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Cow Working Fundamentals

By Kelli Paulson, Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC
Working cattle on horseback can be efficient and enjoyable or chaotic and frustrating. A little preparation can make a big difference in your experience whether it is in a pasture, pen or arena.

Using your horse properly helps your horse improve and benefits the cattle. Cattle who are handled properly have less stress leading to less sickness and a better rate of gain. Cattle work should be done quietly at the walk and trot. Working cattle fast and furious leads to weight loss and soured cattle. The cattle you are working are someone’s livelihood and should be treated with respect.

There are two elements of cattle working. First, you need to understand how cattle move and respond. Secondly, your horse needs to be able to move his hindquarters and front quarters independently.

Cattle move in response to pressure. How fast and in what direction depends on your position, how close you are and in what direction you are going. To move cattle push (by entering it’s space) on the animal until it moves away from you. Then fall in behind it. Stay only close enough to keep it moving. It is important to find out how little or how much it takes to get each individual cow to move. Some require very little pressure, some require a lot. You want it to move calmly. You can ride your horse accurately at a slow pace. If the calf is running crazily, it is difficult to ride your horse correctly. If you want it to turn left ride until you can just see the right eye. Keep a little pressure on the eye and the cow will turn left, then drop back behind the shoulder to maintain forward movement. Working cattle on foot a time or two helps to develop a feel for how cattle move and respond.

Your horse is the next important piece to develop. If your horse is not accurate you will feel like you are herding chickens with a semi. Your horse should go exactly where you ask and no more. It is important that the horse stops quickly, turns easily on the hindquarters and can bring the front end across. This goes back to your groundwork. Being able to leg yield to and from the cow is also important. These maneuvers can be learned and refined without cattle then applied when you have the opportunity to use cattle.

As you and your horse get more accurate, moving cattle becomes much easier. For those who are ready for some competition there are various cow working competitions. Cutting, working cow, and ranch roping are classes using cattle working skills. For practices, clinics, competitions and lessons contact Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC.