Just as a polo pony, show jumper or barrel racer must know how to do its job, so must the ranch horse that earns its hay by being an equal partner in helping its rider tend to livestock chores.
A horse that is easily spooked, runs off without its rider, or balks at flapping rain jackets or twirling ropes won t make the cut as a working cow horse.
The Working Ranch Horse competition, held November 8 in the Edmonton EXPO Centre as part of Farmfair, tests the mettle of these equine cow hands, as they are put through their paces to simulate the challenges faced by the everyday ranch horse. The competition attracts proven ranch horses four years of age and older from across western Canada. Some of the horses are also entered in the Heritage Ranch Rodeo, held November 6-8.
Each of the approximate 15 horses entered in the competition are for sale, put up for auction following the contest.
Horses must show they can be easily bridled, ground-tied, have their feet inspected without making a fuss, and then stand quietly while being mounted. The horse then shows off its manoeuvres in a reining pattern. They are asked to change leads, circle, spin, and do rollbacks, said David Fiddler, Northlands Farmfair show manager. Horse and rider then work a cow, boxing it in, and then running it down the fence, showing it can be turned in the opposite direction. The horse shows off its ability in tracking while the rider ropes a cow that may be swerving or ducking. Finally, the horse is asked to drag a log, showing it isn t phased by a object chasing it from behind. This can be tricky since the log is partially in the horse s blind spot. A rider then has the chance to show off anything else it can do. It is their chance to wow the crowd, Fiddler said. Riding with one hand is preferred, but two-handing it would just cost in terms of scoring, not disqualification.
The competition highlights the versatility of the working ranch horse, with some turning in amazing performances, said Fiddler. Some of these horses are ridden by professional trainers who can ride anything with hair, he said. They can make the horse look really good.
Last year s ranch horse champion was ER Uvalde, a Quarter Horse gelding owned by Don Edey of Longview and ridden by Jesse Thomson. The pair scored 302, just four points ahead of My Midnight League owned by Frehlick Quarter Horses of Estevan, SK.
Any horse that is trained to do the herd, rein and fence is unequivocally a well-broke horse, said Edey. Add the roping element and you have an all-around stock horse that is handy for any ranch work.
Uvalde was an eye-catcher even as a weanling, he said. He is what we like in a horse. Good conformation, trainable, good temperament and athletic. And pleasing to look at. He was our pick as a snaffle-bitter as a three-year-old. His full sister was a champion reiner and cow horse and he had that potential as well. He was shown in the futurities as a three-year-old.
But the horse is just the raw material, he noted. It requires the proper training to excel in competition. A top trainer, Jesse Thomson is also an accomplished roper, said Edey. All of his horses get experience getting used to a rope. He also uses some of the show horses to work off of in the summer while doctoring heifers. So the horses get everyday ranch horse experience outside of the day-today arena work. .