When asked to describe the challenges of the cow horse sport, Jardi Clark, Canadian Supreme Cow Horse Committee member says, The most difficult part about Cow Horse is finding and training a horse that can compete in three different disciplines.
He goes on to explain that the average horse can t do all three events, and neither can the average rider. Cow Horse exhibitors must first compete in herd work, which is similar to cutting and requires a horse with a strong cattle instinct. Then reined work follows, where the horse is guided through a pattern containing spins, rollbacks, sliding stops and flying lead changes, almost like a western version of dressage, says Jardi.
Lastly there s fence work, where a single cow is released into the arena for the horse to control. Fence work is a true cowboy event with a lot of adrenaline, Jardi continues. And often the fence work determines who will win the event. You can t safety up in fence work you can t pick a softer cow or go easier. What comes in the gate is yours, and you have to handle it. Only a certain kind of person can do that.
Professional trainer Dale Clearwater is a man up to the task of riding all three disciplines. Dale expects to compete with 16 horses at this year s Supreme. When I ride cow horses, I need to be able to multi-task the way my wife can multi-task! Dale laughs. Since Cow Horse has three very different events, I have to realize that I can t just polish one area, but instead must always work on the big picture.
Dale admits to having several favourite mounts that he will be riding at the Supreme. Lena In the Starlight is a five-year-old AQHA sorrel stallion I m really enjoying right now, Dale says. He s super talented, and if we make mistakes it normally isn t his fault, but because I goofed up. Another horse I have fun riding is Smart Lil Double Pep, a bay five-year-old AQHA mare who won Reserve in Cow Horse at the Calgary Stampede a few weeks ago. This mare is very consistent and worth watching; she often is champion or reserve.
Dale enjoys all three parts of Cow Horse, but feels that fence work is the most thrilling portion. The arena at the Westerner is 180 feet long, so that cow is at a full run maybe going 35 to 40 km/hr by the time we have to turn it. A good cow is a challenge at those speeds, but the right horse can handle that challenge.
Dale clearly enjoys extreme sports. As a youth he rode horses in 4-H, and then stopped to take up skateboarding. Riding in community pastures as a youth got his interest back into horses, and I ve kept my cowboy hat on since then! he says, while confiding that he still enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding when out of the saddle.
Geoff Hoar, another professional trainer, will be competing with six horses at this year s Supreme. Geoff has been involved with cow horses since 2003 after watching a competition at the Calgary Stampede. I went to university and wasn t planning to take up full time training, Geoff says. But it just sort of happened. I was training a few horses after work, and then I got a few more, and here I am. One of the horses Geoff will ride is a four-year-old leopard Appaloosa gelding named Ike Cant Be High. Cow horses are the ultimate broke horse, Geoff says. It s their versatility that s so great they definitely aren t one-trick ponies! Geoff describes Ike as a real character , who is already shining in Cow Horse even though he wasn t even started under saddle until he turned three.
Geoff can vouch for the excitement and potential danger that fence work brings. There are some uncontrollable factors when three living, breathing creatures horse, cow and rider are out there together, he says. And when you add speed you never know what s going to happen.
Last year at the Supreme, Geoff was competing in a class when the horse he was riding lost his footing after turning a fast cow along the fence. The horse fell on me, and if that wasn t bad enough, my chaps got hooked in the saddle horn, Geoff says. I couldn t get the chaps untangled, so I was trying to hold the horse down. A couple of guys jumped into the pen and helped me get free. We were fine, but it does go to show what sort of thing can happen in Cow Horse. .
The most difficult part about Cow Horse is finding and training a horse that can compete in three different disciplines.