re just looking for willing compliance. (Remember that a key concept of setting your horse up to succeed is by showing him until he understands and accepts, and only then training him how you want him to do it—in this case, to back up straight–and only then asking for speed. It’s especially important here.)

Riding Smart 5-7

Riding Smart 5-7

In an earlier article I shared 4 tips for Riding Smarter Not Harder. Now here’s 3 more!

  • Be a contrarian. This goes along with training every moment. If your horse is wanting to do one thing, make him do the opposite. Is he leaning in one direction? Make him go the opposite way. Is he amped up and wanting to lope? Make him stand still for a moment. Does he want to stand? Make him lope. Is he eager to be at the front of the line? Put him in the back. Don’t let him train you, either. If he’s a spook, don’t forsake trail rides—go on lots of them and get him exposed to all those frightening things. Don’t make excuses for him. By being a contrarian instead, and insisting he do what you want rather than what he wants, you’re continuously reinforcing that you are the boss, not he. Horses crave leadership, and if you don’t provide it, they will.
  • Train both sides. Whether you know it or not, you own two horses, a right horse and a left horse, and they both need to be trained (thank goodness they both don’t have to be fed too!). Never assume something you’ve taught your horse to do using one side of his body will translate to the other; it won’t. You must train both sides individually. If he can shut a gate working off your left leg, also teach him to do it off your right. Each side will likely require slightly different approaches because most horses are a little stiff (resistant to bending) to the left and hollow (bend excessively) to the right.
  • Ultimately, you’ll spend about the same amount of time working your horse to each side, striving to make his stiff side more flexible, and his hollow side a little straighter.

  • Be precise. A horse’s brain is like your website browser. If you enter a command that’s just one letter off, the computer won’t recognize it, and you’ll end up at a completely different website. Similarly, if you want optimal performance from your horse, you must ask for a movement exactly the same way each time. Sometimes we get frustrated with a horse that’s not responding correctly. We think, “You dummy—you did it fine yesterday.” But our horse is thinking, “Yes, but I’m confused now, because I don’t recognize this cue….” A fully trained horse is often able to fill in for a miscue, but while he’s still learning, the more precise and correct you can be, the faster and more reliably he’ll learn. Good stuff in, good stuff out.

True story: A fellow came out to my place to try a seasoned, successful show horse, the kind that takes good care of his rider. The guy’s comment after riding him was that it was like playing pool on a table with huge pockets that just funnel the ball in. When a horse is well broke, you should be able to kind of “aim him” at the maneuver, and the ball should go in the hole, so to speak. But until a horse is very solid, you must be very precise.