Starting Horses on Cow Work
Down The Fence with Richard Winters
This last month started a brand new chapter in Rocky, our two year old Quarter Horse stallion’s life. by Richard Winters Horsemanship
We’ve spent the last thirty days introducing this colt to cow working. There are a few things that are
important for my colts to understand before we ever step into the cow pen. What I need most of all is
body control. Working a cow is all about position. I’ve spent these last few months developing
maneuverability in Rocky’s head and neck, shoulders, rib cage, and hind quarters. With this ability I can
show Rocky how to relate to the cows movements using proper body posture and movement. If you
can move their body and keep them soft in the face it makes this “extra-curricular” activity much easier.
For the first two or three days of cow work we
simply played “follow the leader.” With one cow in the pen I trotted up behind it and tracked it wherever it went. Every horse is different. Some react to the
cow in a bold manner while others are timid or scared. Rocky was a little frightened at first. That’s when tracking cattle can be beneficial. Your colt will get
braver and bolder as he realizes that the cow constantly moves away.
We’re also trying to generate some interest and
curiosity in our colts mind in regard to cattle. This is when you look for signs of that natural cow sense
that Quarter Horses are bred for. It doesn’t take long before you feel the cow begin to pull your colt along and he’ll begin to show some expression and interest on a cow.
As Rocky got braver he started to get a little aggressive. Lunging at the cow or biting at the cow is not
something I want to encourage or even allow. Point penalties are assessed in competition if a horse strikes at or bites a cow. If this happens in the practice pen
I’ll stop, back up, and then start again. They need to understand that this kind of behavior is not part of cow working. As you play this game, direct your
horse as much as necessary but try to do as little as possible to keep your colt following. Two much reining won’t allow your colt to “hook up” to the
cows. I will also try to follow the exact same flight path as the cow. In other words, not cutting corners.
The next step in this progression is to drift out along
-side the cow until you are parallel with it and then stop when the cow stops. I’ve just penned the most important sentence in this entire article. Stop When
The Cow Stops. This is the paramount concept my colt needs to understand. Sure, he’ll need to learn about turning and going with the cow, but first and
foremost he needs to stop every time the cow stops, turns, or moves directly away. Your colt will never learn to turn with a cow correctly if he doesn’t first get stopped.
At this stage of the game, quiet slow cattle are best. Fast, hard running cattle will not allow my colt to
learn or gain confidence. They’ll simply get him worried and scared and he’ll dread these cattle working sessions.
As you begin to mirror the cows’ movements and stay parallel to the cow, the type of pen you’re in can
make a big difference. A square or round pen between 100 and 150 feet across is ideal for starting
young horses on cattle. By keeping the cow between you and the fence, your colt only has to travel half
the distance to stay parallel to the cow. At this stage I don’t try to “hold” the cow on one fence line. As
the cow drifts around the pen I can use my rein and leg closest to the cow to fade away and still stay
even with the cow no matter where it goes. This technique helps a young horse build confidence in working cattle because you can take the pressure off the cow yet never lose your working advantage.
During this time I’m beginning to teach Rocky how to stop, back, and then turn with the cow. By backing
before the turn I “load up” his hind end and help him prepare to roll over his hocks when he turns. This is when the foundation of body control really begins to
pay off. Even if the cow quickly turns and goes the other way, there is no rush for me to turn if it means it would be an improper turn. Since I’m in the middle of
the pen it’s always easy for me to catch up. After I’ve helped my colt make the proper turn, I can then get parallel to the cow again.
These first few weeks of cattle work are all about confidence building, proper body position and generating interest in Rocky’s mind toward cows.
Rocky will now work cattle on a regular basis. All the while we’ll be working on his reining as well. The
best thing about cow work is that it gives a practical application to all the reining training that we do. Our
horses will appreciate it and have better attitudes when they have a practical job for all the principles they’ve been learning.
Richard along with his wife Cheryl and their children Joseph and Sarah operate their horsemanship
center from the historic and prestigious Thacher School in Ojai, California. Richard’s horsemanship show can be seen 4 times weekly on DishNetwork’s University House Channel 9411.
Contact: Richard Winters
5025 Thacher Road
Ojai, California 93023
Phone: 805 - 640-0956
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