Tuesday 2 May 2017

Cow Horse

Continuing the trend of posting about stuff that happened over a week ago, Kachina and I actually did some useful ranch work!

It's currently calving season at the place I board so the BO has been checking his herd multiple times a day. One night when I was out, he drove around the field with his truck and noticed a new calf separated from his mother. He came back to the barn and started saddling his gelding. I was tacking up myself at the time so I asked if he needed a hand. Kachina and I aren't exactly experience cow hands, but sometimes an extra body is helpful to direct a cow, even if it's just standing in a certain spot, and we can at least follow directions. I also think it's good exposure for Kachina.

We went into the ~120 acre pasture that has a couple hundred head of cattle, located the cow, herded her to her calf, and then brought them both into the front smaller pasture.

I didn't take any photos during the adventure because I didn't want to drop my phone and/or die, so here's a super awesome paint/map diagram of what we did:

BO's property: cattle pasture fences shown in blue, approximate path in white
(horse pens, arenas and house all in bottom left)

- Circled some hay feeders looking for the cow. BO's description of her was a "big black cow", which could describe more than half the herd, so we had to get close enough to read the ear tags.
- After finding the right cow, we separated her out and started herding her at a walk to B

- There was a group of calves in this area so we went in this direction to try and find and pick up the right calf.
- We got there and found that the calf in question was right beside the fence, but was on the wrong side of the fence at C. BO dismounted to try and get the calf to come under the fence, but no dice, and the calf ran off.
- Kachina was starting to get more tense at this point because cows and calves were moving more quickly around. I started circling her while I was waiting for BO to do his thing, she stayed with me until...
- Once BO was back on, the cow started to run off, and BO started to gallop after her to head her off. Having her buddy come from behind and run past her made Kachina immediately accelerate upwards and forwards to follow. I maybe should have just gone with it, but in the moment I decided I wasn't prepared to have that happen and I brought her back. This led to a lot of prancing and circling while I tried to get Kachina to focus and relax. She half listened to me, but we essentially jigged a lot of the way until we caught back up to BO and his horse near the opening in the fence in the middle of the field. I was worried I was going to be more of a liability than a help with the round up but I decided to keep going.

- this is the area where BO had seen the cow run to so we trotted up to see make sure we had the right cow again
- turns out that the cow at D was a different big black cow so we went over to the dugout at E to search the right one out again.

- BO took the near side of the dugout and I went to the far side to read tags of some potential matches over there. I was proud of Kachina for staying calm when we moved away from her buddy.
- We found the right cow and separated her again to walk her up to F.

- This is where we found the calf and eventually reunited cow and calf together. It took a few tries and some time for them to properly re-aquaint themselves and so we just hung back and supervised.
- Once they were paired up, we started to move them back closer to home, slowly so that the calf could keep up and wouldn't get spooked. We also stopped regularly to see if the calf wanted to nurse because we weren't sure how much milk he had gotten.

- our original goal was to herd the pair through the same entrance in the fence that we had gone through before, but there were several other pairs in this area and that didn't seem like it was going to work well.
- BO decided to instead take them through a gate in the corner at H

- here we had the cow and calf separated a good distance away from the rest of the herd
- there were some removable posts to go through here, but BO had to dismount to open up the gate, I was in charge of holding them in place while he did that. This is where I feel like I was actually useful and not just along for the ride.

- another gate, another place where I was to hold them while BO got it open
- we herded the pair through the gate into the smaller front pasture where BO had been separating some of the smaller calves.
- from this point we were done and just walked back to the starting point

Overall we rode for almost two hours, with a lot of walking but some trotting and cantering. It was clear that Kachina isn't accustomed to this type of ride. I had to be heavier with my hands than I would like at some points, but I was proud of her in general. The one shaky moment at B was pretty understandable, and she stayed with me for most of the ride even though I was asking her for strange things. She was calm by the time I dismounted so I don't think the experience unnerved her too much. She might make a cow horse some day yet! I on the other hand need a lot of work to be worthy of a cowgirl title, I was noticing how much of an art it is to guide the cow's shoulder and get them to move appropriately. I can imagine that it takes a lot of years of experience to get a good feel for it.

A previous time we helped move cattle,
this time we did it in our dressage tack!

P.S. When I told my SO this story, he asked if "cow-horse" is what they are calling hybrids these days (he always jokes that Kachina looks like a holstein cow because of her markings), that is NOT what I meant!!!

Have you ever worked cattle with your horse? Do you find it's good for them even if it's not their primary job?


  1. omg what fun!!!! i would LOVE to do something like this one day but it's really not at all the same on the east coast. good for Kachina for hangin in there tho!

    1. I love that working cattle with horses is still part of the lifestyle out here! If you ever want to take Charlie on a rreeeaaaallllyyyy long road trip we'll hook you up ;)

      I feel like this is almost a non-jumper version of eventing though: you have to teach your horse that just because you're out in the open and other things are happening, they still need to keep their brain and go to work. Seems like Charlie is good at that!

  2. I really want to try working cattle with Nilla. Have you seen the Buck documentary? There's a moment where he's riding some fancy dressage horses and doing cattle work with them. The owner discusses how she think it practices the dressage skills, but gives the horse a practical reason to do so and thus engages them more.

    1. I haven't seen that, but I have heard of it, and it does make sense. I find trail rides the best time to develop my free walk because we are actually going somewhere. For this time, I felt like my training wasn't up to the level to get those sudden spurts of impulsion or collection, but I'd love to see if and how more dressage training affects our ability to work cattle in the future.

  3. I 'worked' cattle in the pasture with my girls when I was in Alberta. (Quotes necessary because I don't think I was overly helpful or saved anyone much actual work:) I was surprised at how fast they move around, and how grumpy the mommas can get. I loved it though, and definitely miss it.

    1. Quotes definitely necessary for all of the cattle 'work' I've done too lol. I'm glad BO put up with me trying though.