Reining Horse vs Cow Horse – What’s the Difference?

Reining horse vs cow horse – like saddles, there are subtle but important differences between the two. They have different jobs and performance requirements.

In this Western presentation,  pro horseman and champion reined cow horse rider Todd Crawford illustrates some of the differences between the reining horse and the cow horse.



The first example is the reining horse. The horse is moving real good with a level top line with his neck down. You want to see a good mover on a loose rein. Keeping the level frame and top line, the horse starts the spins well, has good speed and cadence, and stops the spin well.

One difference you may see here in the reining horse vs cow horse is, the reining horse maybe stays a little straighter in the spin than the cow horse will. That is because in performance reining, as the horse spins in the center of the arena you have to do four turns, starting and then stopping in a straight line.

In cow horse competition, horse does 3 and 1/2 turns in the spin – these are done at the end of the arena after he stops. So you’ll probably see a little more bend in that horse’s turn.

In the video, the cow horse is ridden in a hackamore, and is used with four and five year olds. As Todd explains, the hackamore is used to break a horse in the poll a little more; as where the snaffle bit or bridle will break one more back at the withers.

In the cow horse’s circles, the horse is a bit more elevated which is fine, and will still be credit-earning. The horse is framed up well and responsive in the hackamore – the neck is just a little higher than the reining horse. When the horse runs down and stops, with the higher neck he still stops real deep and is free with his front end.