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Horses and Cows
Playing follow the leader for the first time.

Playing with the cattle gives a lot of practical application to all of the body control drills that we do with our horses!
With Richard Winters Horsemanship

This summer we have been conducting horsemanship clinics at the V6 Ranch in Parkfield, California. The V6 is a working cattle ranch that enables our participants to get involved in some practical, hands on cattle working experiences. Even the most skeptical and timid riders go away thinking about how much fun and benefit there was in exposing their horses to cattle. I couldn't agree more. As I have helped countless riders in this experience over the years, I've seen some common reoccurring themes.

Horses and cattle are a natural fit. Although Quarter Horses might be the breed of choice for serious cattle work, any breed can become acclimated to cattle and allow the rider to perform cattle handling tasks.
Three ladies on a cattle drive.

I'm convinced that every horse can benefit and become a much more well rounded individual by being involved in cattle work. As they adjust and get comfortable to the noise, movement, and general commotion of cattle, horses become more self confident with what we are asking of them.  Horses begin to realize that there is a cow in front of them that wants to yield away and acquiesce to the horse's presence. Beginning to follow a cow around the arena becomes very empowering for a horse. Horses are natural followers. It's amazing how quickly you can turn their apprehension into curiosity. And then it's fun to watch their curiosity turn into confidence. It does not take a high-powered cow-bred horse to play these games and perform these simple tasks.

One of the challenges for casual horseback riders is the fact that they don't have specific jobs to do with their horses. Without a specific job or task, riders tend to lack focus and direction with their horse. When you have a job to do, you tend to look up and begin to ride your horse with focus. You can't drive a car looking at the hood ornament and you can't ride your horse always looking down at their ears. Doing some simple cattle work helps riders have focus and ride their horses where they want them to go. It's encouraging to see riders stop worrying about what is going to happen and begin to be the leader their horse needs them to be. The horse and rider now have a focus and a job to perform. A lot of the micromanaging and nitpicking goes away and excuses are put aside. The horse's attitude improves and a better partnership is formed.
Stepping through the herd.

Playing with the cattle also gives a lot of practical application to all of the body control drills that we do with our horses. Moving off of our leg, backing and moving the separate body parts of our horse become very relevant as we begin to move in and around cattle. This helps the horse and rider begin to see how relevant and important it is to master the many exercises and drills that otherwise seem unimportant.

There are elements that need to be implemented, and safeguards put in place, to make this a positive experience. Going down on Saturday morning to the local team penning and rushing through the competition is not the right way to introduce your horse to a positive cattle-working experience. Horses need to be exposed to cattle in a quiet, controlled, and sensible way that will help build their confidence rather than shatter it.

I insist that all of my riders spend some time warming up their horses adequately before we start to play with the cattle. That means performing whatever groundwork necessary. Then walk, trott, and lope until the horse is physically, mentally, and emotionally warmed up and ready for their extracurricular activity.
Handling cattle out in the real world.

Sometimes I will have a rider whose horse is very apprehensive about the cattle. I often have a "babysitter" horse and rider to go with them as they approach and walk-through the cattle. This support can make a huge difference for a horse that is not feeling very brave.

I know it is difficult for many riders to find opportunities where they can expose their horses to cattle, in a positive environment. However, there are many clinics and workshops offered by capable instructors where your horse can be exposed and benefit from this fun activity. Almost without exception, every participant leaves our cattle working clinics saying how much fun they had and what a great confidence builder it was for both horse and rider.

This summer I would encourage you to look for the right situation where you and your horse can get out and participate in a cattle -working experience. It's a great opportunity to continue your horse's education and bump up your own horsemanship game.

Cheryl and Richard Winters
Richard Winters Horsemanship
115 Columbia Hill Court
Reno, NV 89508
(805) 504-5480
WintersRanch.com

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