Cattle Handling Archives
Each  month the previous month's article will be moved to the archives, where they will be listed in the order written. If you have any questions, be sure to email us for help.
article #
1 - Economical and practical reasons for using reduced stress cattle handling methods.

2 - The natural handle of cattle and how to use it

3- Allowing your horse to stop

4- Watching the gate

5- Revisiting the stop
Back to this month's article
 Economical and practical reasons for using reduced stress cattle handling methods

Possibly the most economical for a cattle producer to increase their profit is by using cattle handling methods which reduce stress on your cattle. Articles have been written by Dr. Temple Grandin of the University of Colorado and livestock handling expert Bud Williams showing that by reducing stress on cattle during handling that gains in feedlots can increase by a half pound a day, medical costs can be cut in half, and packer discounts for bruises and dark cutters can also be significantly reduced. This is added money producers could be making without any cash outlay. It can also add money to the pockets of cow/calf and yearling outfits.
    For every 0.5% shrink you prevent at branding you are making an “extra” $0.40 per calf at $0.80 calves. Saving another  0.5% shrink while making a pasture move when the calves are at 200 pounds amounts to another $0.80 per calf. Save another 0.5% when weaning 500 pound calves and you have just made another $2.00 per head for a total of $3.20 per head at $0.80 calves. Some years this “extra” cash can be the difference between operating at a profit or loss.
    To give an example of just how handling can affect your gains, I will use a yearling operation I worked for in the early 80’s. The ranch was running 2,200 head of yearling steers subleasing the pasture to another owner. We moved the steers twice in addition to shipping, and my boss (an ex-crop duster) figured it was quicker and “cheaper” to gather the pastures with an airplane than to hire extra help. On one pasture move the boss had something come up and it slipped his mind. I decided to go out and gather the 478 steers myself. Starting at the back of the 3 section pasture and throwing one bunch into the other I managed to get the job done in one day. There was basically no difference between all of the pastures, yet this one group of steers averaged 7.5 pounds more than the rest of the steers. Multiplying the 7.5 pounds time the number of moves (3) you come up with a total of 22.5 pounds per animal he ran off in the name of saving money. The total this cost on the 1,192 steers we shipped would have been 26,820 pounds. The prices at that time were around $0.75 so in essence he spent $20,115 in order to save a couple of hundred dollars hiring extra help, which really wasn't needed other than when we shipped.
    How do you handle cattle in a reduced stress manner? First forget about the “flight or fight” instinct.  As there are really very few wild cattle anymore, the “fight or flight” is not an accurate description of working cattle unless you are doing things drastically wrong. This is especially true in a feedlot situation where pen checkers are riding through the cattle on a daily basis. Even on a ranch, if your cattle are wild, it is your own fault!  If the riders are doing their job properly, and if you are actually taking care of your cattle properly, then why should the cattle have any real fear of the people handling them?  Too many people seem to think they can just turn the cattle out in the spring and gather them in the fall, then wonder why they have missing cattle and are heavily discounted because of lameness and bad eyes.  Operations that pull everyone out of the cattle to go farm or put up hay are costing themselves in higher death loss, excess shrink when they do handle their cattle, and being discounted at sale time for lame and blind cattle which will not compete as well for bunk space at the feedlot. 
    The second step is actually in forgetting about the flight zones described in the “flight or flight” methods of handling cattle. Cattle, whether they are actually wild or if they are accustomed to being handled, have a natural  handle, only the size of the “bubble” in which they react to  you changes.
    Before you assume that I don't believe that cattle have a “flight or fight” instinct, they do. So do all animals including grizzly bears and humans. You just don't want to use this instinct to handle cattle as it creates excess stress and makes you and your horse work harder. The easier you make it for the cow to go where you want, the easier it is on your horse, and in turn the easier your job is. I like to look at the “bubble” mentioned in the “flight or fight” theories as a comfort zone. This zone, and the reaction cattle have to it is much like people in a crowded mall or rodeo. Rather than going in a straight line to the beer stand (at least for your first one), your course is decided by how you are pressured by the crowd. The same is true with cattle. When you move into their comfort zone, they react by moving off. Their direction and speed is determined by your actions. Approach fast and aggressive and the flight instinct kicks in and the cow will move fast. By approaching in a relaxed manner, and from the proper angle, the cow will walk off  in the direction you want. Even if the cow starts to run off, change your course a half degree, and stop. The cow will stop and look at you rather than trotting off as it had begun to do, and you have gained control rather than losing it at the start. If gaining control is so easy, then why do we have so much trouble?
    The instinct we have as humans (which we also instill in our horses) is to speed up to try and turn the cow by heading it off it takes off fast. Nearly as often as we get the cow turned towards the gate, it will turn and run off in the opposite direction turning what should have been a simple task, into running around the pen and stampeding the rest of the cattle in the pen while we are cussing the “dumb (*&(&%$#* cow.” In addition to causing stress on the cow we are pulling from the pen, we are causing stress on all of the cattle in the pen (sometimes culminating in the “dumb cow” breaking through the fence rather than going out the gate). We need to think about what the cow is doing when it runs off.
    First it runs off because we have put too much pressure on it. Secondly, as cattle want to keep an eye on what is after them, 95% of the time they are trying to run around us. The other 5% have either been handled wrong and have been taught to just outrun pursuit or are sick enough that they ignore their natural instincts. This is even true of semi-wild cattle in big pastures. They are running around you in a big circle. By trying to head them off to turn them we are turning things into a race. By changing our angle to make it harder for the cow to get around us which slows things down and allows us to keep control of the situation. The better we read the cow, and the sooner we make the adjustment, the calmer the cow remains. Even cattle which have been handled wrong and have been spoiled, can be retrained. Fresh cattle coming into a feedlot, especially ones which are a little on the wild side, need to be trained. This is not a hard thing to do and really doesn't take more than a few minutes a day for less than a week.
      Next month we will be covering how to settle (or train) fresh cattle coming into a feedlot. Settling fresh cattle in this manner will help you to learn the basic ways to keep cattle calm, relaxed and under control whether you are working all of the cattle in a pen or trying to pull one cow out of the pen. This series of articles will not only cover how to handle cattle with less stress, but also how to train your horse as well. Being able to do this will not only help your horse handling cattle in the pasture or pen, but will also make them more versatile in the arena, no matter what cattle event you compete in.

