Want to try cow horse classes, but feel you’re not ready for the full intensity of herd work and fence work? This non-pro limited class may be just what you’re looking for. The “limited” refers to limited cow work, because instead of the herd work and high-speed, aggressive fence work expected of horse and rider in other cow horse classes, this class requires only that horse and rider demonstrate control over a single cow along the short side of the arena for 50 seconds. Working the cow in the short end of the arena is what gives the class its other name, “cow horse boxing,” because you and your horse are “boxing” that cow into the arena’s short end.
This class has two components. Before you get to the cow work (also known as “the boxing” in this class), reined work is required. The reined work is a reining pattern that asks horse and rider to perform fast and slow circles, lead changes, spins, sliding stops, and the backup. No rollbacks are required.
Both the National Reined Cow Horse Association and American Quarter Horse Association offer this class, and competitors can earn their way to regional, national, or world championships.
RIDERS: “This division is where people who are newcomers to the reined cow horse sport can get started,” says Stephanie Duquette, NRCHA communications manager and editor of Reined Cow Horse News. “A typical rider who’d enjoy this class is someone who’s not afraid to go fast, because you do have to ride fast in the reining rundowns and when controlling your cow. Otherwise, anyone who’s able to sit up, stay balanced, and manage the horse during the required maneuvers can enjoy this class.”
“This class has no lower or upper age limits—we’ve seen kids as young as 7 and adults as old as 83,” Duquette continues. “Skills develop over time, so at first, a rider may not do everything correctly or may be a little less assertive in the ride, but can progress with each outing.” Though there are no age limits, NRCHA offers a youth limited class for those riders under 18 who may choose to compete against other youth riders.
HORSES: Clearly, at AQHA shows, competing horses must be Quarter Horses, but within NRCHA rules, any breed of horse or even unregistered grade horses can compete. “Quarter Horses and Paints are the most frequently represented breeds in competition, but we do see other breeds, including a Kiger mustang once,” Duquette says.
“The most likely winner is a horse well trained in the reining maneuvers, and also well trained to work a cow. Whichever horse can exhibit quickness of foot, a good sliding stop, the athleticism for good lead changes and spins, and the kind of brain that gets excited to lock onto a cow and move with it will do well.”
Most limited class riders show horses age 6 and older, since those horses are typically more finished and showing one-handed in the bridle, as opposed to two-handed in a hackamore or snaffle. As long as a horse is sound and athletic, there is no upper age limit, with some horses competing into their 20s.
GET STARTED: “Of paramount importance to getting started in any phase of cow horse competition is getting qualified help,” Duquette advises. “The biggest mistake newcomers to the sport make is not getting help from someone who knows the sport. Step one is to find a qualified trainer who can help make sure you have the right horse, help you learn to safely work a cow, teach you the reining maneuvers, and so much more.”
The NRCHA and AQHA rulebooks are available online, and online videos are a great way to see what competition looks like.
BENEFITS: If your horse is sour in the show pen or bored with his job, teaching him to work a cow can brighten his mind and change his whole attitude. As a rider, you’ll develop finesse, feel, and understanding. And it’s quite a satisfying accomplishment to train your horse to perform the reining maneuvers.
GOOD TO TRY IF: You’ve wanted to try a cow horse class, but felt some of the cow work was beyond your ability; you have the means and desire to work with a skilled cow horse trainer.