The Great “Cow-Bred” Barrel Horse Debate

Some of the top trainers and breeders in the industry answer the burning question 'What is a cow bred horse?' and weigh in on the cow bred versus running bred debate that has taken over social media.
An Oakie With Cash, Louie working the fence with a cow and barrel racing
The Great An Oakie With Cash, "Louie," was shown in cow horse events before he became one of the winningest barrel horses of all time. Images: Hubbell Rodeo Photos and Bill Fischer.

The barrel racers are back at it again on social media, and this time, it’s those short, thick cow-bred American Quarter Horses who are under attack.

One Facebook post turned into hundreds last week on Facebook, polarizing seemingly the entire industry. Both sides dug their heels in over whether or not “cow-bred,” horses, or ones who are “running-bred,” or come from an appendix or Quarter Horse racehorse line can stack up in 1D, futurity or rodeo competition.

Fights broke out over industry juggernauts like Blazin Jetolena, Frenchmans Guy and Dash Ta Fame. A large chunk of the arguing seemed to take place over the stallions that folks couldn’t answer the question: Are they cow-bred, or not? Well, to decide whether or not a stallion is actually “cow-bred,” BRM staff jumped into action, backing up the argument to one simple question.

What qualifies as a “cow-bred,” horse?

First, we asked the pro athletes.

“Hey, I’d ride a zebra if I could win on it! But really, (An Oakie With Cash) Louie was a great mixture of cow and run, and he happened to excel in both disciplines he tried. I always said that he wasn’t the fastest horse, but rather the most efficient, and I believed his cow breeding allowed him to be an athlete so that he could turn and be efficient. On a different note, I’ve won go-rounds at the NFR on six different horses, and they are all as different as night and day. They range from Doc Bar and Colonel Freckles, to Beduino, Corona Cartel and Dash Ta Fame bred.’

$3-million barrel racer and 16-time NFR qualifier Lisa Lockhart

“I would use the term ‘cow-bred,’ to describe a horse whose bloodlines have a majority that goes back to horses that were primarily used themselves, or produced horses for ranching or performance events involving cattle: cutting, working cow horse or roping.”

Four-time WPRA world champion, Hailey Kinsel

“I don’t know, but they’re good ones.”

NFR qualifier and renowned trainer Shali Lord
Shali Lord and SX Docslider, a grandson of Docs Jack Frost at the 2005 NFR.

“The origins that go back to cutting; working cowhorse in nature. I’m bred to be somebody who works at sea, my work ethic is like a captain, but I chase barrels, not fish. I’m going to ride what I know works for me, I ride the papers more than anything. But, it’s not all about the stallion. You’ve got to look at the dam.”

$ 2 million trainer , NFR qualifier Ryann Pedone

“For me, there are two different types of cow-bred horses. There are cutting horse caliber horses, which is what I grew up riding. Then, there are the ranch horse type of cow-bred horses, which is what the family I married into raises. So to answer the question, my definition of a cutting cow-bred horse is any horse whose bloodlines produce competitive cutting horses (Doc Bar, Smart Little Lena, High Brow Cat, etc) and my definition of a ranch cow-bred horse is one bred to excel at ranch work (Sun Frost, Hancock, etc).'”

Multiple-time NFR qualifier Jessica Routier
Jessica Routier Barrel Racing
Jessica Routier and her first great barrel horse, a double-bred Doc Bar mare named Especials Smoothie “Smoothie.” Rodeo Flicks/ Marty Welter

“I mean, between my three Bucks Hancock Dude progeny that are out of either an Eyesa Special Mare or a First Down Dash mare that have won $1,000,000 combined, the cow-run cross has worked well for my purposes. I also don’t think they won a combined $30,000 as futurity horses. But Kylie Weast won around $100,000 on Pipewrech and Foxys full brother, Namgis D 15 as a futurity horse, then ran him in a round at the 2018 NFR, so he made a great futurity horse for her.”

Multiple-time NFR qualifier and $1 million cowgirl, Emily Beisel
Emily Beisel barrel racing at the NFR.
Emily Beisel and a son of Bucks Hancock Dude, Namgis D 33, Chongo won the fourth round of the National Finals Rodeo in 2022. Image by Ric Andersen/CBarC Photography.

