Learning To Be A Cow Horse

We haven’t been riding through the cows as much as I had hoped. Some weird thing about parenting. I guess I’m supposed to watch them instead of play with my horse? And it got cold and snowy and wet. Lots of time spent on a four-wheeler.

We did get out once this week. I love the way he walks next to me and stands quietly while I get gates without me having to hold onto him. The first couple of times I sent him through a gate without me I was afraid I’d be walking home but I put my faith in him and he well rewarded me. Once we made it out of the corrals and into the cornstalks he was raring to go. I let him and we loped out through the stubble. Other than a slight drift towards the buildings he went wonderfully. He’s learning to rate himself, he’s not trying to take off as much any more. That helps me to sit him better. I’m relaxing into the saddle and not stiffening and flopping around as much, which probably leads to more bolting from him, which leads to more stiffening from me. It’s a bad cycle that we are managing to break.

After making quick work of the cornstalks we got to the pasture. He was puffing pretty hard. I had hoped he would use up his energy on the mostly flat ground and be more settled once we got to the hills. He is a Morgan though and he was no where near tired. Fortunately we took the time to put a good foundation on him before heading out into the world.

The cows were clustered near the corrals where they had been fed. He found a calf there and since I couldn’t see it’s mother close by I let Rusty say hi. He sniffed and followed and played with it for awhile then we went through the rest of them. Then out around the pasture. Holding onto faith in a horse is easier when it’s not so far down. He did good though, up the big hill and around. He was nervous and wanting to prance. I kept rewarding him for a walk on a loose rein. We made it past the windmill without any issue. Around and down (which always gets C.W. McCall’s Wolf Creek Pass stuck in my head; down and around, and around and down, we run out of ground at the edge of town) and through the corrals then out the gate and home.

Once home and unsaddled we worked on laying down again. Nothing like a hot sweaty ride to make that easier. He did wonderfully a couple of times. I think he gets frustrated with me for ruining his roll. He has to think hard on whether it’s worth the food to pause his rolling. He hasn’t figured out that I don’t want him to get up, he’s welcome to keep rolling. He could stop and eat then roll, eat then roll, then eat. It could go on as long as he wants. He finally stayed down to eat and we stopped after that one. I turned him out so he could roll for reals and hang out with is friends. He thinks I’m punishing him by turning him loose. It’s nice that he wants to come in and ride but it makes it hard to put him away when he really wants to stay. It’s the only time I need a halter on him.


More Not Laying Down

I was going to ride through the cows.

We ended up moving them instead. There was a spring storm forecast and it was decided that the cattle should be moved off the cornstalks and into the pasture where they would have to be behind the windbreak. Given a choice cows would drop their calves out in the wide open, without any shelter. In a bad storm that would be the end of it. So we feed them up close to the windbreak and hope they don’t wander too far to calve. Ranchers were some of the first to train with positive reinforcement. They’ve been doing it forever and don’t even know it. Fortunately the storm wasn’t a bad one. Good wet snow but not the wind or too cold.

I walked Rusty through the corrals, I would have to get off to open gates anyway and might as well get through the scariest stuff on the ground. We found one cow with a new calf and one calf left along while his mother grazed. We walked over to him and did the introductions from the ground. When a calf is walking under a horse for the first time being on the ground can be a very good thing. Rusty took it well, he was very curious and interested, lipping the calf and sniffing. He did not think he was OK with it nursing him though and jumped away with some squealing.

Out in the cornstalks we found the little guys mom not far away and sent her back in to baby. The others were showing up with four-wheelers then and we trotted up to them to begin our being one of the four-wheelers training. The first thing we came to was a cow with twins. Cows can do a great job of raising one calf and some cows will raise two. Most wont. This one was happy with one and not interested in the other. She was leaving. I took advantage of the opportunity to teach Rusty about calves from the saddle.

People think trick training is silly. Not of any use in a real riding horse. Those of us who trick train know better. Rusty sniffed the calf when I asked him to drop his head. The calf didn’t get up, Rusty did get rewarded strongly for his interest in the calf. I asked for a Spanish walk and Rusty gently pawed the calf. The calf finally got up. Rusty sniffed some more then pushed it with his head. Lots more rewarding. That’s exactly what I want in a good working cow horse. Coyote knows where we are going and will push a calf very long distances. It was good to see Rusty is willing to offer the same thing. He picked his head up and, after a good reward, I asked for Spanish walk again. Rusty lifted a leg and in the process gave the calf a good push. Lots of reward again. Calves don’t travel well by themselves if their mom’s aren’t their telling them to. Often not then either. A horse that can “help” move the calf along is a great thing to have.

