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.