Noble Life

The Lowdown on Cow Smarts


Being cow smart will pay back huge dividends in the arena.

Imagine stepping into the cutting pen for the first time. To your left and right are your herd help, and directly in front of is a large group of cattle, just waiting for you to pick the perfect two or three cows that will help you and your horse earn the highest score. As you get closer to the herd, your help is offering advice, “Go for the one with the bald face, he looks like he will be a good one for you.”

How can they be so sure?

Cutting, like all other cattle events, requires a small portion of luck and a large portion of cow smarts. Being “cow smart” is the ability to anticipate how a cow may respond in a certain situation, allowing you and your horse to have the upper hand.

This is beneficial because by being able to anticipate what a cow may do, you can better select one from the herd that will show off your horse’s strengths in the show pen. If he likes to be challenged, picking a fast cow may be to your benefit, if he likes to have long sweeping maneuvers, a softer cow may be better.

Lesley Day cutting


It’s all about attitude, your attitude, your horse’s attitude, and your prospective cow’s attitude. Whether walking into the pen to compete or stepping out into the field to gather cattle, knowing your own attitude as well as your horse’s attitude is a must. Know whether the two of you enjoy being assertive in your performance, or if you prefer to roll with the punches. This will help you select the right cow to compliment that.

You may think that assessing the attitude of the cow would be harder, but with time you will find it comes more naturally than you anticipated. Watch other riders interact with the cattle and pay attention to how the cattle respond. Try predicting what they will do before the rider comes in. Were you right or wrong? With practice, you’ll soon be able to read the cow’s body language to anticipate what type of attitude he has.



Your position on the cow makes an enormous difference in the way that they respond. If you want to push the body forward, you will move your horse to the back portion of the cow’s body. If you want to stop the cow, you will get to his head. Cows have different “comfort bubbles” around them as well. This means that they will move faster when you come within a certain distance of them. It is important to notice this bubble and position your horse accordingly.

Cattle don’t always react the way you hope they will. Being cognizant of the cattle during your entire run will help you stay in charge. Continually assessing the cow in front of you to determine his attitude will help you to find the appropriate position to receive your desired outcome.


Follow Through

Once you’ve learned to read the cow, recognize the importance of position and know your preferences as well as your horse’s, it is time to practice follow through. Knowing how to develop cow smarts can only be beneficial if you bring it all together and practice. The more time you spend around cattle, the more cow sense you will develop. Don’t let availability of cattle be a limiting factor for you. Watching videos of others working cattle can help you see how cattle react to the way they ride and position themselves.

Do you have any tips or tricks on developing cow smarts that you would like to share with us?

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