by George Peters
Looking back at some old videos from the AQHA, I’m always impressed how my three favorite cow working events have evolved: the cutting, working cow class, and the roping events. What is cool to me is they all are skills that the top ranch hand and their horse could do well enough to get the job done! Add the trail obstacles to get to the job and back and you have a ranch horse, and if the horse is smooth to ride on the way to and from the work, now we are talking the real deal, a good working ranch horse.
These foundation skills have become very specialized, and also have roots in many other events. I have been told by my old friends that at first barrel racing was referred to as “cutting” the barrels. A horse with a good handle, or rein, lead to the Reining Events. A horse that was soft and easy to ride, the Pleasure Class. A horse that would do any obstacle, the Trail Class. A fast horse with good lead changes, Pole Bending. The list continues, but the bottom line is the same — talented horses and good horsemanship.
Some say that cutting is the foundation of many other working cattle events, and I find that hard to argue with. Horses that were very “cowy” could also do the working cow horse event, and were obviously easier to rope on than the horse that didn’t want to chase or work the cow. You don’t go rabbit hunting with a German Shepherd, but you don’t want your beagle guarding the house!
Cow horses, or ranch horses, have over time become genetically specialized, with many pedigrees going back to Doc Bar, Peppy San Badger, Colonel Freckles, and many others. Without good genetics, trying to make a working cow horse is a long and sometimes unsuccessful trip. With the good ones, they come out of their mothers wanting to do their job, and we guide them along, and even sometimes just stay on and out of the way!
Rope horses that are a mix of cow horse genetics and a little race horse are the ones that are at the top. They want to chase the cow and have the speed to get the roper to the spot that makes the throw just like your standing near your favorite practice “dummy”. All the roper has to do is not mess up!
Nothing shows the weakness of a horse or rider like a cow.