What are all the horses American cowboys use? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 05:25 PM Thread Starter
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Question What are all the horses American cowboys use?

I read a cowboy book that says a "cow pony" was used on trail drives 100-some years ago.


How many hands was a cow pony?

What breeds/colors were cow ponies?

Are cow ponies the only horses used in cowboy work?

Do cowboys ever ride large breeds to do cattle work?

On some cowboy shows on TV, I've heard the word "cow horse" also used.
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post #2 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 05:47 PM
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"Cow pony" is slang for any breed or size horse or pony used for ranch work not neccessary a breed.

"Cow horse" can be used the same but also can apply to horses shown in cutting, reined cow horse, roping As in "cow horse bred" bloodlines attributed to working cattle.

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post #3 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 05:51 PM
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Gosh. It's a huge variety.

When the cattle industry first started in the US, all horses were smaller. So 13 to 14.2 hands high. A hand is 4". And a horse was measured to it's withers. But people were smaller, too.

Often the horses were whatever a person could catch. And they received on the job training. Not as rough as most old shows would have you think, but not given as much time as young horses today get.

Now, I see quarter horses, the purebreds are more common in the southern states. I also see thoroughbreds, with good bone, Tennessee Walkers, Morgans, various paints. I know I'm missing some. And most are mixed unless the rancher also has a horse breeding business.

In the northern states, it's not unusual to see horses 16 hands high and weighing 1150 to 1300#. Long ago most horses weighed 800-900#.

Cattle are bigger framed than they used to be, too.
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post #4 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 07:21 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by boots View Post
Gosh. It's a huge variety.

When the cattle industry first started in the US, all horses were smaller. So 13 to 14.2 hands high. A hand is 4". And a horse was measured to it's withers. But people were smaller, too.

Often the horses were whatever a person could catch. And they received on the job training. Not as rough as most old shows would have you think, but not given as much time as young horses today get.

Now, I see quarter horses, the purebreds are more common in the southern states. I also see thoroughbreds, with good bone, Tennessee Walkers, Morgans, various paints. I know I'm missing some. And most are mixed unless the rancher also has a horse breeding business.

In the northern states, it's not unusual to see horses 16 hands high and weighing 1150 to 1300#. Long ago most horses weighed 800-900#.

Cattle are bigger framed than they used to be, too.

What breeds are common in the western states for cattle work? American quarter? Mustang?

Is it important to match horse size with cow size? I'm always impressed to see a good cow horse work.

They are smart. When the cowboy gets off, the horse keeps the rope tight on the cow.
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post #5 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 07:32 PM
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In the Western states you see that wide variety.

Down south you see more purebred/registered quarter horses. Up north you see some, but you see many of the mixed bred horses I mentioned.

Yes, you need a larger horse to handle the larger cattle as safely as possible. Now among ranchers there is discussion about going back to cattle with a smaller frame.

And you "can' handle large cattle with a small horse but it takes more finesse. Like fly fishing compared to hook and bobber fishing.

I didn't answer your question about color. Horses have always been whatever color they came in.

I agree: ranch horses are very smart.
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post #6 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 07:59 PM
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If you're talking about the 19th century, breeds as we know them today didn't exist in the American west for the most part. Ranchers who had a horse that was "cowy" would breed them and improve their stock, but most horses used in ranch work were caught from the feral herds or otherwise of uncertain parentage. There was some success with breeding "range horses" to "Thorobreds" but they were mostly of the sprinting type sometimes known as the Great American Quarter Running Horse. The Army breeding programs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries contributed some good blood with TB, Arabian, and Morgan genes to what would eventually become the Quarter Horse, but the greatest contributions were from feral horses and sprinting Thoroughbreds carefully selected and bred for quickness, agility, and a good head for cow work.
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post #7 of 10 Old 01-22-2020, 10:34 PM
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QH's are probably the most common nowadays in professional ranching. Cattle camps and range riders tend to use more of a variety at least where I live(Montana) - my landlord's herd of cow horses ranges from Welsh/Perchs, Fjords, QH's, Arabs, Quarabs, Draft X's, to mustangs. I think QH's are probably one of the easiest breeds to get, as well as that they typically have a good disposition for working cattle, so that's why they're pretty popular among cowboys. There's really no "one breed" that does it all though.

Big horses are more useful for roping and working cows, but I've seen that a lot of riders tend to prefer the "smoothest and surest" horse when it comes to range riding. Whether that be the TB, QH, mustang, or grade, it doesn't really matter.
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post #8 of 10 Old 01-24-2020, 12:01 PM
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From 1910:



Sheep herding a couple years back - I took the picture, am not a sheepherder myself:


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post #9 of 10 Old 01-24-2020, 12:52 PM
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I am fortunate to be able to go to a few brandings every now and then. While I love riding at brandings, I love taking pix more. The majority of horses are quarter horses:





but you'll see the occasional Arab and Mustangs:

Mocha the Mustang



I guess I didn't upload any of the Arab ...
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post #10 of 10 Old 01-24-2020, 02:32 PM
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I live in NW Montana, here it is almost always quarter horses working cattle or grade horses that come from quarter horse stock. Trail riding it is a mix but for actual ranch work, hands down most are quarter horses here. I do know of an Arab that the ranch just north of me worked cattle on. Where you start to see more diversity here is in other disciplines and pleasure riding then you get more different breeds here. The Amish on the other side of the river from me used to work their cattle on a standard bred horse that they used to also pull their buggy. Last time I was up there inspecting cattle they had switched to a new quarter horse they had bought for working their cattle. The standard bred still pulls their buggy though and the guy who runs the place also elk hunts off that same standard bred. I have run into him a few times in the mountains while hunting and that was the horse he was hunting off.

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