5 Boxing Ways to Improve Your Score

5 Boxing Ways to Improve Your Score

There are only 5 credit boxes for the Limited Cow class. They are all connected to each other. By that, I mean, that if you are crediting one box, you’re probably gaining credit in at least one other box. And likewise, if you are losing credit in 1, you’re probably in the negative in at least one other. Let me explain, by starting with what makes a really good run.

When a rider walks confidently into the arena, nods for the cow, steps right up to challenge it, and crisply moves right and left with the cow, many good things are happening! When I’m judging that class, and see a run start like that, the thoughts going through my head in those first 15 seconds are….”this is probably going to be a good run”. My “thermometer” is going up. I’m thinking that the rider is starting to show courage, utilizing their time (time worked), getting to the right spot (position and control). So already, I’m wanting to be in the positive (71 range) in at least 3 credit areas.

My next thoughts are, can they maintain these credits? Will they put more pressure on the cow, and be able to control it? If they do, the score for position and control, courage and maybe even time worked can all go up together. If the cow is challenging, then degree of difficulty goes up too. That’s how to mark above a 72.

Now, if the degree of difficulty is there (the cow is challenging), position and control are very good, the rider keeps the pressure on (courage and time worked go up) and looks good doing it (ie smooth, athletic, riders hands are quiet), then we’re getting into the 73 and above range.

When the buzzer sounds, my next question is how good was that? Exactly how difficult was the cow? What really stood out that I can give a full plus to? Usually if there’s one thing that was very good, there are other things that were too.

This is what a skillful exhibitor learns, and can use to start to increase their score.

Conversely, if the rider hangs back, doesn’t move crisply left and right, they will not only go down in courage, but probably also time worked, and position and control. If a horse isn’t moving with the intention of holding the cow (because the rider isn’t insisting on it), eye appeal will suffer too. All of the categories are headed down, and suddenly a 68- run is what’s happening.

As you gain experience showing, try to “connect the boxes”. If you’re controlling the cow by getting to it’s head and keeping it in the middle 2/3rd’s of the arena, and if your horse moves fluidly, because you’re using your feet more than your hands, and you’re advancing and keeping enough pressure on the cow to show your horse off, and you can maintain that level of performance throughout your time, you’re probably going to be at least a 72. The degree of difficulty of the cow is something you can’t control, so to have a really good run, that element has to be there too. But, my point is, and the good news is, that a lot of this is within your control! So, get with your trainer so you can work towards increasing your score in each area, because they can all go up together!!



In the last boxing/fence article, I wrote about the importance of leaving the corner well and rating the cow down the fence. These two components can make or break your run. If you leave late and have to catch up, you’ll be going too fast when you turn your cow, which can cause you to be less than accurate, and your ability to control the cow will suffer. And, if you get going too quickly, you’ll turn your cow before the middle marker.

Assuming that you left well, and you have rated your cow down the fence, now it’s time to sneak past it. I emphasize the word “sneak” because you want to overtake the cow and cruise by it, going only a little faster than it’s running. This way, your horse will be focused on the cow, and able to turn right with it. He will be able to be very accurate and control the cow through the turn.

In order to credit your turns, the horse must engage its hindquarters while stopping and turning the cow. This enables the horse to maintain control both in the turn, as well as upon exiting it. If your horse doesn’t engage its hindquarters, but instead turns like a Coke bottle spins, it will feel like you’re riding a buffalo. If your horse drops its shoulder before engaging its hindquarters, it will feel like you stepped off a stair in the dark, that you didn’t know was there. Both are hard to ride and even harder to control the cow when exiting the turn.

So, as you sneak by, you’re watching the cow like a hawk. You have him in your crosshairs. Try to slow time down, and focus, so you can see the imperceptible drop of the cow’s head or the blink/roll of its eye. This is the cow “setting up”. Real cowy horses can see this, as can real cowy riders. That’s when you sit deep, think core, drawback on your reins to initiate the stop, while pulling the cow side reins a bit more. This ensures your horse gets on his hocks and goes all the way through the turn nose first. That way he won’t get hung up on the fence. You want to be very accurate, read the cow all the way through the turn, and exit right with it, in control.

Then, with it either on the fence, or requiring you to shape it back to the fence, you set up your next turn, and cruise by, never taking your eye off the cow’s head.

