The NRCHA uses the NRHA penalty system with an exception for the “scotch” on the approach to the stop. The NRCHA has this penalty, but the NRHA doesn’t.
Horses are required to be on the correct lead throughout the circle maneuvers.
Circles are divided into 4 equal quadrants. For each quarter circle a horse is out of lead, it is a 1-point penalty.
The tricky part is that the “quadrant” starts where the horse is out of lead (either by missing a change or falling out of lead). So, it’s critical to know exactly where the horse was out of lead and whether it’s for 1 stride or 1 quarter circle, it’s a 1-point penalty.
If a horse goes further than ¼ circle, it’s another 1-point deduction for each quarter circle. In the small slow circles, the quarter circle is small and the number of strides will be less to get a 1 pt penalty.
If a horse missed a lead for ¾ of the circle, it would be recorded as a penalty “3”, versus one that fell in and out of lead 3 times which would be a penalty 1,1,1.
The hardest 1-point penalty is when a horse falls out of lead for only 1 stride. It happens so fast, that it is commonly missed.
Being a few strides early or late on a lead change is also a 1-point penalty. Leads must be changed cleanly in within a stride or 2 of the center for credit. If you’re not certain if they’re too early or a bit late, just come down on the maneuver score.
The scotch can be another tricky one. There is seldom a “yahtzee” on scotches. A “Yahtzee” is when everyone makes the same call. For the scotch penalty, the horse must assume the stopping position and has to be asked to continue forward to the stopping area. When a horse anticipates the stop, but doesn’t achieve the position, it bring the maneuver score down, but isn’t a penalty. The scotch should be obvious, otherwise average the poor approach with the actual stop for the maneuver score.
Over or under spinning 1/8-1/4 is a 1 point penalty also. It can depend on where the judge is sitting, whether it is called or not. Consistency is what’s important with the 1-point penalties and they are very meaningful in how the horses place.
The last one is slipping the rein. That means that 1 rein is being held shorter than the other. If the horse’s head is exaggeratedly tipped to the inside of the circle or spin, the judge should look for the telltale “bubble” in the reins. If you don’t see an obvious one, don’t take the penalty.
It’s important not to get negatively biased and hunting for penalties. If they jump out at you, record them, then decide how much it should affect (or not) the maneuver score.
Consistency and fairness are what makes a really good judge and that requires lots of focus!
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During the run down the fence, if your cow tries to come off it and you are right there, it probably won’t try again. Whatever a cow gets away with once, it will usually try again.
Also try to make the first run down a long one to give you plenty of time to set up your second turn lest you end up with a penalty by not catching it before the corner. It will also take more air out of the beast and show off your ability to rate.
Often the cow forces the rider to have to loop it. After the first turn, if the cow comes off the fence at more than a 30* angle, I’d consider this option though it doesn’t increase the degree of difficulty or your control of the cow, it does usually set you up for a better second turn.
As long as there’s no separation (loss of control), the loop is seldom a penalty. (See the illustration below. The horse is the brown arrow and the cow is the black blob. Please excuse my lack of artistic technique.)
Depending on the speed of the cow, it’s usually a good idea to take a 3rd turn. That sets you up to circle in the middle of the arena which is where we’re supposed to circle anyway and makes it easier to stay away from the out gate and the arena walls.
Bovine psychology dictates that it’s easier to control a cow the further they are from the herd and the gate that brought them into the arena in the first place! Be sure to get all the way up to where your horse’s nose is on the cow’s ear before you start making them circle lest they lean back into you making either or both of you fall down.
Then, be sure to circle the first way at least 360* before you switch sides, always being sure to change while the cow is heading towards the center of the arena and not the side wall.
If you lose one while switching sides, not only is it a 1 pt penalty, but it can be very difficult to get them off the wall again when they are tired. Then, it’s just a matter of circling going the other way before you hear the wonderful sound of the judge’s whistle blowing!
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Position and control are the most important elements in a cow horse event. You want to be the mirror image while working.
If you draw a wild one you are in the right place at the right time trying to control it, and the cow doesn’t honor you, you should be awarded a new one. If you’re not, then the judge shouldn’t blow the whistle even if it runs right by you.
