Last week I was chatting with y’all about how I introduce young horses to cattle for the first time. In that newsletter, I had the colt being able to travel around a small herd of cattle in a relaxed manner, then asking them to enter the herd itself, pass through and come out the other side. In doing this, more often than not, the herd starts to break up and scatter a little, and this gives my horse another job which is to put the herd back together again by taking the “escapees” and putting them back in the herd. This is all, of course, done in the spirit of low-stress stockmanship and done in a relaxed matter so as to not put too much pressure on my young student at this time. So I might do this procedure a few times, trot around the little bunch, then enter the herd again, at a walk and try to pass through and come out the other side as smoothly as possible. I’m being mindful of trying not to disturb the herd. Then going around and tucking the bunch-quitters back in. This is showing the colt that the cattle are nothing to be fearful of, as well as showing him that he has the power to influence the movement of the cattle. Remember, your horse is a herd animal, and their ability to move the cow around shows them they are higher on the pecking order than the cow, and this builds your horse's confidence.
Once this is working well, I will take the next step and transition to working one cow at a time. Let’s chat about how I’d set up this lesson, shall we? I put one cow in the pen at a time, hopefully, something with a little bit of movement to it so it’ll move away from my horse. I’ll step my colt to the cow and follow behind it as it moves away, in this position behind the cow, I would drive the cow around. Ideally, I would be travelling around the cow at a trot, pointing my horse's nose at the tail head of the cow. I call this little game the truck and trailer game. The cow is the truck, and my horse is the trailer. Where ever the cow goes, my horses go, just like a truck pulling a trailer. I might do this exercise for a couple of weeks or as long as it takes for the colt to learn to follow the cow around wherever it goes with as little help from me guiding it as possible. I always let my horse dictate the speed of its learning. We move on to the next step once my colt is confident and comfortable with their current task.
To start with, I would be steering the colt as much as needed when I felt the colt was “hooked on” pretty well, I would throw some slack in my reins and allow the colt to track the cow on a loose rein. If he came unhooked, I would pick up my reins and help him get back into position. So once this was going well and my colt would track a cow around mostly on a loose rein, I would move him along to the next step - stopping the cow.
At this stage, I would follow the cow around, hopefully at a trot but maybe a lope if that's how fast the cow was going. Once I felt that the cow wanted to slow down, I would change my position from tracking behind the cow in a parallel position, probably even with the cow's shoulder. Putting my horse in this position on the cow would hopefully stop the cow. As the cow stops, I would stop my horse and let him relax in the spot for a little while, maybe counting to five. You want to give him a release from that pressure, after the count to five, I would maybe back him a step or two, then ride him to the cow's hip and fall in behind the cow again, tracking the cow and then stopping the cow.
This little game teaches your horse that he can move a cow by stepping to his hip and stop a cow by getting to his shoulder. Two moves that any ranch, cow or cutting horse needs to do his job. I follow this program until I feel that my horse is confident in his ability to move a cow and stop a cow. Having only one cow in the pen at a time build the horse's confidence because the cow cannot escape by running back to the herd, therefore “beating” the horse. You want to remember not to overdo your cow work sessions. It should be an enjoyable experience for the horse, not something that he is going to dread. Remember, one of the most important things in training a horse is knowing when to quit.
Until next week, happy trails.