What if things didn’t exactly go as planned? If you made your first turn, and the cow came off the wall for any number of reasons, you might opt to make the “California Loop”. To do this, assuming you’re on the left wall, you would need to loop your cow around counterclockwise, and then head back down the fence to get your right turn. This would set you up to be on the fence most of the way down the arena, giving you a better shot at a good turn. If the cow came off the fence and you had to loop, the question is, “did you lose control/working advantage, so the cow came off the fence?” If you did, there will be a 1 point penalty. If not, then there shouldn’t be. If you opted not to do the loop, you would head back towards the out gate, and try to shape the cow back to the fence, in hopes of having it on the fence before you ran out of the arena. It is a higher degree of difficulty to do that, so if you pull it off, you should get more credit for it.

Let’s say you executed a good left and right turn, it’s safest to take a third turn before circling. This will ensure the best placement in the arena to circle and decreases the possibility of getting outrun when you start to circle.

For the next fence article, I’ll go over circling. Hope this gave you some good ideas! Below is one of NRCHA’s great non pros, Shannon McCarty!

Control Leaving the Box and Rating Down the Fence

Control Leaving the Box and Rating Down the Fence

In the last boxing/fence article, I talked about control being the most important ingredient in the cow work. I covered the purpose of boxing and preparing to start down the fence. In this article, I’ll cover the transition from boxing to starting down the fence and rate.

Correctly gauging the length of time spent boxing will affect the cow’s speed down the fence. The rider should move the cow back and forth across the end of the pen enough to make it respectful and to take some of its air out.

It’s a judgment call to know when you’ve worked it enough, so you don’t get outrun, but not so much that you decrease the degree of difficulty to the point that you won’t score well.

Most of the time, the cow will tell the rider when it’s ready to go down the fence. It will be more accepting of your control, paying attention to the horse and not moving quite as fast.

Those signs are good if you can get them, but sometimes, the rider has to realize that the situation is just not going to get any better. Maybe the cow keeps bumping into the fence getting tired and more numb, or just running back and forth. If you feel that this is as good as it gets, your only option is to just go and hope it all works out.

You can always ask a knowledgeable trainer tell you when to go, if you’re uncertain. Strategy is another factor in this decision. Is your strategy for a high degree of difficulty and a big score like for a finals run? Or are you trying to get to the finals? I would always prefer my Non Pros take a few more turns in the boxing, rather than too few.       

One of the most critical times in the run is the transition from boxing to going down the fence. Your ability to position yourself and your horse to drive the cow from the box and line it out down the fence, so you never lose working advantage, is the key to setting up a great run. It’s harder to get scored on a run that isn’t seamlessly put together. So, be sure to spend enough time on this at home.     

If you leave the short end late, you won’t be able to catch the cow in time to get it turned, or you’ll have to run so fast to catch it that you end up going by it. It can also come off the fence if you’re not in position. 

Conversely, leaving the boxing end and getting ahead too soon results in turning the cow too soon, which is a penalty.

That first burst of speed down the arena fence can be intoxicating to horses. They can anticipate and want to charge down the fence like they’re shot out of a cannon. Knowing that, I spend lots of time teaching my horses to get into the position to control the cow, and to stay there without argument until I decide to go by.

We call it rating. They learn their place on the cow from lots of repetition. Then, easing by when you ask. If they take hold and try to speed up, I’ll just stop straight, then lope after the cow again and hold the position until it’s a non-event.  This event is called REINED cow horse meaning we should be able to rein them at any time, and have them respond well.

It’s all the control in between the turns that’s the real challenge. I spend lots of time transitioning from the short end and rating with the cow down the long side. I do this over and over at home until the horse doesn’t mind being directed. That’s one of the ways to make them stay correct and disciplined.

Riding smart contributes to the longevity of the horse. How in control you are of the horse and the cow directly affects how long they’ll stay honest in the show pen, as well as your score. Taking the time at home to keep them correct and honest really pays off.”   

Then, when show time comes, if the horse is prepared and if the rider reads the cow correctly, the stage is set for a spectacular trip down the fence. 


Five Things to Remember:

  • Always watch the cow! Never take your eyes off it, especially in the fence turns. Things happen very fast
  • Sit up straight – Don’t lean. When you lean, the horse does too
  • Be sure you leave the box with the cow in the right position.
  • Maintain control of your horse and the cow at all times
  • Strive to have very little separation (ie distance) between your horse and the cow

Tip 1: Control in the Boxing Part of the Fence Work

Tip 1: Control in the Boxing Part of the Fence Work

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.

Boxing is also the time to establish authority over the cow. You should train the cow to honor the horse.  You do that by getting its attention if it’s numb, and getting it worked down if its wild. In general, your goal is to teach it to stop when you get into position whether you’re just boxing or getting ready to go down the fence.

(more next time on leaving the corner and rating the cow, stay tuned!!)​​​​​​​