FAQ Riding

What is a “Cowy” Horse?

cowy horse
Written by Horse Rookie

Whether you’re an English rider trying to brush up on Western terminology or a “Horse Rookie” trying to decipher phrases you’ve heard tossed around, we can help. 

In a nutshell, a “cowy” horse is one who displays a higher-than-average natural affinity for working cattle. These horses are typically also “cow bred,” meaning they descend from other horses who displayed these abilities. Cowy horses seem to instinctively understand how to understand cattle, move them efficiently, and learn their job quickly.

How to Tell if a Horse is Cowy

He “reads” a cow well.

Reading a cow means that a horse watches the cattle very closely and can determine what each cow is about to do — almost before he does it. Though practice helps, cowy horses pick up this skill more quickly.

Here’s a fun video of a very cowy colt:

He “rates” with his cow.

Rating means that your horse goes the same speed as the cow — without the rider telling him to speed up or slow down.

Think is similar to how a well-trained dog will trot alongside you while you jog. He doesn’t speed ahead or lag behind — he matches your pace by himself. 

He gets “hooked onto” the cow quickly.

When working cattle from horseback, it’s important that your equine partner understands which exact cow he needs to move and/or stay with. 

Getting hooked onto a cow happens when the horse realizes which specific animal he’s working — and he sticks to that cow automatically.

See what a horse that’s hooked on looks like:

He’s confident around cattle.

Cowy horses are more confident around cattle in general. They don’t get skittish even moving amidst large and noisy herds. They move towards cows with an air of proficiency and calm leadership. 

He understands his job.

Any trainer will tell you that a cowy horse is much easier to train on cattle. Even at the beginning of their training journey, these horses are like really smart interns. They watch, listen, and learn — proving themselves useful vs. a hinderance, from day one.

As training progresses, and you invest more time showing a cowy horse what his job entails, it “clicks.” He remembers what he’s learned, improves with practice, and seems eager to do more.

He enjoys the work.

One of the best characteristics of cowy horses is how they seem to genuinely enjoy the work. If your horse works cattle quietly, confidently, efficiently, and with a good attitude for hours on end, that’s a great sign that you’re riding a cowy horse.

An experienced cow horse is a thing of beauty:

Parting Thoughts

As with all activities, some people and horses take to them more naturally. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn to be quite proficient, too!

If your horse is cowy, great. You’ll probably have an easier time working cattle overall. 

If your horse isn’t as sure, or doesn’t instinctually understand how to do the job, don’t worry. With practice, the watchful eye of a good trainer, and a lot of patience, you can develop a wonderful cow working partner.

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!