Going down the fence … the fastest, wildest, most exhilarating ride on dirt! You are not running a pattern, you’re not running a clock, you are trying to contain and control a bovine that is not particularly known for cooperation. You’re going 40 mph to 0 and somewhere in the middle of 0 you are swapping directions … and then back to 40 mph again in 2.5 seconds, all while trying to stay in control of a critter that doesnít want controlled.
It’s wild, hell bent for leather, dash down the rail to stop and turn the cow to go the other direction. Then out to the center of the pen to push him into a full circle each direction … shutting him down as the final move of domination and control, leaving the cow bewildered and subdued.
That’s fence work, and the fun thing about the fence runs is that each one is a new adventure. Cattle are unpredictable and every run is different. There is a saying, “the cow horse event is won and lost in the cow work (or fence work).” This is so true. I have been leading in points and in a position to win a futurity on more than one occasion, then things fell apart in the fence work. You can slip way down in placing or not place at all.
There are three main parts to a fence run and some key ingredients to a successful one.
Boxing the cow is the first part of the fence work. The obvious reasons for boxing is to show the judge your horse has the cow savvy and moves to hold the cow at the end of the arena. Be sure when you call for your cow you are only about half way down the arena and you position yourself directly in front of the gate that the cow is coming out of, so the cow doesnít have any advantage on you. The reason you want to stay plenty far back from the end is because it’s a lot easier to move towards the cow if you need to than to give ground if the cow comes too fast towards you. The second reason for boxing is to take a bit of air out of the cow, to avoid getting outrun down the fence (hopefully), and to get a feel for what kind of cow you have. The third reason for boxing is that you can stop and stop the cow hard a couple of times before you go down the fence, hopefully gaining a bit of respect from the cow before you turn him at a dead run.
The next part of a fence run is taking the cow down the rail, past the center maker and turning him before the end marker and back down for at least one more turn. Getting the cow set up and learning the end on time and in proper position is coursed into a good run. This sets the tone and is the deciding factor of when you are following or controlling the cow and whether or not you will get a good tight first turn which enables you to get a good second, and so on. This is when I see people get in the most trouble, not leaving the end on time with the cow. If you are going to run down the fence on your right side, you want to take your cow to the far left of the end of the pen when you are boxing, then you can use the whole other end of the pen to get into position, drive and let your horse rate the cow. You want to keep the nose of your horse directly on the cow’s hip. This is the point of balance; if you are too far ahead the cow will stop and if you are too far behind, the cow will pop out off the fence. In this position you will drive the cow across the end around the corner and down the pence. When you come out of the corner you want to slowly start to accelerate up on the cow and close on closer to enable you to make a tight turn. If your turn is not tight you get a one-point penalty for every cow length you run past the cow. After the middle marker you want to ease past the cow. Normally when the cow’s head is at your stirrup the cow will normally shut down. If you try to pull into soon the cow can run under your horse’s neck or get into a pushing match with your horse and you can’t get by him to stop him, so it is important to get by the horse before you turn to stop him. You have to make one right turn and one left hand turn, but you can make more, if need be, if your cow is still running too fast or you did not get him popped off the fence to circle him. Once you turn the cow you normally have a small window of opportunity to jump up in between the cow and the fence to execute the third maneuver of a fence run – the circling.
We want to move up the cow very quickly and get to his head to turn him. The judge does not want to see you following the cow in a circle. The judge wants to see you pushing on the cow and instigating the turn for total control and domination.
That’s a cow horse fence run, if you have never experienced it, there is nothing like it. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you are working with a cow but that is what makes it interesting, challenging, and entertaining.
Good luck and God bless, Monty Bruce
Monty Bruce is a multi-time Reined Cow Horse and Reining Futurity and Derby champion. Monty, his assistants, and students have won numerous World and Reserve championships and are continuing to succeed in the show pen.
The Monty Bruce Training Center is a full service equine facility that specializes in Reined Cow Horse, Reining, and the Performance Horse. The Center strives to provide superior care and training for all equine needs. Visit MontyBruce.com for more info.