Thursday, June 26, 2008

Salem for the Region 4 Championships Part 3

Part 1

During the first session of the Arabian horse show Monday morning I headed up to the show office to post enter Rachel into that western pleasure class. The timing couldn't have been better because I got there in time for them to be setting up for the working cow horse classes.

In my region we don't have trainers doing working cow so none of our shows offer these classes. The only place I've ever seen them is here at this facility in region 4. There are trainers from Region 4 who show and then trainers also come up from California and Region 3 making for a nice number of working cow horses particularly at the regional show. Occasionally there will horses that come in from Montana as well.

The AHACO Arabian Horse Show we'd attended just three weeks before had offered working cow classes but then ran them early. Because of that schedule change I'd missed them even though Wendy and I had planned on watching those classes. Our friend, Bev's, horse was making his debut at that show and I was really unhappy that I'd missed him.

To find myself there just in time to catch these classes was a nice treat. I called Rachel back at the stalls and told her where I'd be then headed up to the stands for a bird's eye view. I knew that Bev's boy was showing at this show and I hoped he be participating at the pre-show for practice for the regional championships.

Even without a friend's horse showing, I really enjoy watching this class. I've seen working cow horse classes a handful of times. I don't really understand all the nuances of the class but have more of a vague idea of what's supposed to be happening. I know that when the cow first comes out, the rider has a bit of time to decide if that cow will work or to ask for another. Then I know the ride is timed and scored based on how well the cow is controlled by the horse.

There are specific maneuvers - boxing, turning and circling the cow that must be done. In boxing the horse keeps the cow contained in a small area. Turning is done by moving the cow down the fence with the horse blocking or cutting it off to cause it to turn. It is done twice, once turning left and once right. Then the cow must be turned in a 360° circle. The horse gets plused or minused on how it accomplishes these maneuvers and how long it takes as well as how well it has control of the cow. The horse also will be penalized for biting the cow.

When I learn the most about the working cow horse classes is when the amateurs ride. Then their trainers sit on the rail calling instructions to their riders. It's much easier to figure out what's going on with the play by play provided by the trainers.

This show I noticed "pick him up" was always shouted just about the time the horse was trying to grab that cow with its teeth. The trainers could tell even before it was visible to the rider that the horse was going to bite.

I found myself watching the horses closer to see if I could see the signs. I should have known that the ears where the clue. The horse would flatten those ears tight against the head before the teeth were bared and head dropped reaching for the cow. Just a slight lift up on the reins would bring the horse back up and block the attack.

Not all horses want to bite the cows but from what I could tell all the really good ones did. Those horses that really got into controlling that cow just couldn't help themselves. You could just see those horses's wheels turning as they chased those cows down. The expression on the horse's face clearly told how badly they wanted to get that cow. It was really fun to watch them work.

It's pretty impressive to see those cow horses rocked back on their butts, perched and waiting for the cow to break. You can see every muscle almost twitching in anticipation of the break. Just thinking about it makes my heart pump.

One trainer called out to his amateur rider, "just grab that horn, get out of his way and let him work!" As soon as the rider quit trying to manage the horse with the reins, the horse got much more efficient and that poor cow didn't have a chance. Watching them flying down the rail and diving in front of the cow just took my breath away. Despite the crashing and banging into the walls from time to time, this class looks like it would be a kick to ride.

There is a handicapped rider that I have seen riding in this class from the first time I ever got to watch. Her name is Sue and she has some type of brain damage but I can tell you it doesn't stop her from chasing those cows. You can see she loves chasing those cows. Her posture isn't the best but her horses always are. I have seen Sue win many prizes in the times I watched working cow. I always get a big kick out of seeing her ride. The joy on her face is clearly priceless.

Once the amateurs were done, they moved on to the professionals. While there is no longer coaching from the rail, the riding is fast and furious. The excitement clearly goes up when the pros ride.

Doug Stewart came riding in on a little bay horse and I knew at once it was Bev's Maynard. In his very first class, he'd drawn a really aggressive cow. It had charged straight at the young horse as it came out of the gate. Poor Maynard had been scared half to death.

On this day, Maynard again drew a really aggressive cow but when the gate opened there was no cow to be seen. The poor guys in the back couldn't even get him into the chute so there stood Maynard in the center of the arena waiting..............and waiting............and waiting.

At first Maynard showed signs of nervousness. I wondered if he was flashing back to nearly being attacked by that aggressive first cow. But then as Maynard stood there waiting he began to get impatient. I could see the difference in his body language as he went from being worried to wondering when he was going to get his chance.

By the time that cow erupted out of that chute, Maynard was ready. He sprang into action and never once thought about being nervous. Maynard was in rare form chasing that cow down.