     I hope you have picked up on some things that will help you. If you have any questions feel free to email me and ask them. If you want to be kept informed of updates to this column be sure and join our mailing list below. This is a double opt in list and you will receive an email asking you to confirm your joining the list.
    Until next month, keep your patience and cows going in the right direction.

     If you have any questions, or have a question, feel free to contact Bob.
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   Email Bob       top  introductory article   Allowing your horse to stop

This month we will be learning the natural handle of cattle and how to control them through lateral movement.  Next month we will be learning how to put a natural stop on a horse, and getting our horses to stop with a cow.

      As stated last month our natural reaction when a cow starts to speed up is to speed up to get in position to slow it down by getting in front of the cow. If we are fast enough this reaction can work to get the cow stopped occasionally.  In reality though, it usually only serves to speed the cow up, and rather than stop the cow, it turns and runs off in the opposite direction. Before we get it out the gate, we are cussing up a blue streak and calling the "dumb cow" every name in the book. So if our natural instinct is wrong, how are we to keep the cow from running off?
     By simply removing the pressure that is making it run off in the first place. Rather than simply reacting to the cow and running to head it off, we need to remember that
we are the ones initiating the situation by asking the cow to leave the pen. We need to remember that the easier we make it for the cow to understand where we want it to go, the easier it will go there and the easier it is not only on the cow, but on our horses and ourselves.  We need to remove the pressure on the cow by "fading" out from the cow. This actually accomplishes two things. First it removes the pressure we are placing on the cow to speed it up. Secondly, as the cow is trying to go around us, when we fade out, we are taking away the hole the cow is trying to take. If done properly the cow will have one of two reactions. It may turn back towards the direction we want it to go, or it will stop and look at us. Either reaction will, at the very least, slow the action down to where the cow is back under control.  How do we fade properly?
      By using lateral movement. Lateral movement is often over looked in training cow horses as we have been conditioned over the years to chase a cow to where we want, rather than actually working in a way the cow will understand and react to in a calm manner.  This is why working cowhorse events are done at a lope and why cutters look for the long runs and hard, big stops with a quick turn around. While you want a good cowhorse to be able to do these things,
they are only necessary if you have made a mistake and let things get out of control.  By using lateral movement you will find your horse gaining better balance, developing a natural turn around (without actually having to work on it) while teaching the horse to actually read and handle cattle faster with less stress on the cattle.  You will also find your horse developing a big stop without having to pull hard. But for now, let us concentrate only on lateral movement.
      Lateral movement is having your horse going in a forward motion, but at the same time moving away from your leg. You can begin teaching your horse this in the first few rides and you can do this whether you are riding pens in a feedlot, or riding in outside pastures.  I actually begin to work on lateral movement on the ground. In fact most people probably do without thinking of it as such.  Every time you push you horse to the side  when it is tied up to give yourself more room to saddle, you are training the horse to move laterally. When you are riding it is just as simple, although if you are teaching it to a broke horse, I suggest you use a ring snaffle to avoid having the horse brace you.
