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
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.