Team penning is a thrilling rodeo sport in which a team of ranchers attempt to move cattle away from a herd and bring that cattle to a pen. Team penning if fast and exciting, showcasing the talents of both horses and riders.


Team penning began as necessary skill for ranchers. Oftentimes, individual cows were separated from the herd for medical or practical purposes. The ranchers needed the skills to pull a cow away from the herd and keeping the cow from its natural desire to return to the herd. Separating and penning cattle was the safest and most humane way to separate cattle from each other, but it required a great deal of skill and timing on the part of the cowboys and the horses.

Team penning as a three-man event was thought to have originated on a ranch in Ventura, California. Ray and Joe Yanez and Bill Schwindt invented competitive team roping while on a lunch break. In 1949, an organized team penning competition was showcased at the Venture County Fair.

Rodeo challenges began informally. When neighboring ranchers met, oftentimes the ranch hands would challenge each other to see who has the best ranching skills. The hands would compete in roping, penning, cutting, bronc riding and other ranch skills. As these competitions continued and the world became more accessible, rodeos were officially formed. While many rodeo skills are not used widely in ranching anymore, the skills are carried on at rodeo competitions. Instead of necessity, team penning is practiced as a competitive sport.

Team Penning

Team penning is a sport involving three riders, three horses and a herd of 30 cattle. Within the herd of cattle, three cows are identified either with a number or a different colored collar. These cattle are preselected for separation. This adds an additional element of challenge as the cowboys must separate these specific cows, rather than whichever cows are in easier positions.

The three selected cows must be herded in to a pen in 60 seconds or less. Team penning is set up in a large arena. The herd of cattle is positioned on one end of the arena and the pen is positioned opposite. The pen measures 16 feet by 24 feet and the opening is 10 feet wide. The horses separate the cattle and herd them into the pen as quickly as possible.

One of the tricky parts to team penning is the necessity for excellent teamwork. The cowboys must have teamwork with each other, and with their individual horses. Timing and teamwork are the keys to winning this event. In addition to the challenge of separating and penning the cows, team penning also incorporates a foul line. The herd must remain behind the foul line. If, at any point, more than four cows cross the line, the team is given no score. This means that some of the team members must also hold back the herd from moving altogether.


Scoring in team penning is based upon the amount of time it takes to pen all of the horses. There are often multiple rounds and a final score is determined by the number of successful runs, the timing of those runs and the number of cows successfully penned.

At the start of the competition, all riders must leave the gates immediately. Delays will result in penalties. Teams can be disqualified for a variety of mistakes in team penning. If the team pens cows with the wrong numbers, no score is awarded. The riders themselves call for when the clock should stop. If a team calls for time before the animals are completely in the pen, no score is awarded.

Teams can call for time with less than 3 cows in the pen. If the team is running out of time, they can call time with 1 or 2 cows in the pen. The time score is awarded but teams penning more cattle are given a higher score.

One important aspect of team penning is that the cattle cannot be touched by any part of the cowboy including hands, hats, ropes, bats, Rommel or any other equipment. The cattle must be herded the natural and safe way, just as ranchers would have done with their precious cows.

Tack and Equipment

Team penning uses western-style tack and apparel. Riders wear western clothing in rodeo competitions. While there are requirements for wardrobe, failure to adhere to the proper attire will result in a fine, rather than a penalty on the score. However, a good presentation is always helpful for the judges. Riders should wear clean and sharp jeans, with or without chaps depending on preference. Cowboy style riding boots are worm to protect the rider’s feet and help with grip in the saddle. Teams also wear matching long-sleeved button down shirts with collars. Cowboy hats are worn and are typically made of felt.

Team penning competitors use western style equipment including western saddles, split reins and bits or hackamores. Western saddles differ from English saddles in the sturdiness. Saddles are made of wood covered in thick leather. Many saddles also have carved patterns in the leather to reflect the style of the rider. Western saddles have a horn for grip as well as heavy, wooden stirrups.

Team Penning Horses

The horses in team penning are arguably the most important participants. Team penning horses are typically stock horses with quarter horses being a popular choice for all rodeo events. Stock horses are supple and responsive. Stock horses are also very quick, particularly over short distances. Their athleticism allows them to stop, turn and accelerate quickly.

Quarter horses are extremely athletic. Many cowboys say that a quarter horse can turn on a dime. Their muscular hindquarters allow them to make a quick, full stop and take off again with great speed. Quarter horses, and other stock horses, also have what many refer to as “cow sense.” Cow sense is the horse’s ability to understand where cows are located and instinctively how to herd them. The horse is able to do this without assistance or aids because it is pure instinct. The horse pulls the stock away from the herd and uses its athleticism to keep the cow away from the horse.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.