Horseman, through out history, have sought out competition. In the early days cowboys competed on the ranch during their daily work, each trying to outdo the other, seeing who had the best horse and the best horsemanship.
Some of the best horsemen were California cowboys influenced by Mexican vaqueros. They emphasized good horsemanship as an art. Many ranch horse practices come from Californios traditions – working cattle in a quiet and stress free manner for the horse and cattle. This improves the health, wellbeing and rate of gain for the cattle.
The first modern era “Ranch Horse” contest was held at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show in Fort Worth, Texas on January 12, 2002. Today, ranch horse competitions are rapidly gaining in popularity, and promote the qualities and characteristics of the ultimate working ranch horse while emphasizing horsemanship.
Learning the history and traditions of the ranch horse helps our horsemanship. Exposing our horses to the disciplines and variety of ranch work helps our horses. Showing ranch horses is a fun family activity without the politics found at other shows. There are divisions for youth, amateur and open. The amateur division allows horse and rider teams to gain confidence and experience. The events are open to all breeds, registered or grade. Fancy tack and clothing are not necessary. Excessive silver and sequins are also discouraged. Good working equipment and dress is the norm. Ranch horses are not required to specialize. A versatile, handy, all around horse is all that is needed. Special breeding and expensive training is not required.
The key to training and preparing a ranch horse is getting the horse to do just what you ask in a calm relaxed manner. Your horse should not shy at common objects and should be okay with opening and closing gates, crossing bridges and dragging objects with a rope. The cattle classes do not require your horse to be a cow-eating machine. Almost any horse of any breed can watch and work cattle. Ranch cow work is generally slower paced and your horse should be generally relaxed and confident around cattle. You should be able to control his movements carefully to direct the cattle where you want. Fundamental maneuvers for working cattle are good stops and a turn on the haunches (the horse should be able to step it’s front quarters around his hindquarters).
You want your horse to be handy and useful in a ranch setting. Ranch horses shows attempt to emulate a ranch setting. The class descriptions will help you and your horse prepare. The classes are as follows:
Ranch Riding is a group class. Horses are asked to perform at the walk, trot, extended trot, and lope with a loose rein and forward momentum on the rail in both directions, as well as reverse, stop and back. The horse should appear well broke, suitable for ranch work, and willing to work at a relaxed and forward pace. Your horse should also transition between gaits smoothly, stop softly and side pass quietly.
Ranch Trail is an obstacle course simulating what a ranch horse maybe required to in the course of daily work. The class demonstrates the horse’s usability, ability to perform a wide range of tasks, is broke and has a good mind. The horse will be required to complete six obstacles. Mandatory obstacles are opening and closing a gate, trotting over poles and a dragging obstacle. Optional obstacles may include roping a stationery steer, loading in a stock trailer, water hazard, putting on a slicker, carrying an item, backing through or around an obstacle, side passing, or a small jump.
Ranch Reining participants ride a pattern with circles, roll-backs, backing, pivots and stops that may be required in ranch work to demonstrate a ranch horse’s athleticism and ability to perform maneuvers used for ranch work and to control a cow. Sliding stops and numerous spins are not a part of daily ranch work.
Ranch Cutting demonstrates the horse’s ability to complete actual ranch separating and holding and moving a single cow, as calmly as possible. During the class a cow is cut from herd, held, then moved down the arena and penned. The horse maybe directed with the reins.
Working Cow Horse shows the horse’s ability on cattle by: boxing the cow, turning it back on the fence both directions, and circling it in the center of arena. The class is judged on the horse’s ability, cow sense and smoothness.
Ranch Roping requires the competitor, assisted by two herd holders, to walk into the herd and quietly rope the designated calf without running or scattering the herd. The calf is held and then guided through two cones or a gate. Points are given for the difficulty of the roping shot, horsemanship and cattle handling.
Team Doctoring illustrates how horse and rider teams doctor cattle in Californio vaquero traditions - this quiet manner of ranch doctoring works cattle with as little disturbance as possible and without causing undue trauma.
This event requires three competitors; one to enter the herd, rope the calf’s head and remove it from the herd while the other competitors hold the herd. Once the calf is removed from the herd, the second rider heals it. The third rider then dismounts and lays the calf down. He then removes the head loop and places it on the calf’s front feet while the riders keep the rope tight. Time ends when each rope is holding two feet and the ropes are taunt. Scoring is based on points awarded for the difficulty of the roping shot, horsemanship and cattle handling. All work is to be done at a walk or trot. Disturbing the herd and rough handling of the cattle will be faulted.
Ranch Skills is a fun class requiring participants to perform a challenging ranch task announced as the class begins. The task will be different each time designed to challenge riders and to give spectators a glimpse into the exciting and unexpected challenges of ranch life.
Conformation class judges the horse’s balance, structural correctness for it’s breed and soundness. The class is held at the end of the day after the judge is familiar with the horse’s athletic ability. Each horse is viewed at the walk, trot and stand still. Horses must be rode in another class to be eligible for conformation class. Horses are shown in a rope or leather halter with no silver.
If your horse can do these things you are ready to join the growing world of ranch horse shows. If you want to participate but don’t feel you or your horse are ready or you want to learn more try attending a ranch horse clinic, practice night or private lessons.
Ranch horse clinics help riders lay a solid foundation and learn ranch horse skills.
If you want to brush up your skills and get a little arena time with cattle come to a practice night. Private lessons are also available. To participate, get more info, a schedule or rules for any of the events mentioned contact Mid States Ranch Horses. We are on the web at: www.midstatesranchhorses.com or call Kelli at 402-374-1685.