After talking last month about how to start your horse on cattle I thought that it would be an opportune time to explain the benefits of working your horse on cattle, regardless of whether or not you are aiming towards training your horse for a cattle event. Not all of the reining horses that I train have a lot of cow sense. But it is to their benefit to be worked on cattle for the sole purpose of giving them something new to do.
While training horses to perform the maneuvers required for reining, there is a lot of repetition and times of pushing to get better and excel. However, not all horses learn the same way, much like people. Some learn best with repetition and that is all that is needed. I kind of equate them to the kid that is taught how to shoot free throws in basketball, but practices on his own and finds his rhythm. But, many horses are different and need to find a reason for the maneuver.
Lets look at a couple of maneuvers and see how we can use cattle to give them a purpose for the maneuver. Basically another reason to perform besides, “because I said so”. Let’s use the stop for the first example. When you are working your horse on mirroring the cow and stopping him when the cow stops, you are giving him another reason to stop beside you just helping him with your hands. The other important thing to remember in doing this is, you are also taking some of the man made elements out and putting more of the natural stop back into the horse. Meaning that if he has any natural ability in his stop, he will use it more willingly. This is due to the fact that he is not trying to understand your cues so much and resist, rather he will start to gradually use his natural ability to help him stay with the cow.
Another area where this helps a lot is in the roll back. While mirroring the cow in the roll back or change of direction you will find that through repetition your horse will start to read this and start to let the cow pull him through the roll back. As this instinct builds in practice you can use this to help you teach your horse to roll back on his hocks and push off with his hind end. He will get quicker on his roll backs with less encouragement on the riders part. Where this helps the most is getting a snappier roll back with out having to manually instill a rush during the roll back. This also helps the horse understand that he needs to stay on his hocks in the roll back and not fall out to early. This also allows you to get softer on the reins and create a prettier and more willing look to your rollbacks.
While mirroring and tracking cattle you will also help on your control of speed, which gives them a reason to rate their speed. Using your seat to help adjust speed can be better achieved while tracking cattle. The biggest thing to remember while doing this is to stay out of the mouth of the horse if he is rating with the cow. The horse will not learn to rate his speed and work willingly if he is not taught to be held accountable. Just remember, while working a horse on cattle you need to spend more time out of his mouth than hanging on the bit. When they are doing well, show them by releasing pressure off the mouth. Put them in the position that you want and then let them go. If they fall out of position again, help them by putting them where they should be and then release.
I would recommend to the inexperienced rider or to someone who has not worked cattle before, to get some help from a pro. If you are wanting to move into doing some cattle events, it is important that you start your horse right, and not allow them to start off with bad habits when working cattle. Some of the bad habits can cause them to loose advantage of a cow, and they are often times harder to re-teach than to teach correctly the first time. The most important thing to remember is to start slow and correct and not just run around like a chicken with your head cut off. You should have a purpose to what you are doing.