My father in law came back from running the other twin and their mom up to the corrals with the four-wheeler then and took the calf up in front of him. I’m not sure Rusty is quite ready for me to carry a calf in front of me on the saddle yet. We went off to help move the rest of the herd. Rusty did good if overly enthusiastic. The cows went easily. He worked well with his four wheeled herd. Once through the gate and the terrifying tunnel of trees that accompanies it we were done with cow moving and went to brave the windmill again.

We made it past with me mounted! Then he had a melt down. Over what I don’t know. He couldn’t walk. He pranced then walked. Then pranced. Then walked. He frothed and foamed and looked around nervously. Until we got back to the cows, then he settled right down. Was he that upset about being away from the cattle?

We walked through them all looking for anyone calving then back to the house. He did a great job moving cattle. Better than he had his last time when we just pushed them out of the corrals. I can’t wait to do it again!

Checking Cows

I’m going to do this one ride in two separate posts. At least partially to break up the monotony of horse laying down and rolling videos.

I was able to ride out through the cows yesterday. They are starting to work on calving and need checked often throughout the day to make sure no one is having problems. Most of the time they are left alone to do their thing. They are out on corn stalks, wheat ground, and pasture, with lots of room and shelter and the privacy that they prefer. It makes for a long ride to get all the way around them. Plenty of training and exercise time for us.

Heading out into the cornstalks on Rusty was, interesting. He hasn’t had much riding time lately, mostly ground work. Our one ride last weekend was a bit scary and stressful for him. Now he was in a constant stop and go. He was in a big hurry, he was excited, he wanted to see everything and get way over there. Fast. He also was nervous, he wanted to sniff the ground looking for ears of corn. He would lurch forward then drop his nose and stop, then forward again without fully reaching a stop. Once I let him trot he wanted to take off.

I did let him canter for a bit on the way out. We were on the wheat ground so it was smoother with better footing. He hopped into the canter, smoothed out a bit, I tried to steer him around a hole. He didn’t steer in time but he saw the hole at the last minute and spooked sideways while trying to stick his head in the hole to see it. We decided to walk.

We had a few more, slightly less eventful canters. I seem to keep hanging on his face. The footing is still slick, there are holes to watch out for. The cows are a little too exciting. He wants to go really fast. We should probably settle down a bit before we do anymore cantering.

We followed a cow through the narrow scary tunnel into the pasture. Then there were lots of cows laying around enjoying the sun and filling their bellies. He snorted and sniffed his way through them. I wanted to look over the far hills and make sure nothing was laying out of sight having trouble.

In order to get over the hill we had to pass THE WINDMILL!

He was pretty sure it was going to eat him I can’t say I blame him for thinking that. They would be scary looking to those unfamiliar. He tensed and arched and looked. I got off. Discretion is the better part of valor. We walked up to it, snorting and blowing and hiding behind me. I was mostly scared that a mean cow would come along and eat me while I was off. The shadow it through on the ground was MOVING! And I expected him to walk through it! Was I insane!

It didn’t eat him. We did walk up and inspect the tank. No mean cows ate us. Although one old girl stood and watched, wishing we would move so she could drink. Away from the windmill I got back on and we rode over the hill. We didn’t get eaten by the prairie dogs either. We made it up and down hills on a, mostly, loose rein. Then through the corrals headed back to the house.

The corrals were full of cows laying around sunning themselves. I thought it was interesting, considering all I hear about the cruelty of farmers and ranchers to their poor long suffering animals. We force them to stand in dirt lots! Without grass or room to roam! We’re so mean.

Yet here, in the bare dirt lots, were most of the cattle. The gates were wide open. There was another water source out in the pasture. They were fed out on the grass too, they didn’t have to come in to eat. Strange. One would almost reach the conclusion that they liked being in the feed lot. We’ll have to teach them better. Make sure they know it is abusive, to them, to stay in this place that they aren’t supposed to like 😉

We survived the ride. There were two new calves. Not new today, just in the last few days. It was a long, for us, tiring ride and I hope to do it again today!


Laying Down On The Job

I didn’t have time to ride Rusty. I was going to saddle up and go ride through the cows. Calving has start, one, that counts, and I like to check ours and put the millage on a horse. It didn’t work out that way. After meeting the bus, not on horses, the kids went out to play and I had a moment to work with Rusty.

I called and all three came running. I let Rusty into the front pen where we had been working on laying down. The other two were mad about being locked out.

