Competing in a working cow horse class, or reined cow horse class,
consists of two separate components. A horse and rider team has to work
a cow performing specific maneuvers and perform a reining pattern.
If you are interested in competing in this class, this guide will serve
to get you started towards your first show. Below we will be discussing
what to expect when entering this class, what the judges are looking
for, and a few helpful tips.
A Working Cow Horse Class
In this class, both the reining pattern and cow work are
required for scoring. Exhibitors will perform each portion of the class
individually for the judges.
During the reining portion, the horse is expected to perform specific
reining maneuvers such as loping, lead changes, sliding stops, turns,
and backing. Judges likely choose from a set of pre-set patterns
approved by the association you are showing with. The AQHA has AQHA
approved working cow horse patterns.
Horses are expected to perform the pattern as it is posted. Deviation
from this or riding "off pattern" is grounds for a potential zero score
from the judges.
During the cow work portion, the horse must keep control over a live
cow. The horses that are able to keep such control with minimal cues
from the rider demonstrate a more natural ability also called "cow
Some cattle will be more difficult to work than others and therefore
more credit will be given to the horse and rider if they are able to
maintain control. Higher scores are given to horses that are able to
control difficult cows with minimal rider involvement.
The cow work portion of the class begins when the cow enters the arena.
Ideally, a working cow horse will hold that cow at that particular end
of the arena to demonstrate control over the animal.
Then the exhibitor should move the cow down one side of the fence
performing a turn away from the fence in each direction. Then the cow
should be moved to a more open portion of the arena, circling it in
This is the order of maneuvers when performing the cow work portion.
Arena size and degree of difficulty of the cow are both considerations
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When judging a working cow horse class, judges are also looking for
potential faults as well as the credits. Faults can come from both
horse and rider during the class.
Faults can include hesitations or halting, losing control of the cow,
inability to finish the pattern, touching the horse or saddle, using
arena corners to turn a cow, biting or kicking the cow, or a fall of
the horse/rider during the class.
Credits are given to working cow horses that demonstrate good manners,
responsive to light rein contact, maintaining head in a natural
position, and working at appropriate speeds while keeping under the
control of the rider.
For more information on competing in a working cow horse class, make
sure you check the rulebook of the association you are showing with.
Most regional stock breed shows offer these classes (AQHA, APHA, ApHC)
and there are also specific cow horse associations such as the National
Reined Cow Horse Association to offer shows.
Always watch the cow for shifts in direction to prevent a
loss of balance on your horse
The class focuses more on control over the cow. Don't
chase after it, but maintain control
When driving the cow forward you should have your horse
positioned at the hip of the cow
Moving laterally away from the cow will cause it to slow
and moving laterally towards the cow will cause it to speed up
If your horse is in the correct position at your horse's
hip there should not be daylight between your horse and the cow
Take some time to watch and study the cattle at events.
Pay attention to how they react to the horse during different class runs