Equestrians everywhere…if you have the chance to take your horse to work cows, DO IT. I don’t care what your discipline or goals are, working cows will compliment it. It will show you what needs improvement and more importantly it is FUN!!!!!
At BolarGirl‘s request here is the write up of the cow clinic.
We were blessed with a sunny 70 degree Winter day. We had 7 horse/rider team participants, 2 instructors and 4 cows. Everyone arrived safely, tacked up and spent a few minutes warming their horses up in the large sand arena.
The cows were grazing in a far pasture, out of sight of the horses. As we warmed up the instructors went to collect the cows, they pushed them down the drive to the arena. All the horses got a little high headed and watched them approach for a moment but quickly lost interest and re-focused on the task of warming up. As the cows were moved into the arena, a moment that I thought could be tense, it was a complete non-issue and the horses acted as if cows coming to share their riding space was an everyday occurrence.
Riders circled up in the center of the arena as the cows drifted to a standstill along the rail. We went through a brief introduction and explanation as to what we hoped to get out of the day.
My personal goal was to get Tucker confident being around the cows, have fun and try something new. One time before we had shared an arena with a cow but it consisted of little more than Tucker getting comfortable enough to go put his nose on the cow’s butt. I wanted a little more!
The first exercise was to get the cows moving and all of the horses following. Giving everyone’s horse a chance to follow and get curious and hopefully confident moving around behind the cattle. The instructors got them moving and we fell in line behind. The participants leap frogged from front to back to give all horses a chance to be directly behind the cows and a little further away from them. As the participant’s horses grew more confident the instructors stepped out and it became our job to push the cows and keep them moving.
This was an interesting process to watch my horse go through. He started out incredibly apprehensive about the cows. Fascinated and afraid. A switch flipped though and he started to get very confident, even over-confident and at times aggressive at the cows with pinned ears and nipping at them. The more we followed though the more he figured out what was appropriate. Keep the cows moving without overreacting.
The second exercise was to pair off in groups of two and as a team we had to move the cows. The goal was no longer just keeping the cows moving around the rail of the arena but instead to push the cows and influence their movement and directions with the bodies of our horses. We had to stop them, turn them, change their speed all by how we positioned our horses in relation to them. We were given tasks such as circle them around the cone or put them in the square made out of cones. The instructors talked us through the thought process of where and how we could influence them and as a team we had to communicate with one another, come up with our plan and compliment what the other was doing. It was so rewarding and exciting each time we accomplished a task. I kept having to pinch myself as I couldn’t believe we were actually getting the cows to do it.
We took a lunch break for humans, horses and cows to get a water and food break and then we changed the exercise again. This is where it got interesting. You never want to be the “entertainment” at a clinic, but sometimes your horse has other ideas, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
We were instructed to work individually and you had to cut the cow you were assigned out of the herd then move it the entire length around the rail away from the herd and then eventually back down the other side and back into the herd.
Tucker and I were volunteered to go first. It was very hard to get the cow cut away. They don’t want to be separated and you really have to get your horse’s head in the right spot to make it happen. Once the cow is apart all it wants to do is get back in the quickest most direct route possible. This never includes a trip all the way around the rail. This is where the skill of you and your horse to be effective in blocking and using pressure to push the cow where you want it to go comes in.
On our first try it took us awhile to get our assigned cow out, once we did things went pretty smoothly for about 5 seconds. Then the cow beat us and headed back to the herd. I got super zoomed in and focused on keeping the cow out. Tucker got super excited and playful to do the same. This is where the first “bronc” ride came in. He started throwing in little bucks and poppin’ up in the front as he excitedly chased back to the herd of cows. One of the instructors stopped us here. He was cracking up, I was cracking up, all the riders were cracking up. He indicated that while the goal was the cow. The bigger goal was staying alive and I should just let the cow go when my horse starts acting like a “goober”. Yes dear readers…I paid good money to have to be told that the goal was to stay alive. Don’t most people already know that? The weird thing is, I wasn’t even thinking about Tucker’s little bucking because I was so focused on keeping the cow out that I was pretty willing to ride through just about anything.
Try two ended up with pretty much the same result.
Try three, however, was a success. I was able to slow things down, tune into my horse, keep the cow out and prevent things from elevating. Once we got the cow around the arena and he was on the other side, free and clear to run the rail back to his buddies I felt Tucker really want to go to that place of excitement one more time. I was able to shut it down before we got there though and the task at hand was accomplished.
Working the cow as an individual rider you really learn why it is so important to have lateral moves, back ups, sideways and a horse that gets up with your energy and shuts right back down when you need them too. It is a cool cool thing to block a cow with your horse’s hind end while still pushing him forward with the front end.
I cannot wait to try it again.