“I’m just going to keep riding anything with Mistys Dash of Fame on their papers and not worry about the rest.”

Multiple-time NFR qualifier Ivy Saebens

“I’d say a cow-bred horse is a horse that has lineage in working cow horse, reining, cutting , roping or roping or has horses on their papers who naturally have a lot of cow. Sometimes, I wish my race-bred horses were more ‘cowy.'”

2022 NFR qualifier Margo Crowther

“To me, it’s the current cutting bloodlines. No, Frenchman’s Guy is not cow-bred in my opinion.”

$2 million barrel racer, NFR qualifier Danyelle Campbell

What’s sad about this question is the fact that one opinion or the other will offend someone because that’s just the world we live in. We all feel like we have to justify every factor that is in the equation, but there’s too many factors to have an opinion on. My take on it is this: if a horse and rider are at the point of being competitive, the rider is either going to do that horse justice or they will not. It doesn’t matter what bloodline or what discipline you’re talking about.

NFR qualifier and winning futurity trainer Kylie Weast

Now, here’s what the breeders had to say…

Billy Myers hot take: Look at the facts and the history.

The first to weigh in was Billy Myers of Myers Performance Horses, whose phone had been ringing off the line over his family’s legendary stallion, Frenchmans Guy, who was at the center of the debate. The Myers Performance Sale has seen every variety of cross come through their doors, and the ranch and produced some of the industry’s top athletes.

“Horses were always a mode of transport for cowboys. That’s where cow comes from. They were cowboy’s horses made for working. To work cows, they needed to have the stamina to be ridden the entire day, and be sure-footed enough to handle the rough terrain, riding through hills and valleys. Somewhere along the way, humans decided to event with these animals and the breeds evolved. Horsemen who had the eye and the feel for what they needed to make the breed better as a competition horse. Some was pure accident, sure, but most of it was meticulously thought out. Every horse we’re talking about here is an American Quarter Horse; the attributes of many different disciplines come into play when trying to make a prime equine athlete for a certain discipline. It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re talking about. Everything goes back to a foundation and those foundations are what built every industry being talked about today. Frenchman’s Guy is a cross of cow and run. It’s not based off opinion, it’s the facts of their foundation.”

Lisa Fulton’s hot take: Consider the horse as an individual.

Lisa Fulton and her late husband, Brian, began breeding horses nearly three decades ago, have produced the iconic Fulton Horse Sale and stand stallions including the industry-changing great, A Streak of Fling and his progeny, A Dash Ta Streak, along with racy stallions like CS Flashlight. The Fultons are known for working their horses in multiple disciplines like steer wrestling, roping events and barrel racing, along with others.

I don’t have a beef anywhere, I raise them all. I’m a stallion owner and I can say I’m a strong believer of the dam line, too. We know that crossing (A Streak of Fling) ‘Streaker,’ on certain mares makes successful rope horses, other mares do way better in the barrel pen, or some make great bulldogging horses, and another set creates the strongest tie-down and breakaway horses. Streaker has around 2,000 get out there, his first foal crop was in 2005—I don’t even want to lump all of those into one category. They’re all different animals. Horses are going to surprise you, they’re going to prove you wrong. There’s always an outlier. We always encourage people—if the horse is of riding age—to ride the horse, spend some time with it before you decide whether or not it will fit your program. They’re all individuals.

Plus, there’s so many components of barrel racing. It’s not about which horse is just the fastest. I’ll never forget when the ghost videos came out and you could break down the runs in a whole new way. Brian would sit there for hours after buying videos of different stallions’ offspring and compare them—which stallions’ get fired the hardest between the barrels, which had the fastest foot speed, which powered out of the turn the quickest, which had the best rate in the turns. There’s a hundred strengths and weaknesses those horses can have, but you can’t discount how much the mare plays into it. To just make a general statement that a cow-bred, race-bred combination can’t outrun a race-on-race cross? I’ll never make that blanket statement. No two horses are alike, I just wish everybody would respect and appreciate one another’s experiences and opinions.”