      Remember, every time you ride a horse in your daily work, you are training it to either get better, stay the same or get worse, so that in essence every person working cattle horseback is a horse trainer. You are also training your cows to either handle well, or become spoiled and "wild." Rather than tell you the time consuming method how "trainers" teach a horse in the arena, I'll tell you the easy way. You can use anything from a bush or rock to a cow laying down as an obstacle. Rather than always bending or turning your horse around obstacles, alternate with asking your horse to either bend, or move laterally past obstacles in your daily riding. To ask your horse to move laterally to the right, gently check it's forward motion (at a walk) while at the same time keeping it’s head as straight as possible and applying leg pressure in pack of the cinch to the left side. Basically you are checking the horse just enough to slow it down while pushing it laterally in the direction you want to go. 
      While teaching a horse lateral movement (or anything else for that matter) try to resist a constant pull with a snaffle. The horse is not moving forward with its entire body at a walk, but one side at a time.  Keep a light contact with the mouth (less than a pound of pressure) and gently alternate your contact from side to side (not “sawing” but gentle bumps). Try to do this in conjunction with the front feet, bumping each side when the front foot is beginning to swing forward. Use your lower leg to push the horse towards the direction you want to go. The hindquarters will automatically begin moving up underneath the horse as you do this. You also should avoid leaning in the direction you want to go. This is a mistake a lot of riders make but in reality it throws them off balance much like you would be if someone came up and pulled you around by your shoulder.
       Instead, lift your inside shoulder (the one on the side you want to travel). This will help
get your inside leg away from the horse allowing it to travel in that direction as well as displace your weight so that the horse will understand what you are asking.  At first youfig 1 may need to push and release, then push again a little harder until the horse takes a couple of steps in the direction you want to go. Using an obstacle of some sort, be it a bush, rock, or cow will help your horse to figure out what you are asking much easier.
       Once your horse is moving laterally fairly easily in both directions start setting it up on cattle laterally. By setting your horse at the angle in fig 1 and moving your horse laterally you are accomplishing several things at once.  First is that your horse is no a position which insures that it will be looking at the cow. Second is that if you do get too far in front of the cow, your horse already has its body bent so that it can turn with the cow. All you have to do is drop your outside hand and release the pressure on your inside, or cow side leg which automatically, and gently asks the horse to come around.fg 2 About the most you will ever have to do with the inside rein is wiggle it just a little bit.  This allows the horse to start turning on cattle on its own without the rider over turning the horse.
     If the cow speeds up and/or tries to run around the front of your horse, don't speed up and try to head it off. The cow is trying to get out far enough to run around you and if you speed up the cow will just increase its speed as well.  Instead, keep your horse bent slightly into the cow, keeping your forward motion steady, and use more pressure on your cow side leg to speed your horse up laterally away from the cow.
     In essence, what you are doing is taking pressure off the cow to slow it down while at the same time taking away the hole the cow is trying to go to. This keeps the cow from getting excited and running off while. Once again, if you get too far out and the cow try to turn back, your horse's hindquarters are already planted underneath it and ready to turn back with the cow.
fig 3
      A cow will usually stop fairly quickly when you take it's hole away in this manner. Let the cow think about it for a second, then take a step back towards it. Usually the cow will head back in a straight line parallel to the fence. Let it take a step or two before you start following, but keep your horse bent towards the cow. This gives the cow a chance to relax a little more and teaches your horse to have a little patience on a cow.  One of the biggest problems people and horses have when working cattle is a lack of patience. If you are not patient, your horse won't be. If you keep your cattle calm, it gives you and your horse a better opportunity to remain calm. As long as the cow is not running off (which, if you have done this right they won't) letting it take a couple of steps won't allow it to get out of your control.

