FAQ Riding

What is a turn back horse?

turn back horse in cutting pen
Written by Horse Rookie

You’ve probably used the term “my right-hand guy” or “right-hand gal,” meaning a partner without whom you couldn’t do your job nearly as well. In the western riding world, some of the most important horses embody those roles. They’re called turn back horses.

Turn back horses are primarily used in the sport of cutting, and there will be 2-4 of them working together. Their job is to help keep the herd organized while the cutting horse works a single cow. Turn back horses also put spacial pressure on the selected cow being cut so it continues trying to rejoin its friends. Out on the ranch, you’ll find horses providing turn back while working large herds in the open or moving cattle between pens. 

So What Makes a Really Good Turn Back Horse?

Dependable turn back horses are worth their weight in gold — at least to cowboys and cowgirls. 

A good turn back partner: 

  • Is calm and collected around cattle
  • Likes to push cows around
  • Moves confidently and quietly
  • Can add speed quickly if asked
  • Is instinctivly “cowy
  • Doesn’t mind loud noises
  • Can “turn on” and “turn off” from moment to moment

See a turn back horse in action:

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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!