We started out standing in the spot they like to roll. It must be the perfect spot, they all love it. I asked him to paw and clicked him when he did. I stood in the same place next to the fence and clicked him when he walked away from me at all. Then clicked him when he walked to “the spot”. Then waited until he laid down.

And he did it. Without being hot and sweaty he did it. He remembered. He was willing. He offered it himself. I didn’t put anything on him and pull him down. I just put him in the same place and waited. Once he was down and I clicked him he hurried to his feet and I offered a major jackpot. Shoveling food into his mouth as fast as he would eat it. The last time I asked him to laydown and he went right out and did it. It was almost like he did it on cue.

I got some video of his first efforts. It is long and boring without being played in fast forward. Lots of time spent waiting for him to get done looking around and thinking and decide what he’s going to do. Now I need to figure out how to get him to calm down and stay down when I walk up to him. Time and patience I guess.

It’s For The Dogs

A friend of mine told me she was taking her dog for a lesson. I could come along if I wanted. The guy does some of that clicker training stuff.

She caught me there. I had to know who she was going to see. Some guy out of Scottsbluff. I follow a guy who trains dogs out of Scottsbluff, could it be the same guy? It was!! It was Jeffrey from Bangarang Bow Wows. How exciting.

Her dog is adorable. He’s sweet, well behaved, and beautiful. I couldn’t imagine why she was looking for a trainer. Much less a clicker trainer. That’s my thing. She thinks I’m weird, in the kindest way possible I’m sure. Her wonderful dog is sweet and submissive, very submissive, too much so. He listens but he also cowers. I understand fully how unbearable that is. Our practically perfect Daisy does the same thing and I can not stand it. I don’t know what her life was like before we got her. It’s possible that she was handled more harshly than she could take, or it’s possible that, like my friends dog, she never had a hand raised to her, she is just too sensitive to handle life. My friend is fully committed to her dog and needs to find a way to fix this.

So, she went looking for a trainer. I had never recommended this guy because he’s a clicker trainer and we are too weird for her. She doesn’t have a problem with it. Just not her thing. She stumbled on him on her own and was going down to see how it went. It’s a good two hour drive from here. Most things are, we like being in the middle of nowhere. Her dog rode wonderfully, but nervously, in the back of the Suburban the whole way.

The guys training facilities were in an interesting neighborhood. We were glad that the lesson had gotten moved up from evening to mid afternoon. I teased her a bit about her plan to drive clear down here by herself to meet some strange guy she had met online, at night, in the town version of the middle of nowhere.

He looked just like he does online. We were able to recognize him right away. The dog warmed to him immediately. As she tried to explain the cowering problem her dog happily wandered about, tail wagging, ears up. They decided to put him back in the back of the Suburban. He leaped in happily, then coward. She asked him to laydown and he hunched, not laying, worried about the command, worried about life.

Jeffery stepped in then and went to work. It was so much fun watching someone else doing the same things as  me. Someone with different experiences and training. My clicker training friends are all online, I’ve never met one in person. He did some luring. Got the dogs head down sniffing the treat, then clicked him. The dog was instantly enthralled. He went from cowering to curious.

Once he laid down they stood there talking for awhile. The whole time Jeffrey would randomly say laydown, click and reward. I stood off to the side trying not to say anything. Trying not to say, look! he’s teaching him the meaning of the word! Look what you’re doing! I’ve read about this. I’ve done this. I am going to be doing this with Rusty and laying down pretty soon too.

Then they moved back into the building. I don’t remember everything else that was said or done. There was more work on laying down. Discussion about training theory and technique. The whole time her dog wandered back and forth under their legs, sniffing around, sitting and looking up expectantly, and occasionally laying down. He got a good amount of C/R and seemed thrilled with the whole thing.

It was tons of fun to get to meet another clicker trainer. I would love to go back with her to watch again. I joked a little about bringing a horse sometime. He did have a video up awhile back, apparently too long ago for me to find it quickly, of him working with a horse on targeting. I suppose the parking lot there could work for an arena, we’re used to using our driveway for and arena 😉   The real training for them will start next time, this was a meet and greet. Otherwise known as a consultation. I can’t wait to see how the two of them do. I hope that she gets sucked into the whole thing as bad as I have.


First Day Of Work

Real work that is.

It was cold and windy this morning after days of beautiful weather. Not bad cold but not as warm as it had been. My husband was out feeding and stuck his head in the door to ask if we wanted to chase some cows. Of course we did, so I started getting kids dressed and rushed out the door. My father in law decides he wants to do something and them starts regardless of whether anyone else is ready.