     As you approach the gate, keep your horse bent towards the cow, but increase your cow side leg pressure so that your horse keeps it's eye on the cow, but drifts away from the cow, and the gate. The reaction of the cow will be to turn it's head toward the gate, and start to head to it. Nine times out of ten, if you simply stop your horse at this point, the cow will walk out of the gate with no further effort on your part. For now we won't worry about what to do with that tenth cow as that tenth one is probably the one you didn't drift far enough away from, or sped up on too much.  But you now have the basic idea of how the natural handle of cattle works.
     When you get a fresh pen of cattle you can use this to settle them. When you move across the pen when an animal or group of animals runs off, turn you horse in the same direction they are going and move your horse away from them laterally. You will find that they will stop and look at you. Back your horse up a few steps and they will begin to go by you slowly. Turn your horse into them and they will speed up. Turn back to being parallel with them and take a few lateral steps away and they will slow down and stop. If the whole pen runs into a corner, go to them and keep them slowed down in this manner. If there are any sick animals they will be the last ones to leave the corner. If you use you lateral movement correctly and keep these cattle somewhat relaxed, you can take them out the gate while the rest of the pen keeps their eye on you. If there are no sick cattle to pull, go ahead and block them up and hold them again. After a half minute or so, go ahead and release them again, making sure that all of the cattle go by you on the same side. If you still see nothing to pull, go on ahead to your next pen. Within two or three days, you will find the cattle more relaxed and much easier to work.
 Play around with it for the next month. If you are having problems you can email me a description of what is going on and I'll get back to you on it.

