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How to Train a Reined Cow Horse

How to Train a Reined Cow Horse

Welcome to the world of reined cow horses, where agility meets intelligence in an exciting display of Western tradition. Have you ever wondered how these horses perform with such precision? 

Training a reined cowhorse is an art. It requires patience, a deep understanding of horse behavior, and a genuine passion for the sport. 

Whether you’re a seasoned rider or starting out, this blog will guide you through the fundamentals of shaping a confident, competition-ready partner. 

Get ready to embark on a rewarding journey with your equine companion. Let’s dive into the secrets of training a reined cow horse.

How to Train a Reined Cow Horse- Key Takeaway

Training a reined cow horse is about building trust, mastering skills, and enjoying the journey. Focus on basics, refine maneuvers, and practice regularly with patience. Embrace the partnership with your horse, using consistent, clear communication. The reward? A skilled, responsive horse ready to compete and excel in the thrilling world of reined cow horse events.

What is a Reined Cow Horse?

A reined cow horse is a special kind of competition horse. It is trained for events involving cattle. 

These events showcase the horse’s skills in herding and controlling cattle. The training includes three key areas:

Cutting: The horse learns to separate one cow from the herd. It’s like picking one player in a game of tag.

Reining: Here, the horse performs precise movements. These include quick turns, sliding stops, and circle patterns. It’s all about showing off how well the horse can move.

Fence work: The horse chases a cow along the arena fence. It has to keep up with the cow at high speeds and make sharp turns.

This training makes the reined cow horse a superb athlete. It must be quick, smart, and able to work as a team with its rider. 

These horses come from a tradition of ranch work. In the past, ranchers needed horses that could handle cattle effectively. 

Today, these skills turn into competitive sports that test both horse and rider. Reined cow horse events are exciting and demonstrate a deep bond between horse and rider.

The Making of a Cow Horse

Making a cow horse is a journey that combines tradition with skillful training. 

It starts with choosing the right horse. Ideally, you want a horse that’s physically fit, quick to learn, and responsive. Once you have the right horse, the real work begins.

First, the basics are key. The horse learns simple commands like stopping, turning, and moving at different speeds. These are the building blocks for more complex skills.

Next, the horse starts cutting training. This is where it learns to single out one cow from a group and keep it separate. It’s a bit like playing a strategic game of tag.

After mastering cutting, the horse learns reining. This includes tight turns, fast spins, and sudden stops, which show off the horse’s agility and control.

The final step is fence work. The horse practices chasing a cow along the fence line, making quick turns and stops to keep it in check. This tests the horse’s speed, coordination, and ability to work with the rider under more challenging conditions.

Equipment and Gear for Training Cow Horses

Training a reined cow horse requires skill, patience, and the right equipment and gear. Here’s a rundown of the essential items you’ll need:

Saddle. A well-fitting saddle is crucial. For cow horse events, a Western saddle designed for cutting or reining provides the support and flexibility needed. (Find out how to fit a saddle to a horse in our guide.)

Bridle and bit. A bridle holds the bit in the horse’s mouth, and the bit allows you to communicate with your horse through the reins. Choose a bit your horse is comfortable with and suits the training level.

Reins. These are used to guide and control the horse. You might use split reins for cow-horse training, which allow for more precise control during intricate maneuvers.

Protective boots. Boots protect the horse’s legs during vigorous activities like sliding stops and sharp turns. Front boots, bell boots, and skid boots are commonly used to prevent injuries.

Breast collar. This helps keep the saddle from shifting during quick movements and turns, which is essential in maintaining balance and control.

Back cinch. A back cinch can provide extra security to ensure the saddle does not move during rapid direction changes or when working cattle.

Headstall. This part of the bridle holds the bit in place and should fit comfortably on the horse’s head.

Lead rope and halter. Essential for leading and tying the horse during non-riding training sessions or when handling the horse around the barn.

How to Train a Reined Cow Horse

Laying the foundation: Begin with the Basics

Training a reined cow horse starts with the basics. First, teach your horse simple commands like walking, stopping, and turning. 

These are the building blocks for everything that follows. It’s like learning the alphabet before you can read. 

Make sure your horse responds well to these basic commands before moving on.

The Art of Balance: Achieving Reined Precision

Once your horse handles basic commands, focus on balance. A balanced horse moves smoothly and responds quickly. 

Work on keeping your horse steady and even in all movements. This isn’t just about speed; it’s about moving with grace and control.

Mastering the art of positioning

Positioning is key in training. Teach your horse to position itself correctly in relation to the cattle. 

This means moving into the right spot to control the cow effectively. Think of it like a dance, where your horse learns to move in sync with the movements of the cow.

Perfecting the turn

Turns are crucial in reined cow horse events. Practice makes perfect here. Teach your horse to turn sharply and cleanly. 

Start slow, then increase speed as your horse gets more comfortable. Each turn should be crisp and controlled.

Guiding the early steps: Direction and balance

In the early stages, guide your horse gently. Focus on directing their movements and maintaining balance. 

