Thursday, May 29, 2008

What makes a Ranch Horse?

Before I got My Boy, I did a lot of horse shopping. I would spend a gazillion hours online browsing sites such as and various ranch and breeder websites. I often came across ads where the horse was labeled as ranch horse raised or ranch horse deluxe. I always thought that sounded ideal. My impression of a ranch horse was one that was tough, able to handle to any terrain, could work livestock, good around dogs, conditioned for long days of riding, etc. A working horse. A do anything horse. I recently read an article about the "Road to the Horse" challenge in the June issue of The Perfect Horse magazine and it got me wondering what being a ranch horse really means. What makes a good ranch horse? What are the pros and cons of purchasing one? Even if you do not want to necessarily work a ranch with it? The article in The Perfect Horse said that the horses brought in for the trainer's challenge were halter broke as weanlings, and were rounded up and brought in for worming as yearlings and 2 year olds. They did this using a gentle system in which one panel slowly swings against another, hemming in each horse. When the horses were rounded up and brought in for the challenge, they were mostly untouched by humans. I am thinking these horses were basically wild (for lack of a better word.) I am sure that many of you either ride ranch-bred horses or breed them yourselves, or have purchased and trained horses that were ranch-raised. Is training a yearling that is ranch raised, with little handling until it is two years old, much different from training an adopted wild mustang? When looking at the finished product, is a horse that is allowed to mature and grow in a herd setting with little human handling potentially a better ranch horse because of his pastured upbringing? Consider the insight you share to be filed in: The Education of Pony Girl, Ranch Edition. The models in this post are two geldings owned by my Cousin K and her daughter, my Cousin J. The sorrel, Okie, is a 5 year old Quarter Horse out of the Oklahoma State University breeding program, by Now Whos Looking and out of OSU Watch Me Slide.

The palomino is a 4 year old Skipper W bred Quarter Horse. Both are very nice horses, with Skyler being the responsive angel boy that little kids can take a spin on, and Okie being the get-up-and go, maybe I'll be a barrel racer kind of boy. They are probably the closest to ranch horses we have in our family. Both of them were started by The Cowboy to be his roping horse. Every time my cousins go to The Cowboy's they come away with one of his horses.

And so the Cowboy loses another roping horse. I think maybe they just keep going back for the Cowboy. I have yet to meet these geldings, but I will this summer when we rendezvous for a horsey camping trip.

My Boy is not a ranch horse. Not even close. On one of our rides through the pastured neighborhood, My Boy took one look at a steer and about did a double take. It is my dream to own a ranch someday. Maybe then, I'll get to ride an honest to goodness ranch horse.


  1. I have always wanted to find a great old ranch gelding for my son to ride. The done that kind of horse. Those are hard to find. Nobody wants to let go of their dead broke ranch geldings. Or they will sell it to you for a small fortune!
    I read that article. That would be so neat to have watched those trainers ride those colts. That was the article where the three trainers broke the three yearlings in three days?
    My three year old gelding is scared of cows. I have even turned him out with cows and he still feaks out. I guess some are just born with "cow" in their blood.

  2. I don't think a working ranch horse is always a good idea for a leisure rider. They're used to working every day, and I have known of a few who were bought by weekend riders (at best) who developed some problems. Too much energy, not enough work. Same with performance bred horses. These horses are bred to RUN, and move, and WORK. They're hot. They want something to do. They don't necessarily make good horses for the average backyard owner. I wouldn't be a good owner for a performance horse. But each horse is an individual, I'm definitely not saying all ranch/performance horses are bad trail horses.

    I think it's good for horses to grow up in a herd situation, especially with lots of ground to cover. Their bodies, minds, and social awareness develop better, in my opinion. I find it easier to train an untouched horse than to untrain a horse with some "issues." I've trained 3 1/2 mustangs now (the colt may not really count, since he was domestic born) and watched my sister train a yearling untouched paint. The beginning was the same, but I think his breeding made him mellower. He's kind of a "dum-de-dum, whatever..." kind of a horse. He didn't have threats in his environment though, whereas a mustang has to be more on the alert. But not flighty. They have to be thinking critters, not wasting energy over-reacting at things.

    Jeez, I guess I'm feeling talkative today...

  3. Scooter is a ranch horse, grandson of Two-Eyed Jack. He is just bred cowy. Some horses have it in their DNA-its weird but a lot like dogs I suppose....some are bred to protect, some are bred to hunt et.