If there’s no new cow, the show must go on and it’s your job to try to work with what you’ve got. It’s the “luck of the draw”.
Whatever you train your cow to do while you’re boxing is how it will respond going down the fence. If you get it stopped and controlled while boxing then there’s a good chance it will honor you when you step in front of it to turn it going down the fence.
When it’s time to leave, I like to be around the middle of the short wall giving myself enough time to start driving the cow and get in sync with it as it approaches the corner.
I put my horse’s nose right in the cow’s flank. The pictures below show Lyn Anderson in perfect position to drive the cow through the corner and leave just right. (see below)
Getting through the corner is a very important part of the run. If you’re too far behind, it might come off the fence and circle you back to the short wall. That’s very expensive in terms of your score.
If you get too far ahead, you will turn the cow back too soon. But if you leave just right, there’s a really good chance to have an excellent run.
This is not only because you’re right there rating it, but the cow knows you’ve got him in your crosshairs and is less apt to throw you a curve ball.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how fast a cow will run once it’s lined out. They fib to us a lot. Some of the ones you could barely get to move while boxing, run down the fence like their hair is on fire and visa versa.
You want to keep steady pressure on the cow so it smoothly lopes through the corner and lines out down the fence. You don’t want to give it any options. This is not a democracy. You want to put the cow right where you want it.
If you can leave right with the cow, you won’t have to run to catch up, and you’ll be able to rate it down the fence choosing where you want to turn it.
Should you draw a cow with a sensitive set of brakes ie it stops while you’re boxing before you even get to its head, be prepared for it to want to turn when you’ve barely gotten up beside it and same when you circle. It’s really easy to overshoot that kind.
Some horses like to drop their shoulder on the cow side (lean towards it). When that happens, the cow won’t want to turn because it can’t see any place to go but forward, and around the corner you go!
If your cow needs to catch another gear, you can drop back just a bit and putting your horse’s nose towards it’s flank, you can drive it faster.
Fast or slow, accurate rating is very important for control and a good score. When you rate well, you can make your move and sneak past the cow going only 1 or 2 mph more and assure yourself a better turn than if you were playing catch-up and passed it going 5 or 10 mph faster.
Judges never like to see separation between the cow and the horse, that’s what control is all about.
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In a reined Cowhorse contest or a cutting, the cattle are the most important single factor.
In the cutting at least you get to choose, so you only have yourself to blame if you pick poorly.
In the reined Cowhorse contest, you don’t know what you’ve got until it walks through the gate. It might be a Ferrari in overdrive or a gutless four cylinder.
It pays to do your homework watching the herd work portion of an aged event, as you might recognize your beast as it makes its entrance for the boxing or fence, but that’s not always a realistic strategy.
If you’re at a weekend show, the best you can do is watch the classes ahead of yours for characteristics that run through the herd. Watching the open class might make you queasy thinking of all the not-so-good things that could happen to you, but you’ll learn a lot about the cattle that day.
Knowledge is power and armed with it will help you make better decisions. Usually, the cattle have come from the same ranch, are the same breed and have had the same handling and feed, but every cow is an individual.
You’ll get the whole spectrum of personalities over the course of the day, but things like hot weather, drawing late in the afternoon, the ground, or being first or last in your set can have a big influence on the cattle.
How you handle the cow you draw can make a bad one good or a good one bad.
All the studying and preparation that you’ve done may go right out the window when they let your cow in as there’s always a few renegades, but your percentages of that happening are low.
If you do get a wild one, plan on being more defensive immediately. Approach it slowly with caution and when you make any turns don’t allow your horse to move towards it. Give it an opportunity to settle before you get into its bubble.
If it just runs fence to fence, it probably won’t get much better, so get started down the fence as soon as you’ve taken enough of the edge off.
If you draw a slower cow, prepare to be more aggressive stepping right up to it and make some noise if you have to.
Whatever you do, don’t bore the judge on one like that.
I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts before I write the next 2 installments on this topic!
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Riders who are not accustomed to using a romal are sometimes not aware of the penalties awaiting them if they don’t hold it properly.