Just like a baby horse would, he got tangled in his own feet a couple of times and stumbled into the wall a time or two. But that didn't stop Maynard from going after that cow. He was focused and down and dirty..........or yeah! ...........Maynard wanted to eat that cow! Spinning and sliding and chasing and blocking..........Maynard owned that aggressive cow. By the time that cow went back into that chute he didn't know what hit him.

Maynard only scored a 65 which actually got a boo from the appreciative crowd. I'm pretty sure that everyone there knew that they'd just watched and up and coming star. I was really pleased I'd gotten the opportunity to see Maynard shine.

To be continued.................

Part 4


  1. Nice change of pace MiKael. I very rarely get to see the performance horses (working cows, roping, reining etc.) but have enjoyed it when I have. Your description has helped me understand a bit more of the little I have seen, and I agree it can be pretty exciting to watch. I have often thought about getting into performance instead of HUS and WP, LOL, even contesting, but don't tell L that he will have a heart attack. He likes the heads low and gait slow, I like my horses to look like they are alive and have a pair of ears in front of me so I dont feel like I am going to nose dive into the arena.

  2. That sounds like a very exciting event to watch. I've seen this done on TV and some of those horses are really impressive. I love to watch them get down and contain the cow and dare the cow to try and get past them. Some of those horses look like they really get into their job and love it.

  3. That would have been so neat to see...I absolutely LOVE watching those classes! :)

  4. I've never seen working cow, but I know it's .really. popular with the stock horse crowd.

    I'm going to have to find a fairly big show to go watch it at.

    thanks MiKael.

  5. Great change of pace. I love this western discipline.

  6. And that's what I want to do with my stallion. I 'think' I've even found a trainer to teach us both. :)

    I do think more regions need to offer those classes, but they won't until there's more interest.

  7. Man would I love to do that! How much fun would it be to hang on to the horn and zip around after a cow with one of those great horses? I'm grinning just thinking about it! It is so different from anything I've ever done with a horse.

  8. MiKael, if you ever get the chance to work cows you should try! It's a BLAST!!! A couple of winters ago our 4-H club took their seasoned performance horses team penning after the show/fair season. At first these horses were a bit confused with the allowances they were given to RUN after and DRIVE the cows. But by the second night a good bunch of our appropriately groomed show horses with riders who were appropriately concerned with posture were in the money! Mind you, our little group really turned some heads and got some snickers from the more "ranch" minded, where beauty or posture is not important. But by the end of the short winter season a good many folks were asking about how you find training for this "equitation" and what is it. They could see the value in the obedience our horses were offering, and some of us won a few jackpots in the process! All in all it'll put a smile on your face seeing a National Show Horse with big Saddle Seat Action be a part of penning cows in less than 1 1/2 minutes! AND, we all noticed an improvement in a few skills - most of our horses became totally comfortable horses in their personal bubble. At this facility there was a limited amount of space for horses to wait between "go's" (remember it's winter in Washington) they were parked like cars in a parking lot when you were astride your knees touched your neighbors knees! By the end of the season our primadonna performance horses were becoming way more experiened in crowds!
    So, if you get a chance when it won't effect your performance classes...GO FOR IT!!! I bet your 'beauties with brains' will get a kick out of it too!!!

  9. I love watching working cow. In Region 14 ours is off site, so I haven't seen it in years. I wonder, is the horse penalized or eliminated if he bites the cow?

  10. Thanks for "immortalizing" Maynard in cyberspace. I was really sorry to miss seeing him go at Region IV. Doug said there might be video of one or the other of Maynard's classes. I hope he's right.

    I've seen cutting horses go (QHs on TV), and I've never understood why the cutting horses look like "real" horses with their beautiful manes, free-flowing movement and useful headset, with the riders looking like they're actually comfortable and solid in the saddle. Then there are the pleasure horses look like stumpy-legged caricatures with their short banded manes, low head and short-strided gaits and riders who look as if they're about to fall over the horse's head. It's a conundrum to me. I'll take the cutting horses any day.

    Thanks again for bringing Maynard's 'go' to life for me.

  11. Wonderful description! I felt like I was there with you watching it.

  12. If I was 20 years younger I think I would give that a try, it just sounds like so much fun! Our vet competes and he is always talking about if a horse is cowie or cowy or cow-ie, don't know how it's spelled. Anyhow that's how he describles a horse that is really into it.

  13. That stallion in the working cow horse picture you posted is Kakhem Sahib, isn't it? I am trying to breed my mare to him (long story!)
    What a surprise! thanks!

    IamRockinhorse AKA LaughingOrcaRanch's neighbor