A few weeks back, we explored how one moves cattle or a single cow. Whether mounted or on foot, the basics remain the same! Pressure is pressure, flight zone is flight zone. That being said, often we are asked what the next step is for learning to move cattle? What exactly is there to gain through additional clinic hours or practices? Once I know how to make a cow move, what else is there possibly to learn how to do or look for? All of these are good and honest questions. The best way to answer this is to explain how our clinics here at Shadow Hills Ranch are taught.
We offer three different cattle moving clinics as of the Summer of 2020. Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The criteria of instruction for each level is pretty simple: Beginner clinics are for new horses needing exposure and seeking drills to learn at home. Intermediate is building off of the instruction now that the point of the drills are actually accomplished and the horse has practiced maneuvers and can be applied. Advanced is removing all of the controlled variables and truly testing the horseman and horse where a wrong move means the objective is not complete. There is zero point in attending a higher level without actually practicing the maneuvers and demonstrating to yourself that you understand how cattle react and move off of pressure. It would be like taking a microeconomics course without knowing what a dollar is!
With that, the purpose of this week’s education article is to build off of the “Moving Cattle: An Art and a Science” information and get you all closer to the intermediate stage, since multiple clinics in the Bluegrass are moving more towards that level but the understanding still is not there! I hope the information provided and horsemanship techniques demonstrated help you in your educational journey! This article will also include our first video lesson, please follow the link at the end to watch.
By now you all have likely moved cattle on horseback and also on foot. It is no secret that moving cattle is relatively easy to do and that with enough exposure and practice, it becomes a way of thinking- always considering the next move and where you need to be in order to counter that move while maintaining progress. You all have very likely got into the art of moving cattle by attending a clinic or a practice, which is movement inside a 100% controlled environment. There are walls, shadows, and a fixed route the cattle take which sets us up for success pretty much every time we enter the pen and influence movement. Knowing how your last cattle working went, how do you think you would fair moving cattle in an entirely uncontrolled environment? Where your “walls” or fences are too far away to really utilize as influences of movement? How about handling more herd dynamics and wilder cattle? Sure, the sorting pen has its challenges, but nothing like field work! This leads to taking our knowledge One Step Further.
You are well aware that by entering a flight zone, a prey animal will move. By repositioning your body or horse, you influence movement in a different direction. By speeding up, the prey animal matches and potentially amplifies. Cattle working 101. Next comes changes of direction: roll backs and slide stopping aid our horse to counter these moves, they take practice and know-how to perform and train. Total control of throttle, reactive turning, sure footed-ness- these all play into the working ranch horse and allows for easy performance of tasks. Let’s say you have worked hard at all of these traits that make a working horse, you have moved and chased cattle in the round pen or arena, and you are confident. You really have two routes to go now: Showman or Cowboy.
Rodeo and Ranch classes are quite honestly simplified and specific tasks. We cut, we sort, we pen, we rope, we rein- but never all at the same time. The focus is to perfect a single event and demonstrate mastery of skills. For many horsemen and horsewomen, this is the route we want to take as it means buckles, ribbons, and a show culture we all know and love! For your horse, it means a goal to train for- but very rarely will that show horse be a “jack of all trades”. If this is the route you would like to train for, the focus should really be less an understanding for quantity of herd and more an understanding of the horsemanship behind each move.
This is where sorting, penning, roping, reining, trail obstacle, and endurance all meet. The working horse is truly a jack of all trades, master of none. The “specialized” training is a bit of each and every ranch class or rodeo class and the practice is hours and hours under saddle working. If this is the route you would like to really pursue, then the only way to continue your education is by leaving the controlled environment and putting all you have learned together in the field. This combines horsemanship with cattle knowledge.
That being said, what can be added to your knowledge arsenal regardless of which path you wish to follow? For the rest of the article, we are going to assume we are moving a group versus a single cow since that falls into cutting and can have an article of it’s own!
Let’s take the basics and build off: Pressure, Release, and Weaving:
Pressure: When we work a group of cattle, there are two things to keep in mind. Cattle are herd animals as we know and they want to be in a group. That being said, when we add pressure it is most important to stick with the group versus chase down a lone cow. There is a time to move the lone animal, usually when you are grouping would be the time or if it is a lone cow/calf as they tend to stray for privacy.
Release: Knowing when to apply and when to release pressure is something you will pick up on the more time you spend moving cattle. To keep it simple, the advice would be when the herd or target is moving in the desired direction, release pressure until you need to correct or redirect. Releasing can be one of the strongest maneuvers when working in an uncontrolled environment because when you let off on the pressure, it gives the target or herd a chance to slow or stop, allowing time to adjust your position.
Weaving: When moving multiple animals, weaving can be utilized in order to apply pressure to numerous animals. Knowing that the animals will want to stay in their group, you can use a crescent style of pressure to move the herd in any given direction (see diagram).
Putting it all together
Putting together what we know about moving cattle, lets do a case study. Below is a 15 acre total field with three gates (Marked in white). The objective is to move 13 total cows (yellow dot)out through the lower right gate into another pasture. The 2 red dots represent animals that do not need to be removed from the field but will give to pressure and cause additional pressure on the yellow dots and can cause unwanted movement,
First thing’s first, our approach would be from the barn. Knowing what we know about cattle and their desire to be in a group, our first task should be to get as many of the herd as possible in the same general vicinity past the two red dots. In this case, the red dots are llamas. There is a separate pasture which the left-most yellow dot is isolated inside, so that cow needs to be moved through the leftmost gate to be in the same pasture as the rest.
By getting on the other side of the target cow, we apply pressure in order to influence movement in the desired direction. By staying on that right side of the target, we influence movement towards the gate similar to how a reiner controls a cow by keeping the cow on the inside of the circle and directs where to move. Once at the gate, we release pressure and allow the cow to go rejoin the rest of the group. Knowing that we must move the three yellow dots (cattle) to the other side of the red dots (llamas), a weaving pattern can be utilized to make the entire group move as well as cancel out any unwanted pressure to the llamas and causing the two groups to mix.
Once the target(s) are past the red dots (llamas), we continue our pressure until the targets all join together. From there, we begin our movement towards the desired gate.
By integrating a weave, the herd will continue a controlled movement towards the desired gate. We keep pressure on the left and also on the right, influencing movement and continuing the push until our objective is achieved.
Once the herd moves towards the gate, we release pressure until the group mostly enters. By adding a little more pressure, the herd moves calmly through the gate and we have achieved our objective low stress.
This is the same scenario from the video link at the bottom of this article. Be sure to watch as there is more explained!
To conclude, we use both cattle handling knowledge AND behavior knowledge to accomplish our objectives. In the above scenario, we know that cows will group together as they have safety in numbers. We know that when we enter the flight zone, it makes the cow move. The “One Step Further” part is working on the critical thought to put the two together and achieve whatever the objective is!