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The 1-2-3 of Working Cattle Down the Fence by Al Dunning



In the Working Cow Horse classes, you must turn the cow on the fence once each way. What separates the quality turns from the average or poor ones starts at the corner.

After boxing your cow (which is holding the cow on the end of the arena and exhibiting your horse’s cow sense and agility) you are ready to “go down the fence.” The wise, experienced riders approach the cow in the middle of the box end to have room to get control of the cow before the important corner. You should get close to the cow’s hip (position 1) and drive the cow around the corner.

This is a tricky spot, as you don’t want the cow to hesitate at the corner, or break in front of you towards the center of the arena. Either of those scenarios will get you out of position and you will lose working advantage of the cow.

Once the cow is running towards the opposite end of the arena, your goal is to keep the cow running on the fence past the center marker. After that point, you are ready to move up next to the cow (position 2). Here you get close to the cow and even with your cow. In position 2 you are now rating your speed and running stride for stride with the cow.
When you are in position 2, watch the cow intently. The possibility of the cow stopping is prevalent, as you are in the cow’s eye. I look at this as having control, in a credit earning position. In a few more strides, you are ready to advance forward to the fence turn (position 3). Sit back, watch the cow, and step by his head smoothly. If the cow doesn’t yield to your advancement, and your leg is past the cow’s shoulder, turn into the cow’s head and force the action. A good cow will shut down and turn when you get slightly ahead of him.Al Dunning

By being close to the cow, you will get a harder turn, while maintaining contact and control. This is a quality turn.

A cow horse that can run hard, rate the speed smoothly, and really get on his hocks turning is a thrill to have a leg over. A rider that focuses on the 1-2-3 position will have an advantage over competitors.

Circling a Cow

After making your fence turns in the cowhorse class, you are ready to circle up.

This portion of the event can make or break your entire run. I have ridden horses that ran out of air or endurance to circle the cow after running down the fence making two or more hard turns.

Most of the best runs are over fast. You box the cow for a few turns, go down and make a turn each way, then circle up in the middle of the arena, all while staying close to the cow, not allowing it a “mind of its own.”

After your fence turns, get into position to circle the cow by putting your horse between the fence and the cow. This can be accomplished by turning the cow then staying next to the fence, allowing the cow to leave the rail. This gives you space to circle the cow away from the fence. Sometimes you will make a fence turn and the cow will pop out towards the center of the arena. At that point you don’t want to lose the advantage over the cow. Stay close to circle the cow with credit from the judge for control.

Be aware not to run into the cow, knocking it down. Also, to have a credit-earning maneuver you must be up by the cow’s neck and head controlling the direction of the cow.

Your horse should hunt the cow and be willing to be guided lightly by the reins. He should be looking towards the cow during the circling. Do not let your horse bite the cow. After completing a full 360° or more circle, you should switch sides by pulling back behind the cow and jumping to the opposite side to circle again.

If the cow lays or falls down during circling and does not regain his footing, ride around the cow to complete the maneuver.

The judge the will signal that you have completed your run.

There are many variables when working cattle. Be logical, stay in close contact, get in and get out, be safe, and remember this is about controlling the cow. Cows don’t always cooperate, so best of luck!

Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers. Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information go to




This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 11


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