Thursday, September 30, 2010
Yesterday was the second time in less than a week that Grace and I worked cattle.
It was great! I am amazed that after 10 years with this horse, we are just now getting into this. I am completely blown away by how well Grace has taken to working cows. She loves it! It is such an incredible feeling to be sitting on a horse that is in love with their job.
Grace and I have been winging it at the few sortings we’ve been to. She knows how to move the cows and is a natural at using her body language to communicate with them. I’ve just been a long for the ride. My job has been to point her at the correct cow, if she knew her numbers; I would be out of a job! Last night we started working on some actual skills. Grace has the foundation and has done all the maneuvers in our arena work, but when you but a cow into the mix it suddenly all makes sense.
In the past I’ve said that Grace is ADD. She prefers patterns to rail work and does much better if she has a reason for performing an exercise. She is not a Western Pleasure horse contrary to her pedigree. Now I’m starting to accept that I may be the one with ADD. At last night’s practice we worked a pattern in pairs. We had to move a cow around a set of gates and through a chute. It was very technical and the partners had to work together. After we blew the turn to the chute the first time, I immediately saw where we went wrong. The turn to the chute had to start farther back, in the corner. I also needed to speed up earlier and my partner had to give the cow enough room. On the second try we nailed it! Well almost, my partner got so excited about the turn she forgot to hold the wall to the chute. I started to see the technical part of working cattle. Now I have something else to focus on besides my horse. I’m learning to read the cow’s body language, watch their eyes and ears to anticipate when they are going to stop or turn. I also see the difference between each cow. Some have a bigger space bubble than others, some like to stop dead in the middle of a run, almost laughing as we blow past them.
Grace was absolutely on it last night! The first cow we drew was fast and had a huge space bubble. We couldn’t get within 10 feet of it without it running the other way. At one point Grace and I attempted to cut it off as it ran down the rail. When the cow ran into her, Grace sat back on her hind end and turned into the cow. It was very cool! When we loped after the cow, Grace got really excited and started to buck. It became very clear that if we are going to pursue this, I need to stop being a passenger and start using it as an opportunity to train. At the end of the night I had the chance to get into the arena alone with 3 cows (ok, are they cattle at this point? Someone help me with the terminology). I cut out the red cow; it was the one that liked to stop dead in the middle of a run. Grace and I worked the cow up the rail at a walk. When it stopped we stopped, when it turned we turned. We were able to keep the cow away from the herd for sometime, all the while controlling our speed. After a big pet and many “good girls”, we put the cows away and were done for the night.
I now have a list of things we need to work on this week. Suddenly arena work has a whole new meaning. Every exercise has something to do with working a cow. I now have a reason to ask Grace to stop on her hind end every single time. I also need to fix her left turn; it has to be cleaner if we are going to keep a cow on the rail. Hmmm, maybe Grace isn’t the only one that needs to see the big picture.