How to receive high marks from the judge when roping in ranch versatility.

Steer Stopping
Florida horseman Jay Holmes teaches a cow horse to master steer stopping. Photo by Christine Hamilton

In versatility ranch horse events, competitors show off an array of skills. One potentially high-scoring maneuver is to track, rope and stop a steer to signal the completion of the cow work.

Judges are tasked with scoring horse and rider pairs based on a point scale. The maneuver starts at “0;” the judge gives the horse credit or faults, ranging from minus-1½ to plus-1½ points.

Judge and horseman Bill Enk of Paso Robles, California, has intimate knowledge of judging rules. A longtime American Quarter Horse Association judge, he is also the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s director of judges. Enk judged the first AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show in 2008, and has judged three additional championship shows since.

He shares what a judge looks for in the steer stopping.


“I like to see the rider keep close to the steer after completing a fence run. Keep tracking the steer while you build your loop so when you move in to rope the steer, you are not moving twice as fast as it is. Instead, you’ve kept a consistent pace and the horse stays hooked up to the cow.

“The tracking, to me, goes along with keeping your horse hooked up. You had control going down the fence, so when you start building your loop and stay in contact with that steer, you position yourself to rate and then rope better.”


 “The horse should put the rider in the best position to rope the steer. As you approach the steer, show me that the horse can rate on its own—that is a huge plus. You started to get my attention while tracking the steer; now, if your horse rates a couple of strides before you throw your rope, then you are impressing me.

“If you run your horse up there, pick up and the horse listens to you and rates, that is great. If the horse rates on its own, that is really a big maneuver for me.”


“I want everything to be straight. The horse should stop like a parked truck: It should use its hocks for the stop, to stay balanced and also to help from being jerked out of the ground when the rope comes tight.

“The less the rider has to pull on a horse, the better. If the rider has to pull on the horse to stop and the horse responds, that is fine. But, I don’t like to see the rider pull the horse and the horse throws its head and resists. There is no real reason to stop and pull the steer back unless you are taking slack out of the rope.”


Enk advises riders to not rush getting into position to rope because, for example, missing a loop is a 2-point penalty in AQHA. With only two loops allotted in the class, if the rider misses both, the penalty is four points. However, the horse should track and rate the steer prior to the loop being thrown, allowing the maneuver to be scored on that. (According to the 2017 AQHA Rulebook.)

“As judges, we look for the willingness of the horse to do its job at that time, which is to track the steer, rate and stop square,” Enk says. “The easier and smoother it looks, the better; you don’t want to look lucky because those aren’t positives. To get on the plus side of the judge’s card training has to show through. A horse has to know its job to get on the credit side of the maneuver.”

Editor’s note: This story pairs with “Succeed at Steer Stopping,” a training story with Florida horseman Jay Holmes in the September 2016 issue of Western Horseman. 

Write A Comment