The romal should go across the palm and around the thumb or with the thumb on top
The hand should be closed into a fist over both reins with no fingers in between, and the thumb must be on top.
The rein hand should always be in front of the romal’s knot, where the two reins meet.
The free hand must always be to the side (whether left or right), 16 inches from the rein hand or you’re considered to have 2 hands on the reins
The reins can be adjusted with the free hand at any time, except in the NRHA reining where the rider may only do so while the horse is completely stopped during the pattern. To adjust while “on the move” in the NRCHA, you pull the reins with your right hand to shorten what’s being held in the left hand
In all western classes, romal or the end of the romal – also known as the “popper” – may be straightened or disentangled anytime during the class, provided the rider’s free hand used to straighten or disentangle remains behind the rein hand.
Riding in romal reins is different, but with a little practice, I think you’ll enjoy the feel.
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Here are 2 of my favorite ways to tune up a spin other than the fence drill that I’ve posted before.
The first is to build cadence and increase speed.
Start with a bridled up trot in a small circle. Drive your horses hindquarters up underneath them as far as you can. When you have a good cadence on a small circle, softly close your outside rein on his neck and press him with your outside leg. Try to keep the same rhythm, speed and cadence.
I have a metronome in my head going “step-step-step” while I trot and then try to keep that same beat while I spin.
Then come right back up onto the same circle briskly trotting with no loss of cadence.
Then you’re ready go into the spin again for a few beats, then come up trotting. Do this several times then give your horse a rest.
It’s pretty hard work for them, so build into it gradually. Sorry the videos are so short, but I can’t seem to be able to send them from my phone if they’re any longer. I’m open to some techy suggestions though!
The second exercise helps get a horse’s head lower and positions him with a very rounded back and little resistance in the face, he can step around more easily and with more speed and accuracy,
Bridle him up and drive his hindquarters up underneath him. Spread your hands wide and low evenly on either side of his neck staying forward in your saddle. Hold your reins pretty tight, trapping him, and keeping him relatively straight with just a little bit of nose tipped to the inside of the spin, start bumping him with your outside leg.
That’s really the only cue you’ll use to start the spin. Keep increasing the intensity of your leg bumping until he starts to turn.
Let him catch a rhythm for a few steps, then step right back out on the circle and walk or jog for a bit in the small circle, then try again.
This exercise usually takes a couple of days to see improvement as your forcing him to turn with his body in a much more collected frame.
It will shorten his wheelbase and get his head dropped down along with less resistance in his face, should make for a cleaner, steppier spin.
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Sometimes the feelings of being scared and excited can elicit the same physical response in our bodies.
When new challenges and opportunities show up in our riding lives, we may think we are feeling scared when what we really feel is excited. We might not have been taught how to welcome the thrill of a new opportunity, so we back off, feeling anxiety instead of awakening our courage to take on a new challenge.
The butterflies in our stomach or a rapidly beating heart are not necessarily a sign that we are afraid. Those very same feelings can be translated into excitement, curiosity, and passion.
There is nothing wrong with being afraid as long as we do not let it stop us from doing the things that excite us.
Most of us assume that brave people are fearless, but the truth is that they are simply more comfortable with fear because they face it on a regular basis. The more we do this, the more we feel excitement in the face of challenges rather than anxiety. The more we cultivate our ability to move forward instead of backing off, the more we trust ourselves to be able to handle the new opportunity, whether it’s going to a show, riding a colt for the first time or going down the fence.
When we feel our fear, we can remind ourselves that maybe we are actually excited. We can assure ourselves that this opportunity has come our way because we are meant to take it.
Framing things just a little differently can shift our mental state from one of resistance to one of openness. We can practice this new way of seeing things by saying aloud: I am really excited showing this horse for the first time! I am excited to go down the fence! Or, I am excited to have the opportunity to do something I have never done before.
As we do this, we will feel our energy shift from fear, which paralyzes, to excitement, which helps us direct that energy into growing and learning. Soon you’ll find yourself saying, “I can’t wait to go in the show pen and show my horse!”