I have so much great stuff to share from this ride. I’m going to break it into a few posts to keep it manageable.

I saddled Rusty and Princess Onna. Rusty had been good through riding with a new horse in a strange place and checking cows yesterday. I thought he’d be ok for pushing them out of the corrals. He was raring to go. As soon as I hit the saddle he was off. Of course I made him stop and wait, but as soon as I allowed he started off at a trot looking for Princess Onna, they had left again without us.

He zipped along faster than Onna could go. Quite an accomplishment for a non-gaited horse out riding with a fast little gaited mare. Those two meandered happily and slowly along winding back and forth through the obstacles the yard offers. Once we got in the pen e was really off. We were OK though until we stopped to wait for a gate to be opened ahead of us. I turned him on the fence a couple of times and he started hopping. I pulled his head up and got him moving. He was tip toeing the rest of the way. I tried to stay close to Onna, emotional support and all. Onna poked along much slower than we were able to go.

We got the cows out. Really they went on their own, we just followed. We checked for a calf that may have been left behind. Then looked for him in the pasture. We didn’t find him.

Back at the buildings we waved to the guys as they got out of the feed truck then went around into the corrals to sort off the calves that are not going to the sale this week. Our heifers and a couple of steers. On my green, overly excited horse with a small child to help we were not able to pluck any out by themselves. We brought the whole herd out, with lots of help from the guys, and sorted in a different pen.

Having lots of trouble finding the right place to be Princess Onna was soon parked on the fence, her person off to play else where, and I was able to get some good practice in with Rusty on cattle. We may not have been the best help but it was good experience for him. He was working pretty good, if too forward and enthusiastic, mounted but I had to get off to take care of Princess Onna so I stayed off and led him. It was good for him to get exposure to the fast paced hectic environment of sorting with out the stress of figuring out what I was asking for from his back.

After everything was sorted I had a chance to play a little. This was a perfect calf and worked out much better than it should have. I was holding the phone with one hand and working the reins one handed. Rusty was showing that he is starting to figure this whole thing out.



At It Again

After a very busy week that did not involve riding Rusty, I was going to say working with Rusty but technically we worked just didn’t ride, we got to go on a grand adventure today. Tuesday he, and Coyote for company, rode along when we took the heifers for their Bangs vaccinations. Princess Onna got voted least likely to kill herself home alone and only two could fit in the trailer with the heifers. She was fine. I’m not sure that Coyote was much for moral support, his purpose in all this, he is a terrible hauler, but he was company at least. Rusty got his teeth looked at, he was having some trouble chewing on his fight side. He didn’t get any work done, she said there was so much growing going on she wasn’t going to touch his mouth until his grown up teeth were done coming in.

He did get to work in the paring lot, along the highway, in fifty mile an hour wind. We got some Spanish walk and a bow before the vet looking out the window concernedly made me think that I ought to go get my children out of her office. She assured me they were fine but she was sure I wasn’t going to be able to get him loaded. He had reverted to the behavior he showed up here with. Again. It is kind of nice to have a reminder of how far he’s come, he crashes into everyone and drags you along at the end of the rope. I’m trying to get him out as much as I can, it would be nice if he could be his wonderful self all the time.

That was a large part of the reason why we didn’t ride. The reason we did ride was twofold. Tanna was home for spring break! She wanted to know if she could come over. I begged her to. Paula was also on spring break and had time to ride without that nasty work stuff getting in the way. She invited us over to ride at the arena. I drug Tanna along too, and the kids, and all the horses. The dogs stayed home.

Long story short, the kids did great. They both rode all around inside and out. Tanna did eventually get a horse to ride. I eventually got on Rusty. Paula eventually got her horses feet trimmed and her horse, unridden for months settled down and got on. The kids took off for parts unknown, hope they had fun.

Then we decided to trail ride. Found the kids in the pickup, honking the horn. They were looking for snacks. They each got an apple. One got put back on Princess Onna, the other  got to ride in front of Tanna and out we went. We knew our ride had to be short. As soon as we all got settled and on horses we got a call that one of the cousins needed picked up at school unexpectedly. So we went around the hay field. Onna made it clear that she was not going to be ponied. She is the greatest awesomest little mare, until you try to pony her. Then it is entirely possible to hate her. They got turned loose and did just fine, I don’t know why we ever doubt them.

Rusty was a little antsy at first but settled down and did wonderfully. On the way out he set the pace at a walk even speedier than my other two speedsters. He didn’t spook. He didn’t buck. He was horrified by this new funny colored horse 😉 He kept looking, neck all arched, snorting and sniffing. The two dogs that were along decided they wanted to walk under Rusty. He wanted to stomp them. We survived though, dogs and all!

