24 Issue 3 · 2013
Training a ranch horse is a task that happens over thousands of hours
in the saddle and by creating positive situations that build confidence in our
horses. I am always conscience of the effect that my environment, task at
hand, and attitude play in the training of horses. These factors are often in
my control and they are ever so more important when introducing horses
to cattle. I will have horses of different ages but the philosophy is the same.
Make the experience positive.
In a clinic situation where I have owners riding their horse for the first
time around cattle I will use the herd instinct in the horse to build confidence.
There is usually safety in numbers and it helps build the riders confidence
as well. Some riders that have never worked cattle before sometimes
lack that confidence that their horse needs and the herd situation makes
everyone feel more relaxed, which in turn helps the horses.
Make sure that you select your cattle for success. Simply stated; a
slow cow out of the gate is a far better option than a cow that looks like it
just saw a human for the first time. This is the part of horsemanship were
we learn to walk before we run. It's all about setting your horse and yourself
up for success. Sounds easy, but it is so tempting to start off too fast and
overwhelm the horses. Depending on the cattle I have at the time I will
select one or even a few quiet cows for my first timers. What I am looking
for is a cow that will honor the horse and move away at a walk or a trot. I
need the cow to have a large enough bubble that when the horse enters his
space the cow moves off quietly. Once the horse makes the connection that
their "presence" is the motivating factor in the cows departure that's when
we start to get brave. If I were to use cows that were too fresh and had too
much life, I risk possibly overwhelming the horse in their first experience.
My goal is to create a positive experience. Advancing the level of my cattle
or the exercises too fast ends up being counterproductive.
I first set up by controlling my environment by having all my riders in
the arena facing the gate where the cattle will enter in from. In the herd of
horses, young and old, I will put in a few of my rock solid ranch horses as
the "seasoned" veterans set the tone. When the cow or cows enter, these
ranch horses do not react in an alarmed way. The energy from horses is
infectious. That situation I just described would have a different outcome
if there were no anchors to set the tone. A little planning goes a long way.
The other thing to keep in mind is to have the horses far enough from the
gate so it doesn't seem to the horses that the boogie man just came into the
arena by catching them off-guard. If the horses are far enough away, when
the cattle enter, it does not seem that they are being forced on them. There
is some comfort in distance.
The horses and cows are now in the arena and it's time to go to work.
This exercise is in a group situation. I will first have my riders start off by
driving the cow around the arena. Think of this as a mini cattle drive where
the cowboys outnumber the cows ten to one. Use the rail as your guide
and direct the cow around the perimeter a few times, change direction, and
continue on the other way. I like to do this at a walk at first and then when
everyone is comfortable, at a trot. I do not want to chase the cattle around,
it's a "push" in a controlled fashion. The neat thing about this exercise is
that it can be done in a large or small group, or even alone. As we start,
this is where the seasoned ranch horses come back into play. I will have
my veterans start to approach the cow with my first timers just following
along. I am using the natural herd instinct to my advantage. Horses feel
safe in the herd so what better way for them to build confidence. Do not be
in a rush. If I have a horse that seems especially frightful, I just take my
time and give him a buddy. The curiosity will get the best of him and he will
start to get closer on his own. Slow is better than fast at this stage of the
game. It is also very important at this stage to keep the cows together. We
do not want a lone cow coming up our flanks and spooking any of the young
or inexperienced horses. Keep all the activity in front and moving quietly
away. Remember, we are creating a good experience that will carry over in
"improved confidence" that will benefit all aspects of riding. Your horse will
start to listen to you better and real partnership will develop. That's what
a good ranch horse is; a trusting partner. I want my horses to trust me
and know that I will take care of him. These positive experiences pay off
dividends down the road.
So, remember to take your time and build on a solid foundation.
Evaluate your horse and know when you have made some real progress
and always end on a good note. The first few times I really pay attention to
my warm up. I want to know that my horse is paying attention to me, but not
so tired that the cattle work starts to seem too much like work. The same
goes for quitting; do not work the cows so long that the horse is exhausted.
End when the horse is confident and has been successful at the task given.
And always be sure to set realistic goals when starting out, for you and your
horse. Your patience, persistence and hard work will pay off.
Steve Lantvit is a professional trainer/clinician whose goal is
to contribute to the betterment of the relationships between man/woman
and horse. Steve's focus on training is that of all around Horsemanship
and the creation of the versatile horse. He is an active competitor with the
American Ranch Horse Association where he has earned World Champion
and Multiple Reserve Champion Titles. Steve takes his skills to the equine
world through his appearances at equine expos, clinics, and his television
series, "Sure in the Saddle" airing on Rural TV/FamilyNet on Saturdays at
by Steve Lantvit