The Basics of Steer Stopping

Steer stopping has always been an exciting part of the World’s Greatest Horseman competition. But now we’re seeing it show up at other reined cow horse events. Learn the basics of what steer stopping is and what judges are looking for.

Steer stopping is an event that’s very complementary to the traditionally trained reined cow horse, as it applies all the basic fundamentals you’re teaching your horse from the beginning. It showcases a horse that’s willfully guided, collected, and has natural cow instincts.

Steer stopping is becoming a popular event at different reined cow horse events. Here’s what you need to know. Photo by Nichole Chirico

Tack and Gear

There are a few equipment changes you’ll want to do between your regular cow horse classes and a steer stopping class.

Reins. While it’s completely legal to participate in steer stopping using romal reins, I find that roping reins are much easier to work with. This equipment change is completely up to you; go with whatever your comfort level is.

Saddle. If you’re looking to compete in a steer stopping event, it’s great to look for a versatile saddle that you can use for all events. However, some riders prefer to switch over to a roping saddle, which is also acceptable.

Some of the benefits to using a roping saddle is that it’s designed to help you get to the front of your saddle easier. A roping horn is a little sturdier and can take the jerk when you dally your rope and stop the steer.

Back cinch. A wider back cinch that has more surface area gives more support on the underside of your horse’s belly when you go to stop a steer. It’s also important to make sure your horse is OK with a back cinch being tight. As you don’t want any play in it when the weight of the steer pulls against the horn.

If you’ve never had your back cinch that tight before, it’s worth tightening and then letting your horse move around while you’re on the ground. This will ensure he’s comfortable with it before you get in the saddle.
Mane care. If your horse has a long mane, another thing to consider doing is adding a braid into the bottom half of his mane. When you’re dallying and roping at a high rate of speed, the mane can fly up and get tangled in your dally. Not only can it be dangerous to have the mane flying around, but it can also rip out your horse’s mane.

[Stay Safe in the Warm-Up Pen]

What to Look For

This event is broken down into three separate maneuvers. Here are the things you can look for when practicing steer stopping.

Box and barrier. During this portion of the run, you want a horse that’s willing and relaxed going into the box.

He should stand quietly in the box, ears attentive, and be soft in the bridle. Ideally, he shouldn’t be dancing around or getting anxious. He should also leave the box the same way he enters it, quiet and flat-footed. Make sure he’s not jumping or breaking the barrier as you’re leaving the box.

Run and rate. You want your horse to leave the box with good acceleration to get you into position to throw your rope. Judges are looking to see if the horse breaks at the right time, and how he reacts to the steer. If it’s a hard running steer, you want to see a horse that can accelerate up to the spot. And if it’s a slower steer, you want to see a good burst of speed to get to the steer, but then rate back to match the steer’s speed until the rope releases.

Stop. Your horse should have commitment with the hind feet, and a nice, free-moving front. He should also take the weight of the steer against the horn with ease. You shouldn’t have to use a ton of rein to stop your horse. And you don’t want him locking up his front legs or bracing in the bit during the stop.

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