Paula’s nice, older, broke mare was not alright. She had enjoyed her time off and was feeling her oats. They pranced and circled and at one point I realized that this was the horse she let me borrow last summer for the play day. I’m glad she hadn’t had so much time off then. We had lots of fun teasing Paula about just who was riding the crazy green colt. We had to rush back to make it to school in time but hopefully we can do it again. There are lots of good riding opportunities over there.

We had time to ride more once we got home and Tanna and I rode out to look over the cows. They’re getting close to calving and I was curious just how close they were. We found two that looked quite near to the event and played on the hills in the pens. It was great fun. This evening one of our picks had her calf! Calving has begun.



Worth Her Weight In Gold

We brought a couple of the horses in. I had finished the chanfron for Princess Onna and wanted to try it on and I wanted to play with Rusty. I got Onna saddled for my daughter and set her up on to ride around the yard while I worked with Rusty. I no sooner set her up in the saddle then she left.

She said something about how hard I had worked to get Onna to stay by me, and now she was going to have to work just as hard to get her away from me. And she steered Onna around behind the chicken coup. I went around the other side to try to get a picture so she turned her around behind the shop.

I gave her the space she wanted and went back to Rusty who was digging a hole behind my pickup. As I brushed him I looked up to see my little girl and Princess Onna disappear into the hay bales. My husband and I looked and worried. I declared that gorse to be worth her weight in gold, if the two of them made it back together. I put Rusty away and grabbed Coyote. I brushed a little spot big enough for me to sit and hopped on Coyote bareback in a halter then set of in search of pair gone astray.

At a trot Coyote and I went through the yard. Looking down the rows of bales I saw no sign of them. Then I saw Daisy trot across the drive way down in front of me. There they were happily, quietly meandering back towards the house.

I persuaded her to keep going with me on a longer ride. We went out through the pasture, then out into the corn field and the whole time she rode Princess Onna by herself, not even a lead rope for just in case. Instead of whining that she couldn’t get Onna to go she held her reins with perfect form and gently insisted that they go where she asked. Onna took great care of her little passenger and is working on teaching her to be a great rider.


Getting Along

Our last few rides have been nice. Nothing was wrong exactly. Things just weren’t quite right. The first one was rushed. My daughter was along on her mare, we had an hour before my husband who was home with the youngest had to leave. It was icy. We didn’t get to warm up at all. It wasn’t amenable.

The next ride was ok. We had our warm up. I may have drilled a bit too much on sending him out around an object. The mud was ankle deep. The ice was still there. Rusty was feeling energetic and would have like to buck. Then he was anxious to get home. We went back and worked back and forth in front of the other horses in their pen. It wasn’t a bad ride. But it didn’t leave me feeling that glow that comes from a good ride. I left feeling as though we had argued.

Yesterday, finally, we had a ride that didn’t have any undertones of conflict. We had a nice warm up. I didn’t work too long on sending him out around our barrel. We worked on targeting a little. Then got on and went out around the yard. We worked, calmly, on stopping from a walk. He didn’t want to at first. He was full of energy and wanted to move out. Why would he want to stop when we had just started? We trotted on a loose rein along the feed bunks. We went to see what the cows were upset about. We walked through the water running down the driveway. We walked between the towering stacks of hay in the stack yard.

Then we went back to the horses and worked back and forth in front of them. Trotting along the feed bunks again I sat and whoad and he did! Slammed on the breaks. I gave him a chunk of apple and asked him to back up. I remembered an article I recently read and clicked him as soon as he started to step backwards. After he finished chewing we did a rollback and trotted off the other way. In his enthusiasm he broke into a canter. There was no immediate bucking. I sat and tried to remember how to ride a canter not in a defensive position. We cantered nicely the length of the horses pen and well into the calves portion. Then I sat and said whoa, and he did!

As he started the stop I dropped the reins onto his neck and let him do it all on his own. Another good reward, so glad the kids didn’t finish their apple snack earlier. A step backwards, a nice rollback and off the other way. He isn’t leaping into a canter out of the rollback yet, but I’m not asking for it yet either. Trotting out is good for now, we’ve hardly worked on this at all. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly horses pick up on things when it is a fun game for them with food as a reward.

Finally a ride that left me, and hopefully him, happy and glowing. Today it is supposed to be in the fifties and there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out and ride. Oh well hopefully the happy will last until we can go play again.