The key to consistent success in the fence (and the boxing) part of a reined cow horse run is in attaining and maintaining control of the cow
How well you can read the cow, the situation and the better you are at getting your horse to the right place at the right time, will determine how well you will control your cow and your run.
You have to be able to interpret and respond to the cow immediately.
A lot of times, people can see what needs to happen, but they can’t get their horse to the place where they need to be.
Taking control has to begin when the cow first enters the arena. This is also the time the rider assesses the cow, teaches it to respect the horse, and works it enough to insure just the right speed down the fence.
To take control, the rider must watch carefully and respond instantly to the cow. For example, cattle that have been in a feed lot, often have become accustomed to riders and they’re dull about responding to horses. They have a smaller “bubble”. Others that have been out in the hills, may be pretty wild and a lot more fit. Watch to see what kind of physical shape they’re in – whether they will tire quickly. In general, these are trends, one see early in the show, but remember every cow is an individual.
The other part of the formula rests with the horse. Be sure your horse is responding to you in a way that will enhance performance, before you enter the arena. He should be soft in the bridle, moving off your legs, been adequately loped and in a mental frame to walk into the pen and go to work.
When the gate swings open and the cow enters the pen, the rider must make instantaneous assessments.
If a cow has been bouncing off the walls in the holding pen, and then comes out into the arena with its tail up over its back, pull down your stampede string, because you’re probably going to go fast. That type have a bigger “bubble”, so you won’t want to get too close. It will be harder to get that cow to honor your horse. You’ll have to move quickly and aggressively to block it, while being somewhat defensive – staying inside the cow and ready to move your “line of scrimmage” back. I might also make some noise to get its attention.
Sometimes cattle come out with heads pretty low, like they’re looking for a way out – nosing the fence as they go along. This type cow might try to run under a horse’s neck – it’s crafty, maybe pushy. Working that one might be a body-blocking affair. They are generally numb cattle and less aware of you. To work them successfully, you might have to get right in their faces (head them) and make some noise. They require a more offensive plan, as they’re not easily intimidated.
The ideal draw is the cow that comes out, sees the horse and stops, acknowledging it, perhaps curious, then moves away. With this type cow, when you make a move, you get a response. That’s the kind you want.The goal is to get the cow’s attention and respect – whatever it takes.
In NRCHA competition, there are two kinds of cow that will cause a judge to call for a replacement. Judges will award a new cow if it won’t move enough in response to the horse, or, if it won’t honor your horse. In both cases, you must be in the correct position, and doing everything possible to work your cow, in order for the judge to award a new one.
Since the boxing sets the stage for the rest of the run, be sure your horse gets dialed into the cow – moving the way you want him to move and feeling the way you want him to feel – before you go down the fence. If your horse is leaning or dropping a shoulder or not reading your cow, not stopping on his rear, your only opportunity to fix it is before you start down the fence.