what is a cow-bred horse

What Is A Cow-Bred Horse?

I know what you’re thinking, and no, a cow-bred horse is not a cross between a horse and a cow. When I heard about the name first, I had the same thought. I later discovered that the name has something to do with these horses’ work.

Let’s dive in and discover what a cow-bred horse is, the different breeds, and why they’re so important.

What Makes A Horse “Cow-Bred”?

Cow-bred, also known as ranch or stock horse, refers to a type of horse bred specifically for working with cattle.

These horses have an innate ability to round up cattle and move them. You could even call it a “cow sense” – like a sixth sense, but for a horse. Ranch horses have exceptional skills and intelligence. Their pace and agility are required when rounding up cattle or other livestock.

Characteristics Of A Cow Horse

  • By watching cattle carefully, these types of horses can anticipate when one of their livestock is about to move. This might not happen immediately; however, these animals can attain the skill to read their cows very easily.
  • Stock horses can “rate” their livestock. This means the steed maintains the same pace as the livestock. They mirror the pace of the herd without the rider telling them to slow down or speed up.
  • When your horse moves the livestock, they should know which cow to stick with. Yes, there is a specific one that the horse latches on to, and maintains pace with when moving livestock around.
  • Because these horses have a natural affinity for livestock, they move with a lot of confidence when they are around them. They are very composed when moving between bustling and noisy herds.
  • Stock horses are easier to train on livestock than any other breed when it comes to training in general. Because they were bred for this type of work, they train relatively easily.

The History Of Cow-Bred Horses

Cattle ranching seems to have existed for a long time because of all the mythology and history around it, but that’s not the case. In reality, cattle ranching has only been practised for a little over 200 years.

In the early nineteenth century, bison and cows were allowed to roam the plains in Texas. Herding livestock into the marketplace proved to be a simple task at the time.

Top Ranch Horse Breeds


Appaloosas differ in body shape and build as well. They are excellent at sorting livestock and have a frame similar to a Quarter Horse.

The Appaloosa Horse is a true Western steed. These animals thrive in Western competitions and demonstrate amazing performance in a range of other events, including reining, cutting, roping, and barrel racing. But most importantly, they are amazing ranch horses.

American Quarter Horse

According to the American Quarter Horse Association, their name comes from their ability to outrun other breeds in races lasting a quarter of a mile. With over six million registered horses, the American Quarter Horse has the largest breed registry nationwide.

These steeds have a calm and timid demeanour to round up livestock. The natural cow sense is possessed by American Quarter Horses as well.

American Paint Horse

Paint Horses are identified by their two-toned coats with patterns. The Paint Horse needs a Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred in its gene pool to be considered a true Paint Horse. They have a long lineage as ranch horses, having been raised and trained for their ranching abilities by both settlers and Native Americans.

Paint Horses are serene and easily trainable. They can also carry a rider for the whole day because of their levels of strength and endurance. It’s also known that many Paint Horses, particularly those descended from Quarter Horses, possess the popular cow sense needed to deal with livestock.


Mustangs are herds of feral horses; they are not always a breed.

Since there is no breed confirmation, each Mustang will be different. Nevertheless, a lot of Mustangs have gone on to succeed in Western disciplines like reining and roping, both in the ring and on functional farms.

A Mustang can travel up to 20 miles per day in search of food and water. The Mustang’s wild instincts help them with the endurance required for rounding up herds of cattle daily.


It’s no surprise that we have the Arabian on this list. The Arabian originated in the Middle East and was used for crossing long stretches of desert. They are also known to be one of the most expensive horse breeds in the world.

Arabians are known for their endurance and stamina over long distances. Despite their compact size, they have a better bone density than other breeds, which is an advantage when performing strenuous work.


Clydesdales are well-known for their exquisitely feathered feet in parades and carriage pulling, but their primary purpose as a large breed was actually in agriculture.

The larger breeds can be beneficial additions to the pastures when a little extra muscle is needed, but ranching is about more than just herding livestock. Aside from their strength, which is necessary in many ranch environments, Clydesdales possess a serene and meek nature.

Cow Horse Events

Team penning

Team penning is a sport that involves a group of riders working together. This event requires riders and their steeds to seek out specific cows that are marked and move them into a specific pen.

In recent years, team penning has gained significant popularity. A horse with a natural affinity for understanding livestock is a valuable asset in this sport. While cow sense is not as important in team penning, a horse that displays interest in livestock, and the ability to read them is better suited for this event.


There are many different roping events. Roping a horse primarily needs a faster pace rather than cow sense. Roping events are organised as standalone competitions and as part of rodeos or specific breed shows.

The most well-known roping contest involves team roping, also known as heading and heeling. In this event, the roping horse initiates from a starting box (chute) and is instructed to bring the roper within throwing distance as swiftly as possible.

Reined Cow Horse

The Reined Cow Horse (sometimes called Working Cow Horse) is a competition. It was created to showcase a horse’s ability to control oxen, balance, and how the steed responds to its rider. It is one of the main stock horse events. Depending on the competition, the steed must do two or three different types of work.

You begin by putting your horse through a quiet reining pattern to demonstrate to the judge how well-mannered they are. This is commonly known as “dry work”. You then release them to drive a cow around the same course to test their cow sense.

What is “cow work”? After releasing the livestock into the arena, the horse is instructed to box it, fence it, run it along the rail, turn it, and circle it closely in all directions. All of this needs to be completed before the oxen become exhausted.

An additional “herd work” is part of a three-event competition. Herd work is for cutting, which means a lone cow is removed from the herd and kept from coming back.

Top Reined Cow Horse Sires of 2023

In 2023, these stallions shaped this sports landscape:

  • Once In A Blu Boon
  • Metallic Rebel
  • One Time Pepto
  • Dual Smart Rey
  • Kit Kat Sugar
  • Stevie Rey Von
  • Bet Hesa Cat
  • Woody Be Tuff


What does “cowy horse” mean?

A cowy horse is another word for ranch/cow horses.

When did the Reined Cow Horse start?

This sport was established in 1949. The California Reined Cow Horse Association changed its name to the National Reined Cow Horse Association. Its goal was to carry on the time-old training regimen. The 18th and 19th centuries also saw the widespread use of reined cow horses on farms to test if they had enough cow sense.


A cow-bred horse is a master in not only ranching but also cow horse competitions. These horses’ strong cow sense and natural affinity for cattle is what makes them remarkable. From dust-filled arenas to ranchlands, their legacy is one of speed and a shared love for rounding up the herd.

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