How to Get Started in the Cow Business for Nine Dollars or Less

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If you’ve ever dreamed of turning your equine partner into a real working cow horse you know there is a barrier looming across your path to success—cattle! They couldn’t care less about your dream and have zero interest in supporting you in your endeavors. Added to that, they are expensive to buy, care for and feed and if you have something you’re proud ofsay for instance a pickup that still has a tailgate, a stock trailer with one or more actual working lights or a barn you feel should be listed in the national registry of historic buildingsI promise you they will find a way to tear it apart and they’ll sign their work with a big green pie. For some reason they really think that’s funny. I know this because I have seen them laugh so hard their ear tags fell off as I stared through a cow shaped hole in the barn. While I suppose it’s not a bad thing to have a sense of humor, the trouble with cow jokes is that the cowhand is usually on the wrong end of them. And they always cost money, lots of money.

So what is the aspiring cow horse trainer to do? Unless he or she is independently wealthy (and we all know that owning a horse will remove any possibility of that!) the cost of cow keeping can be almost insurmountable. And you have to be okay with being laughed at by animals that burp up their breakfast and chew it for lunch. If that does not sound appealing to you I happen to have a partial solution, one that the cows think is totally unfair (which is one of the reasons I love it so much). You can BUILD YOUR OWN COW! That’s right, an artificial one. One that does not cause severe property damage and shit on the pieces.

While I admit that a mechanical cow will never completely replace the live version, using one can be a good intermediate step for your equine friend to begin the process of becoming a cow horse. Actually, I have found that even when you have the real thing, working with a mechanical cow can provide great

benefits to a horse just learning the ropes. There are opportunities for replication that do not always exist with live cattle and you can easily control speed and direction. Most real cows are morally opposed to that level of helpfulness, by the way.

I am not talking about one of those fancy electric ones with a name like ’Lectra Cow or Sparky Steer; those cost thousands and are the domain of world-class cutting horse trainers who have framed pictures of themselves with an arm around the shoulder of some celebrity patron hanging on the paneled wall of their dust-free office. (I’m not really jealousI’m just sayin’) Nope, I’m talking about the kind of a cow a real ranch hand like me would build on a cold winter’s day when the chores got done early and his kids were in school.

Actually, it has to be built on a school day because the first step is to steal one of their bikes. You should probably do this on a day when there is an after-school activity planned. Long winded activities are best, the longer the better. This is so the paint will have time to dry on your new cow before the kids get home and catch you. The day the Christmas play is scheduled and Santa will be there afterwards to listen to holiday wishes is a good choice. (It won’t matter if you miss him; Santa is not gonna bring anything to a man who just stole his little girl’s bicycle.)

There are a few other items you will have to collect. I’ve made a helpful list of everything you’ll need to conjure up a cow, as well as estimated times and costs:

  • 1 bike, used is best                                                                                                    $0
  • 1 really long clothesline, 1-200 feet                                                                       $1.49
  • 1 spring                                                                                                                        $1.98
  • 1 pulley                                                                                                                        $4.19
  • 1can stove black, partially used, found at garage sale 11 years ago                 $1.25
  • 1 square of cloth (don’t use undergarmentsthe NSA has satellites)              $0
  • A little glue (free, as long as the kids are at school)                                            $0
  • 1 board (an old one because it’s gonna break anyway)                                       $0
  • 1 old bolt (robbed from some less important piece of equipment like your wife’s car. A nut that fits it is also nice…) $0
  • 1 afternoon out of your life. (It’s gonna be a long one, longer if you can’t find your wrenches and you have to use a Leatherman and fencing pliers.)                                                                              $0

TOTAL COST: $8.91 (less if you are willing to cut a few corners)

Once you’ve acquired the bicycle, the next step in starting your cow herd is to remove the seat from the bike. Lay it aside; it’ll be going back on but in a different way. This is because when you are done, you will have reversed the bike’s working direction, turned it upside down and removed the front wheel.

Next remove that front wheel and bury it. There is a small chance your daughter won’t recognize her bike without it, especially if you take the streamers off the handle bars and paint it with the stove black. You might even be able to blame its disappearance on elves (Honey, it just seems mighty suspicious that you didn’t see any of them while Santa was at the school house, don’t you think?).

With the front wheel removed, turn the bike over and mount the seat on the forks which formerly held the wheel. That’s where the bolt from your wife’s car comes in.


Next, drill a hole through your board and put the former seat stem in it. This will keep your cow from laying over on her side when you use her so try to drill the hole fairly close to the center even if you are a ranch hand.


Take off the kick stand, reflectors, the My Pretty Ponies basket, brakes and any other useless junk you can find. You can leave the horn on if you want (it is a cow after all). My cow, Elsie, had gears so I had to give her a shifterectomy too. Next time I won’t appropriate such a complicated bike. Something for you to think about….

Now pry off the back tire but leave the inner tube. Always be safe—let the air out first. Glue the deflated tube to the rim. This will provide traction for the rope when you’re changing directions with your cow. That’s pretty much it for the engineering/larceny phase. Disguise your work with the stove black and you may never get caught.

To use your newest herd member, hook the spring and pulley to something solid. Run the rope through it and then around the wheel of the bike. Bring both ends to the middle and tie them together. You’ll have one continuous loop. While you’re there, use the ends to tie on your piece of cloth (about 6 or 8 inches square[ish]). This will be your cow’s head, the thing that will move back and forth for your horse to practice “cutting” on. Those fancy ’Lectra Cow outfits hang a cute stuffed animal here but I’m sure by now you will refuse to waste money on such a thing as a matter of principal. Of course there is another option… (What’s the matter, Honey, did those mean old elves steal your teddy bear too?).

Santa, you are such a jerk!

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Pull the bike back until there is tension on the rope. It’s best if you can set this up along a solid fence or arena rail. Now climb on and get after it. Move that flag back and forth to simulate a wily bovine. You may be surprised at how much speed and control you have with this setup. I’ll assume that you can figure out how to work the pedals (use your hands, duh!).

Completed work of art in action

Completed work of art in action


On a more serious note, remember that as the pedal person, you are there to help the horse, not to outsmart him, outrace him or see if you can spook him. And if you are observant you can learn a lot while you are pedaling; it can be time well spent and your observations can really help when it is your turn to ride.

I’ll save the finer points of working your horse on a mechanical cow for another article. There’s a lot to it and like anything worth doing, it will take some practice to master. I’ll just leave you with these few tips:

1) Good horsemanship is the most important thing.

2) Start straight, stop straight and ride straight lines.

3) Rock your horse’s weight back every time you stop.

4) Let the cow turn the horse.

5) If your horse gets behind that’s okay. Make a proper stop and turn; don’t shortcut. Just hustle him to catch back up. He’ll figure out for himself that keeping up with the cow is easier than catching up.

Letting the cow turn the horse

Letting the cow turn the horse

Hustling to catch up

Hustling to catch up


One more word of advice; never leave your mechanical cow alone in the corral at night. There are real cows lurking out there in the dark, and they have a warped sense of humor. They’ll tear your cow-bike apart and paint it green—and they’ll laugh at you as they do.