November 29, 2010
Team penners need specific gear for specific reasons. AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Stang breaks the pieces down for you, from front to back.
Team penning is a speed event that involves three horses, three riders and 30 head of cattle, all with different ideas about what should happen next. It’s fast and unpredictable. Sharp turns, hard stops and unexpected rollbacks are all par for the course. With all that speed and commotion, it’s not unusual for team penners to get a little high with their hands.
- More often than not, snaffle bits are the best choice for a team penning bit. Snaffles allow for greater flexibility and lateral bending, which are crucial for those quick stops and tight turns. For a horse that gaps his mouth, I like to add a plain leather cavesson. Keeping the horse’s mouth closed so he can’t escape the bit ensures that the rider has the control he needs.
Earn rewards for doing what you love. The Horseback Riding Program is designed to reward AQHA and AQHYA members who spend time riding American Quarter Horses, as well as other horse breeds.
- Ideally, riders should be aware of their hand positions, but in the heat of competition, hands can get high. High hands on a rider lead to a high head on a horse. A horse with a high head can’t see to read the cattle. A horse with a high head is a horse with a hollow back, which diminishes the horse’s flexibility and the rider’s control.
A running martingale helps to counter those high hands and keep the horse’s head low. The rings should reach to about the throatlatch. Any shorter, and they bind the horse, restricting flexibility in his neck and shoulders. You can measure while you’re on the ground and the horse is standing relaxed beside you. Put a finger in one of the rings and pull it tight. One edge of the ring should be a few hairs from touching his throatlatch.
- Stirrups should be short enough so there is a bend in your knees. I’d rather see stirrups too short than too long. If you’re reaching for your stirrups, your horse will throw you forward and off balance when he stops. Your knees should be bent so you can sit on your pockets and your horse won’t throw you out of the saddle when he turns to work a cow.
- Cutting saddles, working cow horse saddles and ranch cutters keep you centered on the horse’s back. They allow you to sit deep when stopping and turning.
- Don’t forget the leg protection. Overreach boots protect the coronary bands and reduce the chance of a pulled shoe. Sport boots or polo wraps give much-needed support to those important tendons and ligaments.
- Shoes. As a professional farrier and team penner, I like to see a flat plate shoe with a little extension beyond the heel on the hind foot. The extension provides support for the suspensories and sesamoids. The plate reduces friction during those hard stops and turns, lessening the strain on the stifle and hock joints. My goal is to keep my horses as sound as possible so they can work comfortably well into their teens. I bought one of my best penning horses as a 5-year-old. She’s now 21, still sound and still competing. I have yet to inject any of her joints.
Earn rewards for doing what you love. The Horseback Riding Program offers awards for spending time in the saddle, starting at the 50-hour mark and culminating at 5,000 hours.