Allowing Your Horse To Stop

    One of the “reasons” people use for not teaching their horses to work as light and responsive is the old one of “I’m too busy working to take time to train my horse.” This is an example of what I mean when I say “The only reason between a good reason and a poor excuse is which end you’re on, telling or listening to it.”  It will take a professional trainer more than a week to put on the same amount of time on a horse than you do in a single day of work on a ranch or in a feedlot. The other “reason” people tend to use is that it “takes too much time.“ In essence it actually doesn’t. All you have to do is pay attention to what you are doing and ride your horses correctly.
     Next to lateral movement, the most important thing in handling cattle in a way which reduces stress in the cattle is to allow your horse to stop in a relaxed, natural and balanced stop. Notice I did not word this as “Teach, force or make” but allowing your horse to stop. When working cattle, especially when working them with the least possible amount of stress, it is best to let the horse to work on it’s own as much as possible. This is a matter of simple logic. In the time it takes us to tell the horse what to do, we are often late with the move. The overall result in learning to work cattle in a reduced stress manner is that you are, at the same time, teaching your horse. Once your horse learns, it really doesn’t take that much time for it to start working on it’s own, keeping it’s head down, body balanced, and looking at the cow.
    In watching working cow horse competitions, the horse chases the cow down the fence, and when in position, slide stops and rolls back into the cow then chases it back down the fence. The horse’s head is usually up in the air with the rider pulling the horse to a stop and around. In cutting competitions, the cow actually is working the horse, with the turn back riders deciding when to turn the cow. While these horses appear to be stopping on their own, they are not. They are only practicing the stop that has been drilled into them by the rider pulling on them to teach them to stop with the cow. This is why you see so many horses lose their cow at cuttings. They are basically chasing the cow, then stopping a little late and sliding past the cow. This, combined with the fact they have to “hold the line” and stay parallel to the cow to score high is the reason why cattle get around horses (or jump the fence) when they come to the side of the arena. This is nearly eliminated by allowing your horse to stop rather than teaching or forcing it to stop.
    People who ride “western,” especially those of us who work cattle horseback for a living have gotten into the of “throwing” horse’s their heads and riding with a loose rein even when we are starting colts. When we want to stop or slow down we are taught to pull or jerk on the reins.  On the other hand, Dressage riders use a light mouth contact, but use their body for speed control, slowing their horses by simply adjusting their weight a little deeper in the saddle and exhaling (which slightly increases your weight in the saddle).  Actually it is fairly simple to teach our horses to respond in this way, and is the first step in letting a horse stop on its own. Not only can make faster progress on a green colt than you can a broke horse, most colts will pick slowing down in this manner, and even be stopping on their own in the first thirty rides.
    Our own thinking tends to block us as we tend to think that this kind of training is too “advanced” for us or our horses. The only “advanced” to these methods, is that we have to open our minds to them. We may even have to concentrate on what we are doing until we begin riding this way instinctively. But for our horses, it is all basic, and they will learn it extremely fast.
     As in teaching lateral movement, keep a light mouth contact of a few ounces. The easier we make it for the horse to feel what we want, the easier it will be for them to figure it out and the lighter they will be. If you start doing these things on the first ride, you will have your horses stopping in their own within a month, and keeping their eyes on the cow while they are doing it.
    At a walk, ask your horse to stop in the following manner:
1) Say whoa (the verbal command gets the horse’s attention and gets it to paying attention to what comes next).

2) Give the horse a couple of strides (allowing time to react between verbal command and first physical cue).

3) Relax your body into the saddle and lower your hands reducing the amount of mouth contact and briefly touch the horse‘s neck.

4) Give the horse another stride, pick up slightly with your hands and apply a few more ounces of pressure than you were originally using. This is to reinforce the prior cues.

If the horse doesn’t stop, repeat the procedure, being a little more authoritative in saying “whoa” and a little sharper in picking up on the reins.
 Once the horse stops, ask it to back one or two steps. This will get your horse to begin folding it’s hindquarters underneath it automatically when you stop. Most horses will begin stopping before you begin re-establishing mouth contact before the fifth stop.
    At the next stage (keeping in mind that this is still the first ride) you will begin asking the horse to slow to a walk from a trot (or from a lope to a trot).
1) Relax your body and  weight into the saddle while lowering your hands to reduce mouth contact.
2) Raise your hands slightly gently re-establishing the original mouth contact.
    Once again, most horses will respond to this method of slowing within four or five attempts. After slowing your horse a few times in this manner, ask it to stop in the same manner you did at a walk. Remember to let your horse relax a few seconds after stopping and backing.    At the lope, slow to a trot using the above methods two or three times, then ask for a stop. Chances are that the colt will bring it’s hindquarters underneath it and stop fast the first time you ask. By the time you do this four or five times, you will find the colt stopping hard as soon as your hand touches it’s neck. By being consistent, your horses will understand that  settling your weight and lowering the reins will become a cue to slow down. Doing the same, and touching your horse’s neck will become a cue to stop. In essence you are not just teaching your horse to stop, you are letting your horse to feel when you want it to stop, or slow down and allowing it to do so on it‘s own, in a relaxed manner. As you are doing this while you are working cattle, especially when you combine it with lateral movement, you will find your horse’s being able to keep looking at the cow when you stop. You will also discover that your horse will begin adjusting itself to the cow with no effort on your part.
    On older, broke horses, you need to start using a light mouth contact and asking it to slow and stop by the above methods, they will respond fairly rapidly. I prefer dropping them back to a snaffle or bosal and riding them like a colt for a month or two. You can continue riding in a curb bit and just ride on a shorter rein to achieve the mouth contact. However as you are not only  teaching your horse to stop on its own, but to use lateral movement as well, it is easier on both you and your horse to go ahead and drop back to a snaffle or bosal. This is because if you try to use an indirect rein at this point, the leverage from a curb bit will tend to inflict pain on your horse. In addition the leverage from the bit will tend to tip the horse’s nose away from the cow.
    Next month we will be discussing how to approach cattle when watching the gate.

