No Cow? No Problem

If you don’t have access to cattle, but you do have a roping dummy available to use, you can utilize one to start the fundamentals of circling a cow for reined cow horse events. This gives you more control over what the cow is going to do so you can better prepare your horse when it comes time to put him on a real cow. Read on to see how this can become a tool in your toolbox.

Before you start working your horse on a roping dummy, it’s important to make sure that you communicate with your driver what it is you want to do to avoid an accident. In this particular drill, we are going to focus on circling the cow, so before I even get on my horse I let my driver know the path that we’re going to do, which is circle a couple of times on one end of the arena, and then drive a straight line to the other side of the arena and then circle a couple of times the opposite direction. 

This drill is great for horses that are just learning how to work cattle, but it can also be a great way to tune-up a more finished horse when you don’t have access to cattle all the time.

Photos by Nichole Chirico


I let my driver start pulling the roping steer in a circle so I can learn the path he’s taking, and then I cue my horse into a lope and ask him to go to the outside of the roping steer. Because I’m behind, I ask my horse to hustle and get up to the cow. This gives me the opportunity to work on teaching my horse how to rate the cow. 


Once my foot reaches the roping steer’s eye, I know I’m in the position I want to be in while circling. Now I’m going to rate my horse back a bit so he’s keeping a consistent pace with the cow and want to focus on always maintaining a safe distance between my horse and the roping steer.

Photos by Nichole Chirico


Now that I’m caught up with the roping steer, I’m going to circle this cow the same direction a few times so that I can work on my horse’s body control and test his ability to rate the cow and keep a safe distance from the cow.   


I’m happy with how my horse is circling the first direction, so now I’m going to slow my horse down, get behind the roping steer and transition to the other side of it so we can begin circling the second direction. This is where it’s important to have a driver who understands how to maneuver my roping steer. You can see that as I switch to the other side of the cow, my driver looks my direction to ensure I’m safely on the other side before going to the left.

Photos by Nichole Chirico


If I find that my horse is leaning into the cow or not keeping that cushion between him and the steer dummy. I’m going to take my cow-side rein, so my left one in this case, and my left leg to move my horse away from the cow, while still allowing him to look at what the cow is doing, to help get some separation between him and the cow. 

I never want to turn my horse’s head away from the cow when I’m working him because he’s not going to be able to see what the cow is doing or where the cow is going.


You want to accomplish the same thing when you circle the second direction. Because I’m behind the cow when I switch over to the other side, I have to ask my horse hustle again to get back in position with the cow. Once I’m there, I focus on rating my horse so he stays in position with the cow while also maintaining a safe distance from the cow so I can truly focus on my cow-horse fundamentals.

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