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Introducing a Colt To Cattle For The First Time

The NCHA Futurity started this past Monday, November 14th, in Fort Worth, Texas. For you folks that don't know, the NCHA is the National Cutting Horse Association, and the futurity is their most prestigious event. This show is only open to three-year-olds that have never been shown before and attracts competitors from all over North America and a few coming from Australia, Europe and South America. If you enjoy watching really nice young horses competing, it's the place to be in late November and early December each year.

We have been many times and will go again, just not this year. Luckily with the internet, we can keep track of how it's going by watching the live-streamed broadcast on Cutting Horse Central. But as they used to say on the old TV westerns, “meanwhile, back at the ranch,” we are introducing some of our young horses to cattle for the first time, and I thought I might walk you through how to go about this stage of their training.

Keith on Lizzy Calgary Stampede Wrangler Cutting Horse Futurity 2017

I was talking last week about progressing a young horse up from a snaffle bit to a shank bit and when and why you would do this. I like to introduce youngsters to cattle as soon as I have a decent handle on them. What I mean by a decent handle is he is still going to be pretty green, but I should be able to stop, turn, back-up, and leg yield enough that if I have to correct him on a cow, it shouldn’t be a big deal that would trouble him and take his mind entirely off of the cow.

The introduction would be the same on a colt that I wanted to make a ranch horse, cow horse, or cutter out of. For me, I’d apply this teaching to any horse I want to ride, they all should be able to work and control a cow. So, what I’ll explain next is how I would start and keep in mind what I do isn’t written in stone, and a few change-ups can be needed depending on the horse and his temperament. To start with, I may just ride him through some quiet cattle to start with to introduce him to the bovine species.

Now, these cattle should ideally be fairly quiet and gentle so as not to scare the colt. I want this to be a positive experience and something the colt looks forward to doing again. I might ride around these quiet cattle, not really asking the colt to do anything other than to relax and understand these new critters will do the colt no harm. As I'm moving around this small group of cattle and my horse shows me that he is relaxed and not bothered, then I might give him a little job to do. His first job wouldn’t be much to start with, it might be no more than just a tuck back in any critter that feels he should be leaving the herd.

Keith on Icey at the Calgary Stampede Summer Show 2018

I would set it up like this, I’d have a handful of cattle, maybe 5-10 head depending on what's available at the time and put them in the middle of the pen and go to riding circles around them or, as we call it, “rodearing.” Rodear means to go around. The words rodeo and round up come from this word. As I travel around this little herd, I would more often than not be travelling at a trot. When my student showed me that he was relaxed and comfortable next to the cattle, I might slow him down to a walk and tighten my circle up a little. What I mean is I would travel around the herd a little closer than I have been doing at a trot at a walk. My horse being closer to the cattle would probably be a little too much pressure for some of them, and they might feel that they should leave the herd. I would then make my circle bigger, taking the pressure off of the cattle and allowing the deserter to return to the herd. In doing this little game, I would be sure to put little to no pressure on my colt in turning the calve back to the bunch. I would try to make it a fun little game of interacting with these cattle. My goal is to show the young horse that the cattle are nothing to be afraid of and that the horse can influence their movement.

As this little game progresses, I might see if I can get the colt to enter the body of the herd. If the colt is quite timid, I won't go very deep into the herd to start with, maybe only try to enter the outer layer of the herd before allowing the colt to build on this experience to where soon he would be comfortable walking right through the middle of the bunch in a relaxed manner. I am always trying to set my horse up to be a winner and to be a winner, you have to be confident in yourself! I take care not to over-expose the colt as I want him to enjoy working the cattle and leave each experience feeling it was fun. The three-year-old being shown at the futurity was doing this same thing only a year and a half ago, and look at them now! Next week I will talk more about the next step in getting a colt confident on a cow.

You can watch the 2022 NCHA Futurity Here -->

Happy trails!

-- KJS

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