Watching the Gate
One place where people seem to mistakes is when they are watching the gate while someone else is pulling cattle.  The most common mistake is when a cow is coming down the fence and breaks across the pen. It seems the reaction is to try and outrun the cow to get in front of it and turn it back to the gate. Of course the reaction of the person pulling the cow is the same. The end result is similar to squeezing a greased marble between your thumb and index finger and the cow flies across the pen stirring up and putting stress on the other cattle. Of course the first mistake is behind why the cow broke across the pen in the first place.
    When a cow is coming down the fence it is wanting to get around the rider pushing it. No matter how relaxed the cow appears, it is still looking for a hole to get around the rider. If the cow spots the person on the gate, it will react in relationship to where that person is even if the cow is at the back of the pen and the person is just a few feet from the front of the pen. While some cows keep their heads down and never notice the rider watching the gate, others will pack their heads higher, notice the second rider, and react to go around them.  I’ve worked with people who have a tendency to do things while watching the gate which will make a cow blow back across the pen. Of course these people are also constantly cursing these “crazy” cows without even giving a  second thought to the fact that it may have more to do with what they are doing than the cow‘s attitude. 
    The fact is, that ninety percent (or more) of the time, when a cow begins turning back or blowing back across the pen, the fault lies in something either the gate person or the person bringing the cow is doing.  Other than letting extra cattle run out the gate, the person watching the gate needs to do several things. The most obvious is to recognize which cow the person is pulling. This is difficult if the person bringing the cow has several extra cows (or perhaps half the pen) with the one they want. The second thing is not so obvious. It is possible to attract the cow’s attention and begin moving ourselves in a way to help the person pulling it to get it to the gate. Often this can be done from quite a distance, sometimes from halfway across the pen.fig 1A
    Begin by moving your horse to turn the group of cows away from the gate while keeping your focus on the cow to be pulled. When the cow to be pulled begins to turn with the other cows use a little lateral movement to stop or slow down the action. You need to be careful with this as you don’t want to accidentally turn the cow back, but to keep it from going with the other cows and head for the gate. When you make the move to do this, the cow’s attention will be divided between you and the person pulling the cow. By using lateral movement and moving away from the cow, combined with the pressure from the person pulling the cow, the cow will turn and go past you towards the gate. As the cow goes past you, turn and go with it, using lateral movement to allow the cow to turn and see the gate.
    Of course there are those times when the gate is wide open, the cow has a clear field of vision to it, yet blows across the pen. When this happens the reaction of both the person pulling the cow, and the gate person is to get ahead of the cow to turn it. Of course this seldom works and we soon have the majority of the cows in the pen running around. The reason it doesn’t work is because, from the cow’s perspective, we are actually asking the cow to speed up, go by the gate person and across the pen as in figure 1A.
     We must remember that our actions play a big part in how the cow reacts. We must also realize that we have been inundated through the years with being taught to work cattle against their natural instincts.  As such we are working against ourselves and making our job more difficult. In order to change our reactions to the cattle, we need to concentrate more on reading the cattle and moving in a way which will cause them to react in the way we want. To be successful, this means making smaller adjustments and making them more often than we are used to.  While we are making the transition (or when working with someone who doesn’t understand the concepts of working with the cattle), there will be times when we do need to move in a hurry. But we can do this in a way which will still keep the cattle a little calmer.Fig 1 gate
      In Figure 1, the cow is being pushed a little to hard, spots the rider at the gate and runs across the pen. The person watching the gate could have prevented this by moving across the pen before the cow made its move. Once the cow has started moving fast across the pen it is usually too late to get in front of the cow. Trying to get in front of the cow at this point will only speed the cow up as in Figure 1A above.
     In order to turn the cow without adding more stress, the person on the gate needs to move up the fence while the person pulling the cow needs to use lateral movement, fading away from the cow as in Figure 2. As the "gate person" passes the cow's hip, the cow will be drawn to look Figure 2-gateat them, taking the cow's focus off the person pulling them for a second or two. However, the success in getting the cow to draw to the gate person is highly dependant upon what your partner is doing. The harder they are pushing the cow, the less the cow will be drawn to the gate person.  Conversely, the more the person pulling the cow fades and removes pressure, the more the cow will be drawn to the gate person, changing its direction of travel.  Once the cow is facing the gate as in Figure 3, its normal reaction will be to try and go around the gate person.

