Schooling With Style and Purpose

by Al Dunning

The majority of show horses will only perform at their peak for a given period of time. Eventually, their performance will decline or their attention to the rider's cues and desires will diminish.

Because of this inevitable factor, schooling in the show arena is sometimes necessary. The following are a few overlying guidelines that should be followed no matter the discipline. 

1- Do not use up much more time than what it would take to complete the normal pattern or run.

2- Be humane. Abuse will not be tolerated.

3- Be respectful to the judge, the rules, and most importantly, the welfare of your horse.

Now when you get into specific events and disciplines such as reining, cutting, or working cowhorse, there are correct behaviors to remember when schooling your show horse in each event.


Most reining events set aside individual paid practice times often referred to as "fool 'em and school 'em" or "paid warm-ups". Whether schooling during a paid practice or during a normal class always remember the following:

1- Adhere to the basic diagram of the pattern.

2- Keep your horse collected, rate speed.

3- Turn an extra turn or two.

4- Counter-canter through the lead change area.

5- Run somewhat longer before stopping.

6- Walk before departing.


My thinking is that if my performance is not yielding a decent score (i.e. after a major penalty or run content mistake), I should be preparing my horse for his next run. This is how I do it.

1- Shorten your reins and stop your horse straight on the ends.

2- Drive further up and out of the herd then hold a straight line.

3- Back a step before turning on the ends.

While doing these basic schooling steps, remember these things:

1- Only use one hand on the reins.

2- Do not disturb the herd by getting too close or running into it.

3- Do not school on a fresh cow. Use a cow that has previously been cut as to allow the remaining cutters the best chance to show their horses.

Working Cowhorse

In the cow work portion, sometimes you will draw a hard to work cow or your horse will be pushy or chargy. In these cases, here are some possible schooling suggestions.

1- When boxing the cow, keep your horse straight and make him hold the stop longer before turning.

2- When starting down then fence, check your horse back or stop when he becomes chargy or doesn't rate the cow well.

3- If your horse wants to drop his shoulder and dive toward the cow, stop him straight next to the cow and make a square, 180 degree turn.

4- Keep his shoulder up while circling the cow to keep him balanced and straight.

     I hope these tips will give you some insight into what is appropriate when schooling is necessary. It is difficult to keep a horse at his peak, time and time again. Just remember to use your common sense. You are at a show and spectators and judges are always evaluating your actions. Think of your horse's well-being. It's not always what you do to correct your horse, but how you do it that is most important. School with style and purpose and your horse's show pen habits will stay sharp.