Reduced Stress Cattle Handling
This is a column designed to help people working cattle horseback for a living improve both their cattle handling skills and horsemanship. We add to it when we can. If you want to know when we update join our mailing list. Click here for the archives to read from the beginning. If you have any questions, be sure and email them to Bob.
Reltionship and attitude with your cattle and horses
         It seems that there are people out there who consider themselves cattlemen but not horseman even though they ride horses to do their job.
Would you want to saw a board with a dull saw or drive nails with a broken hammer? Would you want a partner in your business who did not understand the business and looked at it as only an un-enjoyable task they had to do each day?  Why not? It is no different than trying to work cattle in a reduced stress manner without your horse understanding what you are trying to do, and being sick and tired of you pulling it around and jabbing at it with your spurs.
    The fact is that you have a relationship with your cattle. Each time you handle them you are making that relationship either better or worse. You are also in a relationship and partnership with your horse. The better the relationship and understanding, the better the partnership is. This is true in any relationship, whether you are talking with your parents, spouse, employer, employee, or your kids. Just as true, our attitude is either our biggest asset, or worst liability.
    If our attitude is such that we don’t think being a horseman is essential when we use horses to move, work, and doctor cattle then we are closing the door on achieving these tasks in the best possible manner. There are some who have the attitude that they can handle cattle better with four wheelers or motorcycles than with horses. Of course their cattle are not gentle and often resemble a school of fish wheeling in circles rather than going through the gate. All attitude.
    The late Tom Dorrance used to talk about “balance, timing, and feel.”  All the balance timing, and feel in the world does you no good if you do not have a good attitude. If you have a good attitude and an open mind, you can learn the rest. But that is often forgotten.
    A recent article in Drovers Magazine was about a study on the effect of noise (and the human voice in particular on cattle). While I agree with much of the article, I totally disagree on two things.
1) That past experience does not make much difference in the way cattle handle at the present.
2) That the sound of human voices is stressful to cattle.
    If cattle have been handled in a stressful way for very long they will develop a bad attitude about being worked and people in general. They expect the hot  shots and whips to come out when they get to the pens and their attitude shows it. With this kind of cattle it will take several years to get their attitudes changed to being willing and not being stressed out when they hear a human voice or get close to the pens.
 Conversely, cattle which have been handled in as close to a non stressful manner as possible have a willing attitude when being worked. They also are not stressed by the human voice because they have never had a reason to really fear us (other than being dehorned and castrated).
    Several years ago I went to work on a ranch where the cattle had a reputation of being wild. They were. But then they were also handled by crews on four wheelers and motorcycles, chasing them as fast as they would go. When they were handled by horseback, it was a Wild West show. When you got them into the pens, they were bouncing off the fences or trying to jump them. The attitude of the people handling them went straight through to the cattle. It took nearly three years of handling them with a relaxed and positive attitude before these cattle settled down. Even then it wouldn’t take a lot for them to revert if people with the wrong attitude went to handling them again.
    Back to the horse. You attitude will go straight through to your horse. If your attitude is benign towards becoming a better horseman, then you will never learn how to work cattle in a less stressful manner and neither will your horse.  When a bovine doesn’t do what you want you will have the attitude of trying to force it into doing what you want it to do. This attitude will have you forcing your horse (and most likely cussing it as well as the cow) as they are not doing what you want them to do.   As our attitude gets worse, so does that of our horse (who runs of ignoring the cow), the cow (who runs through the fence, or into our horse), and the people around us who might quit the job, fire or divorce us.
    With a positive attitude towards improving our horsemanship things are different. We begin to discover how to get our horse to move in a way which allows the cattle to make the choice to do what we want them to do. They want to go there, not because they were forced to go there but because our actions made them think that it is a good place to go. In time the horse’s attitude improves and anticipates what you want to do with the cattle and will do it on its own. Sort of like a good partner or friend. Just having a good attitude about helping you out where and when you need it.
If you have any problems, feel free to email me.

    Until next month, keep your patience, horses, and cows going in the right direction.

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