Every time we do something with cows or horses, there are little tidbits of lessons learned long ago, that pop into my head. They float around in my mind as phrases or actions I need to take. Sometimes, I act on what a cow does and then remember the moment I learned how to react and who taught me. These days those lessons I learned are especially frequent as the kids are riding with us more.
When I was young, moving cows was just plain fun. I rode my favorite horse and tagged along in the drag. I had a saddle bag full of snacks and box juice drinks to keep me going and not a care in the world.
As I got older, not only did my job with cows begin to change, but so did my job with horses.
I was lucky (I feel so now. I maybe didn't then) to have people around us who wanted to teach what they knew about cows and horses. My parents of course, passed on what they knew, but they also felt it was a benefit to have other people teach me and my brother.
There are several moments that stick out in my mind the most and those tidbits I was taught are permanent phrases that pop in to my head not only as I do cow or horse work, but now as I pass it on to the kids.
I remember the first time I was pulled from the drag, and told I got to ride flank. I understood that I'd be riding along side the cows as they trailed to the next pasture, but I didn't know there was an unwritten system that took place. As I met the cowboy who was ahead of me, I went to continue on my path. He stopped me and said "No. Now that we met, we both turn and ride back the way we came. You keep bumping cows. When you come to the next guy, you turn back again." I learned in a hurry that riding flank meant more riding! But I also learned that there was a system and pattern and etiquette to moving cows. From flank I was soon taught what it meant to be the point rider. Each position on the trail came with a different responsibility and was equally as important. It didn't take long to see that being in the drag and staying behind cows and calves was a bit easier than riding flank or point and having to read cows and react based on their actions.
My next most memorable lesson was spent sorting in a rodear setting. I was coached through picking my cow out and bringing her to the front of the herd where the herd holders would let her out and hold other cows back. Some of the most frustrating moments came from learning to sort cows out, but so did some of the most rewarding moments.
These are just some of the things I remember being told...
"Go to where the pressure is..." I think of this every time we are moving cows or holding cows. It's easy to forget that cow projects mean one is constantly looking for where one needs to be. What I learned was that when cows put pressure on one spot, mostly by trying to escape or go the wrong way, that's where I needed to be with my horse.
"If cows are looking at you, bump them. When they go the way you want, back off..." Kind of along the same lines...when cows are headed the right direction and moving at a decent pace, it's acceptable to back off a bit and let them travel. If they stop or head the wrong direction, they need to be pressured a bit, to either move forward or to turn another way.
"Some horses are more forgiving that others. A horse is like a sail on a ship. If you put a hole in that sail, you can patch it, but the sail will never be the same again..." I can still remember the house I was standing in and could probably put you in the exact footsteps that I was in when I heard it. I think because it had such an impact on me. The guy telling me this had two horses he compared. One was forgiving and no matter how many times he made mistakes, she would be willing to try again and forgave him his mistakes. The other, was much more sensitive and remembered every mistake he made. He could never undo those things with her. The lesson he learned from the two of them, was the one he was attempting to pass on to me. There have been horses in my life who have made that statement ring true. As I learned and still learn with horses we have and those yet to come, I try to remember that in my actions.
I remember enjoying my time moving cows and riding horses, but I can tell you each person, each moment and each spot I was in when I was being schooled on the finer points of being a "cowboy." I like to think I've done some of my teachers some justice and I hope they'd recognize their teachings in my actions. I'm definitely not an expert, but I am doing what I can to pass on what I've learned. That too is a revolving door of lessons. When it comes to cows and horses, one is never truly done learning...