I will not start to introduce young horses to cattle until they have got a firm working knowledge of the fundamentals. They need to be getting off of neck rein pressure, have at least a short correct stop, and be proficient at moving off of leg pressure at the hip, shoulders and the ribcage. It really helps to have the horse to a point in his training that his response to these pressures are almost second nature so they can concentrate on the task at hand.
Your first time introducing your horse to cattle should be done with a no pressure approach. You do not want his first experience to be something that causes him to loose confidence or scares them. Instead, it should be done rather light hearted. Your job as the rider should be nothing more than to help guide the horse, and teach him to follow the cow of your choosing. With this in mind, find a cow that is slow and somewhat unassuming.
Once you have picked a good one to follow, just help your horse do nothing but mirror the cow. If the cow stops, you stop. If the cow turns, you turn. While mirroring the cow do not try to get or stay ahead of the cow, or try to crowd the cow. This will cause the cow to speed up, or worse yet, cause you to rush the cow. This causes you to rush your horse, and in the mix you will cause to much confusion for you and your horse. Your horse is likely to loose focus. Your soul purpose is to keep plenty of distance between your horse and the cow, and just follow. Why plenty of distance, because the more distance between you and the cow, the less pressure the cow feels. Which means it will be less inclined to run harder. This allows things to move at a slower pace and allows you to help your horse in position with out being rushed.
How long should we follow before closing in? The best answer is when your horse tells you he is ready. When you start to feel the horse stop because the cow stopped, and not because you pulled on the reins. Or when the horse turns when the cow turns and not because you assisted in the turn. That is when you know that he has started to hook on to the cow. Once you have started to feel the cow pull the horse along, then start to allow your horse to make a decision or two on his own. Just be there to help, but don’t push to get them to close in on the cow to early. Pushing to early will crowd the cow and speed things up, which will result in loosing the cow and also loosing the horses confidence in his ability to stay with one. It is much better to take these steps slower and build upon the horses knowledge and confidence, then to start out breaking their confidence and having to rebuild this.
One big thing to remember and keep in mind while working a green horse is you can work a cow and mirror a cow from 50 feet away easier than from 5 feet away. Start at 50 feet and work your way in over a period of days or weeks instead of minutes. Also, make sure that the you get the following part down first, long before you start to send your horse past a cow in order to turn it. It is much easier to build confidence in your horse than it is to rebuild it. Look for next months article on how to read cattle.