Fig 3

As your horse is bent into the cow and ready to turn, adjust yourself to the position shown in Figure 4. At this point, being flanked by both riders the cow will have the gate directly in front of it and should go right out the gate. I say should because even though the cow's focus should be on the gate at this point, many people have the habit of hollering at the cow to speed it up.
figure 4 gate
     This habit of making noise to speed up a cow, or to get it going after it stops is another one of those things we have been taught to do which just causes us more problems than it solves. Noises such as shouting or slapping reins on our chaps, etc.,  just puts stress on the cow without having any focused pressure.  As a result the cow is likely to go in a direction we don't want it to go.  Often when we approach a gate and start hollering or making noise to get the cow to go, it will turn to look at what is causing the noise, and try running back between the rider and the fence rather than out the gate. About the only time it is advisable to holler at a cow is when it is blind and can't see what you are doing.
     If the cow is wanting to turn back at the gate, rather than hollering at the cow as it aproaches the gate, or putting more pressure on it, you can often speed a cow up by stopping and backing up your horse a few steps. This works because by backing your horses up, you are taking away any hole the cow thought it saw. As the cow is wanting to get away from you, and you have taken away the hole it wanted to use, it will go out the gate. This method will also work when you are walking a cow down the fence. If it stops (and especially when the cow looks back at you) you are too close. Rather than asking the cow to keep going forward you have positioned yourself so that the cow is thinking of going around you. By stopping and backing a couple of steps you are relieving the excess pressure and allowing the cow to move forward down the fence.
     I hope you have picked up on some things that will help you. If you have any questions feel free to email me and ask them. If you want to be kept informed of updates to this column be sure and join our mailing list below. This is a double opt in list and you will receive an email asking you to confirm your joining the list.
    Until next month, keep your patience and cows going in the right direction.

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Revisiting The Stop
     There seems to be a lot of confusion as how to allow your horse to stop, so this month we are revisiting this subject as it sure allows your horse to feel when you are wanting to stop without you getting in its way (and allowing it to keep a better eye on the cattle). As this method is so subtle and hard decipher on a video,  we've broken a video down into single frame sequences.