This means guiding them through turns and stops with precision. It’s about fine-tuning their responses to your commands.

Embrace repetition

Repetition is your friend. Repeat exercises until they become second nature to your horse. This builds muscle memory and confidence. 

The more you practice, the better your horse will perform. Remember, consistency is key to mastering any skill.

Selecting the Right Horse

Selecting the right horse for reined cow horse training is crucial to your success in the sport. Here’s how to make a smart choice:

Look for the right temperament 

You want a horse that is calm yet responsive. A good cow horse should be eager to learn and not easily spooked by cattle or sudden movements. 

Look for a horse with curiosity and attentiveness rather than fear or aggression.

Assess physical attributes 

The ideal cow horse is agile and strong. Look for a horse with a sturdy build, good muscle tone, and a balanced body. 

Pay special attention to the legs and feet, as these will be under considerable strain during training and competitions.

Check for quick reflexes 

A cow horse must make quick, sharp movements, especially when working with cattle. Watch how the horse responds to stimuli during a demonstration or try-out. 

Quick reflexes are a good indicator that the horse can handle the fast-paced demands of cow horse events.

Consider the horse’s training and background 

A horse with some western riding or cattle work foundation can be a plus. This background can reduce training time and give you a clearer idea of the horse’s potential in competitions. 

However, a younger, less experienced horse can also be a good choice if it shows the right physical and mental attributes.

Evaluate the horse’s health 

Before finalizing your choice, have a veterinarian conduct a thorough examination. This should include checking the horse’s overall health, soundness, and any signs of past injuries.

A healthy horse is essential for the rigorous demands of reined cow horse training.

Test compatibility 

Finally, spend some time riding and handling the horse to see how well you work together. The horse should be responsive to your commands and comfortable with your riding style. 

This compatibility is essential for building a successful training partnership.

Common Challenges and Solutions in Training Reined Cow Horses

Training a reined cow horse can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not without challenges. Here are some common issues you might encounter and effective ways to address them:

Challenge 1: Fear of cattle

Start with controlled exposure. Introduce your horse to cattle from a safe distance, gradually decreasing it as the horse becomes more comfortable. 

Use calm cattle initially to prevent startling the horse. Positive reinforcement can also help build confidence.

Challenge 2: Lack of responsiveness

Revisit basic training to reinforce commands. Consistency is key. Ensure your commands are clear and your expectations are consistent. 

Sometimes, adjusting your communication tools, like the type of bit you use, can improve responsiveness.

Challenge 3: Overexcitement or aggression

This often stems from too much energy or anxiety. Regular, varied exercise can help manage energy levels. 

For aggression, structured training sessions that focus on obedience and calm behavior are essential. Reward calmness and control rather than speed or aggression.

Challenge 4: Difficulty in mastering reining techniques

Break down reining maneuvers into smaller, manageable parts. Practice each element separately before combining them. 

This can include working on spins or stops independently. Use video feedback to analyze and adjust your training approach.

Challenge 5: Fence work challenges

Start without cattle to focus on the mechanics of the fence work. Practice approaching, running alongside, and turning at the fence to build confidence and accuracy. 

Gradually introduce cattle once the horse performs well without them.

Challenge 6: Inconsistency in performance

Ensure that training sessions are regular and structured. Avoid overtraining by balancing work with adequate rest and recovery. 

Sometimes, inconsistency can signify physical discomfort or health issues, so keep up with veterinary care.

Challenge 7: Equipment issues

Regularly check and adjust your tack and equipment to ensure they fit well and function properly. 

Poorly fitting gear can cause discomfort or pain, leading to training issues. Consult a professional to find the most suitable equipment for your horse.


How long does it take to train a reining horse?

The training duration for a reining horse can vary widely depending on the horse’s age, temperament, and prior training. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few months to two years to fully train a reining horse. Basic training might be accomplished in a few months for a horse starting from scratch. However, mastering advanced reining maneuvers often takes years of consistent practice.

Is a reined cow horse the same as a working cow horse?

A reined cow horse and a working cow horse refer to similar types of horses. However, they are used in slightly different contexts. A reined cow horse is trained for reined cow horse competitions. A working cow horse may refer more broadly to any horse that works with cattle, which includes a variety of ranch work beyond competitive events. 

How many hours a day should you train a horse?

The amount of training a horse should undergo each day depends on its fitness, age, and training goals. Typically, a horse should not be trained more than one to two hours a day to avoid mental and physical strain. This training time is often broken into shorter sessions to keep the horse engaged and responsive. Rest days are important to allow the horse to recover and prevent burnout.


As we wrap up our journey into training a reined cow horse, remember that patience and perseverance are your best tools. Every ride is a step forward in the dance between you and your horse. 

Embrace the challenges as part of the adventure. Keep practising, stay consistent, and trust the process. The bond you build and the skills you both develop are worth every moment spent in the saddle. 

So, saddle up, enjoy the ride, and watch you and your horse grow together. Are you ready to take the reins? Your reined cow horse is waiting to show you what it can do.

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How to Train a Reined Cow Horse