    In the spring of '02 I trained 2 horses (3 and 4 yos) that were ranch bred and had only been handled for vaccines/wormings/trimmings otherwise they were never handled, free to roam 300+ acres. They were awful broncy but once I earned their trust, they learned just like the 'imprinted' young horses I have had the opportunity to train....I really think it depends on the horses breeding and the training methods combined.

  4. I really do agree with Andrea about the advantages of colts growning up in a herd with ground to move around on. Herd dynamics are the very basis for how they understand human signals, IMHO.

    I've also known people who have bought real ranch horses that are used to real work and not much care. Stick them in a barn, over feed them, don't work them a 10th of what they need and watch them turn into raving idiots nobody wants to ride.

  5. I agree with andrea about a working horse. I am only a weekend rider and sometimes just a one weekend per month kinda rider. That is why I gave my Appendix gelding to my daughter. Dakota was bred to run and I don't really like to run on them anymore. A nice slow walk or trot is just fine by me. But my daughter lives for galloping. She her horse get along just fine.

    Someday I hope to breed my Morgan mare but I want to have more time to fool with the foal. Perhaps when I retire. I fall in love with every foal I ever see!

  6. Great pics of those great looking horses!! I hope that you someday get to own a ranch. I know that I love living on one and the horses here are amazing workers!!

  7. We have a true ranch horse (Roo) and he is just a great horse! He gives you everything he has. He day works his little rear end off and I can still ride him around the pasture and play on him. Having said that he is not for a beginner at all. He has 3 speeds fast, super fast and haul bu**! He is a totally different horse around cows! He knows that when there are cattle he is supposed to be working! He also is a double breed Hancock, which they are normally known to be hard headed, but have hearts of gold!
    My mare is cow bred! She is laid back enough that Savannah rides her in her little events. But then I head off her and hubby heals off her. And she is all business around cattle! She lays them ears back and off we go. We were blessed with these two horses are they are not going anywhere real soon. They are priceless! Like Andrea said you will have a hard time finding a dead broke awesome horse for sell! Having said that the key to keeping a horse from getting bored with an event, is to do lots of other things on them as well. My mare I have and do these events all the time: post colors, team rope, Women's ranch rodeos, playdays, sorting, Extreme Races, pasture work, etc. It helps desentize them to all sorts of things. Work with them all the time.
    Ranch horses are used to be worked and worked hard. You can not expect them to just stand around, they will get bored and then the bad behavoirs may start coming up. They need to be ridden and there minds kept active.
    Enjoyed the post, sorry I got so long winded!

  8. I am really enjoying the feedback. I honestly did not think about ranch horses being bred specifically for their line of work, and therefore having a personality and work ethic for it (similar to a border collie or cattle dog. and boy, I've seen those dogs need for work! :) It would be a treat to see a good working ranch horse in action some day.

  9. I'm in agreement with everyone. The bloodlines are definitely important. Some bloodlines just seem to suit "ranching" better.
    Personally I think environment is important. Most ranch horses spend a lot of time in large pastures and in groups. Unless they are working hard every day, most are not grained(much) or given any supplements.

    As far as the "wild" vs. imprinted? Out of our 28 head, only 4 were imprinted(yep-mine-LOL) and I cannot tell the difference in any of them. It seems that once you get them in and handle them daily they all get gentle pretty quick.

    Out of the 4 that I imprinted-2 have bucked-2 have not. It seems more to do with their whether their mothers bucked than whether they were imprinted or not.

    What I like best about our ranch horses-some of these guys hadn't been ridden in several years when Megan and I came home and the only precaution we took was to saddle them up and let them stand for about an hour before we took off to the pasture. They have pretty mild temperments and have had to work in their lives. They don't seem to forget that.

  10. I'd like to own enough land to be considered a ranch. But I would probably never breed horses considered "ranch" horses if that means them running wild for a couple of years first. I really love the hands on way of raising foals.

    As for cows, I've seen horses that had never seen a cow before and first reacted with fear but once they got the chance to chase the cow.........the picture really changed. Once they learn what the cows are for then they're addicted.

  11. Wow! I learned a lot of good information on this post and all the comments! I'm not in the market for any more horses, five is enough, but you never what the future will bring so all these things are good to know.