         Part of the problem with understanding this method is that most western riding disciplines do not teach us to use speed control through our body. This is especially true when it comes to most of us who are horseback in order to take care of cattle. Unfortunately, most of us are taught from a young age to jerk and pull to get our horses to slow or stop. Dressage riders train their horses to the point that they are so sensitive to body position and weight displacement that the rider only has to exhale most of the air from their lungs and the horse will slow down. As most of us working cattle tend to depend on rein pressure to slow and stop, most of our horses have no idea of what we are doing with our body because they are too busy being pulled and jerked on. For now we will only focus on our body displacement for speed control and stopping saving discussing directional control at a later date. It is also important to remember that older "broke" horses which have been jerked and pulled on all their lives will take  longer to respond to these  methods than a green colt. In fact I've started some colts that were stopping harder in 30 days than a lot of horses that had been ridden for years.
      The cue to stop is actually a series of cues. The verbal cue of "whoa" is the first step in the series.  By using the verbal cue only when are going to stop, we are conditioning are horses to expect the rest of the cues. The second part of the cues is to relax your body into the saddle and drop your hands. This is a cue for them to slow down, even when we are not going to stop. Even if we are not working a cow, conditioning our horses to be sensitive to this will allow us to slow  them into a trot or walk at anytime without having to pull on the reins every time we want to slow down. Begin teaching your horse to slow down in this manner by moving out at a trot for awhile then relax your body into the saddle before giving a gentle pull on the reins.  When teaching our horse when we want  it to stop for us in this manner, we need to remember not to get in a hurry, and give the horse time to respond between cues. If we just holler whoa and jerk the horse's head off we are not getting the horse to stop out of willingness to stop, but out of fear of having it's head ripped off which makes it impossible for the horse to stop naturally, and difficult for it to watch a cow.   When the horse is willing to stop, it will watch a cow better for us and be more relaxed, willing, and make fewer mistakes.

 In figure one, I am loping along relaxed.  My hands and body are in a slight forward position. Horses respond to this position as a cue to be moving forward. It is important to remember that, if we ride properly, consistently, and give our horses a chance to understand what we want before we go to jerking and pulling on them, they will respond to our body and hand position. Pulling is just a reinforcement, not the actual cue.


fig 2In figure 2, I have given the verbal cue, relaxed my body into the saddle and started to lower my hands. Note that they are further back down the horse's neck, but are still in front of the saddlehorn.

fig 3In figure 3,  my fingers have touched the horse's neck and she has stopped. Note the difference in the position of her rump and neck. Her hindquarters are underneath her and her neck is somewhat level. My body is relaxed and in the middle of the saddle, while my legs are slightly forward. Also notice that I  am applying only a very little amount of pressure with my fingertips. The amount of pressure applied would be measured in ounces, not pounds. Once the horse has stopped, gently pick up on the reins and apply a little pressure with both legs in front of the cinch to back the horse up. Don't  back your horse after every stop,  but  mix it up a little. Back up three or four stops in a row, then let it just stop without backing a stop or two. This is because while you want your horse to be stopping balanced, with its hindquarters underneath itself and ready to go in any direction you want, not just flying backwards on every stop.
     Basically you are training your horse to slow down or stop with your body. Probably even more important than training your horse, is training yourself to ride in this manner without getting frustrated at yourself or your horses. It is something which you will have to train yourself in as much as you are training your horses. Once you have everything working right, you will have to keep tuning yourself and your horses up so that you (not your horses, you) don't get lazy and revert to the old jerk and pull method of stopping.
     Remember that the overall goal of what we are trying to achieve, is to be able to handle cattle with our horses with the least amount of effort on our part while creating the least amount of stress possible in our cattle. By jerking or pulling on our horse to stop or turn it we are taking it's attention off the cow. Cutting horse and "working cowhorse"  trainers can get away with this method of training because they are basically teaching the horse to be worked by a cow (especially when they are  training with a flag to save on cattle. Our horses are in too many different situations to train by a drill method. In the time it takes for us to jerk on the reins to stop, then pull on the reins to "help " the horse around and for the horse to react, we are late on the move. By allowing our horses to stop in this manner we are allowing them the freedom to read the a cow without interference. This in turn allows the horse to make it's moves faster and with more freedom than the conventional jerk and pull method. Just keep practicing and 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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