  12. I agree, some horses are just more inclined or bred to be a ranch horse. You can make horses a ranch horse, pretty easily, but then there are some that just *ahem* ain't gonna cut it.
    The Mighty Quinn being one of those. That big baby. Every horse I own and ride goes and does ranch work. You either ride fence, go on roundup, sort, or work a branding pen. They do something. Now I am NOTORIOUS for every roundup, riding the broncy, runaway, buck with you horses. But how else are they going to learn? They do straighten out, eventually...
    I had Quinn out one day walking him back to the tack room while Wade had a horse tied up, working a rope over and around them (by rope I mean cowboy rope, lariat) Quinn saw that, stopped dead and ducked behind me, shaking. Now he's off the track. No one has ever abused him with a rope. But boy, it was the scariest thing he'd ever seen! I laughed at him.
    Few months later, I'm down at the arena, riding him with a bunch of people, in a snaffle and western saddle. Wade's on the fence playing with a rope again (damn ropers!) and we stop and chat. I watch his fingers build a loop and I KNOW he wants to throw it at my horse (cause that's what we do, we deliberately throw ropes, hats, whatever, at horses legs around here, all the time) and he knows what will happen, so he's holding himself back. Rather than wait, cause the second I move this horse he's going to throw it. He can't help it.
    So I say "Go ahead" and he throws it right in front of Quinn. Man, that horse was gone. To California. I grabbed for everything. I thought I had a hold of him, but, um, no. At the end of the arena after a breathtakingly fast ride, I got him settled. It only dislocated my thumb....
    So Quinn will probably never make a ranch horse, although he CAN sort cattle, the rope thing is something I need to get working on.
    And I should warn you, if you ever do ranch work with some rowdy cowboys, watch it. They'll come by and uncinch your saddle sometimes (ok, just the guys I ride with) just to see if you're paying attention. Never ride with a bridle that has no throat latch or you'll be bridleless.
    Wade said the other night "Don't you remember out on the Pipeline when you were riding that colt and I undid your back cinch?
    Honesly, I had forgotten.. I guess it wasn't a big deal.
    Ranch work and ranch horses are a lot of fun :)

  13. Mikey, I loved your story about Quinn and the rope! And oh yes, those rowdy cowboys! I know one personally, my aunt's former wrangler at the stable she rode at in the California desert. He was our personal wranger/cowboy for hire, and now good friend of the family. On my first trail ride with him and my aunt, this Cowpoke and my aunt were trying to pull each other's horse's bridles off, wild "I dare you" chases off in the brush, stand on their horses saddles... and all kinds of crazy antics. Luckily, I was on a rental horse and just watched safely from my uncomfortable, dusty saddle.

  14. My Baby Doll was rasied around cows and did team roping. I don't believe she was a true ranch horse, though, she was rideen hard by a few cowboys. She was mostly involved alot in 4H and did barrels, competitions, etc.

    She's 15 now and is enjoying a sort of retirement on trail rides and teaching me how to ride well. She especially seems to enjoy all the 'pet-like' attention we give her. She is definetly a real people horse.

  15. Nice pictures PonyGirl!! What handsome young men you have featured on your blog...haha! I'd have to say Okie might be borderline "too much energy" because he's used to having an intense job, but he doesn't get goofy about his energy and that makes all the difference in the world. He was taught how to work under pressure and how to use his energy for good, not evil!

    Skyler picks up on his rider's energy and feeds off that. If his rider is high energy and demanding, he really performs and puts a lot of energy into his work. If his rider is a 4 year old who pronounces "back" as "bat," he keeps his head low and tries to stay as balanced as possibly so she won't slide off him while he slowly backs up.

    And I'm pretty sure I could rope a chipmunk off of either of them!

  16. I have also heard of people buying ranch horses and ending up with more horse than they have time or energy for. I think a better description for what most of you are looking for is a broke horse. My guy is very broke and he is an awesome show and trail horse. He has been worked on the trails since he was a weanling and he is an awesome reiner and just whatever you want to try horse. I did find out though that cowy horses are harder to get real trail broke, not because they are bad but because they are so aware of movement and they will focus (which is what you want in a cowhorse) on the "cow" and that can make people think they are spooky. My gelding is so quiet but when he sees a "cow" he has to look and he can be quite intense about it. I really saw this at a show I was at lately, a cowboy had a flag setup on the arena fence and my gelding would focus on it so hard it was tough to get him to go and do something else, he would even work the flag thru other horses. Everyone thought he was a trained cutting horse but it is just in him. He would also work my neighbors calves up and down the fence when he was a yearling and they were kept together. He has been the most fun horse I've ever owned and I really do feel I could ask him to do anything and he would try. I think that is what is important, whether they want to work with you or against you.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin