’Reading’ a ‘Good’ Cow vs a ‘Challenging’ Cow

’Reading’ a ‘Good’ Cow vs a ‘Challenging’ Cow

One challenge a rider has in cattle events is being able to predict what a cow will do as he or she approaches it on a horse. That ability to interpret current cow behavior as well as predict future cow behavior is called “reading” a cow. It’s a skill that takes experience, patience and time.

A productive way to learn to read cattle is by observing them whenever possible, in all kinds of situations.

This could be at a trainer’s barn or at a show when cattle enter the arena for a herd work class.

At a show, you could also walk back to the cattle pens and just observe them.

As you consistently take the time to observe cattle in different scenarios whenever possible, you will expedite your learning curve for reading cow behavior.

What follows are two categories of cattle behavior, both “good” and “challenging”. You’ll also see eight characteristics under each category.

“Good” Cow Behaviors:

1. Watching a horse (or a person) with curiosity and steady interest

2. Takes a step back when curious, and then walks off with ease

3. The head and neck stay level

4. Chews their cud

5. Walks or trots at slow to medium speeds, and then reduces speed to a slower gait quickly

6. Licks their shoulders

7. At ease standing apart from the herd

8. Consistent in stance and reactions

“Challenging” Cow Behaviors:

1. Head way up or down … eyes wide … ears perked

2. Moves around quickly and erratically

3. Pushes aggressively through the rest of the herd

4. Sees a horse; turns around quickly; darts away

5. Flinches/reacts to sudden movements around him or her

6. Butts or pushes other cattle in the herd

7. Glares at other cattle or a horse

8. Tail up … head up … steps high

Do You Have the Potential for Greatness?

Do You Have the Potential for Greatness?

I’m going to talk about the myth that certain types of people have an ability for higher levels of success. The relationship between personality and performance is often misunderstood.

The truth is your beliefs about yourself determine if you give yourself the gift of unlimited learning and growth.

Your ability to have a vision, feel the right emotions and do your job are what determine if you continue to improve.

Some people believe that if you are shy, you have to change your personality to be successful. To throw that idea out the window, look at the different personalities in any sport. You don’t have to change who you are to be successful. In fact, if you try to change who you really are … that never ever works.

If you tend to be the quiet type, you may need to get more aggressive at some point or let go of things you can’t control, but it’s not about changing your personality.

And what if people tell you that you aren’t aggressive enough and that you don’t have that killer instinct?

Here’s what I know. Being aggressive is a concept. It means different things to different people. If you do need to be more aggressive, first you need to understand when to be aggressive and under what conditions. Ask for concrete examples and clear ideas. Try it. If it works, yah! If it doesn’t work, evaluate whether you should try it again … or not.

And what about the ‘ole killer instinct idea?

Some people think it’s good to want to ‘beat’ other people. I understand that competitive spirit drive. But I would say, that the only thing you have control of is reaching for and exceeding your own personal best … not beating others. When you compete, measure your success against your own scorecard. And know that when you reach the level of excellence of those at the top of the division of your sport, results take care of themselves.

Other people think of killer instinct as an ability to be unaffected by the emotions of those around you. That’s a good thing when it comes to doing your job with your horse. You have your own work to do. It’s ok to feel empathy for other people but don’t let it affect your own mental and emotional state. Work on your own concentration skills. In order to ride at your best, you must be able to do your job with your horse … and your job takes concentration and positive emotions.

The personality traits of highly successful riders are not some special gift from above that they have … and maybe you have them … or maybe you don’t. Excellent riders are not born. All of the skills you need to be successful are made with hard work, excellent instruction, patience, focus, and persistence. They are not inherited.

We all have the potential for greatness. And so do you. True greatness is measured by you … not the outside world.

Evaluating Your Horse’s Desire to Work a Cow

Evaluating Your Horse’s Desire to Work a Cow

Recently I received a question about how to evaluate a cow horse that is nonchalant about his job.

How do you know if there are untapped talents within your horse … or if the horse is just not up for cutting?

Of course, without asking lots of questions and digging into this particular horse’s history physically, mentally, training-wise, etc. … I couldn’t really answer that question in an informed way. However, I can provide some ideas to ponder.

Here are four questions to ask yourself if you are wondering if your horse has the aptitude and desire to work a cow … and if he is the right horse for you now at this point in your cutting adventure:

1. Is the horse “finished” in his training? By this I mean, did the horse at some time in the past, complete a full regimen of training and seasoning. Is he solid? I believe amateurs require horses that are “fully” trained. Most often this is reflected in the competitive earnings of the horse, although not always. Do research with past trainers and ask lots of questions about training, experience, aptitude, and soundness.

2. Is the horse naturally “cowie”? Just like people, horses are born with their own unique set of talents and skills. Some horses have a lot of instinct for a cow and others not so much. Sometimes horses are nonchalant about their jobs because they don’t have a strong instinct to work a cow. If your horse is not responsive to a cow by nature that would be a good reason, he is nonchalant about his job. When you inquire about a horse’s past training history, also ask about his “cowie-ness”.

3. Is the horse sound now? This is where I get on my soapbox! (-: No horse can perform at his best when he is uncomfortable. Cow horses are superb and extreme athletes. Sometimes they have soundness issues that lie below the surface and cannot be detected without a vet exam.

Additionally, just because they had no soreness issues a month ago, does not mean there is nothing going on now. If they’ve been worked and shown rigorously, they need to be re-checked by a vet every 6 months or so. He may need to be supported in whatever way a vet suggests to maintain his soundness and health for the long term. Get your horse checked periodically (better for the vet to say nothing is wrong than to have an uncomfortable horse … or worse yet keep working him and injure him). Ask your vet for a program to maintain his soundness and health and follow it.

4. Do you have a support program in place for you and your horse? If the answers to the first three questions above are undoubtedly in the “yes” column, then here is the next step. Carefully consider what you need AND what your horse needs to keep you both improving as individuals and as a team.

This is where the lines get blurred. Some amateurs do not have the experience to keep a horse working to his full potential. Of course, this is totally understandable. Your responsibility as the owner is to do your research about local training programs, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of individual trainers for both teaching you and supporting your horse.

Perhaps if your horse has been in the pasture for a long time, the first step is for a trainer to condition and evaluate how solid he is. After that step is completed, then the trainer can suggest if the horse has the potential to be a good fit for where you are at this point in time.


Are You a “Tough” Thinker?

Are You a “Tough” Thinker?

You can learn to be a tougher competitor in the same way you learn any other skill.

In essence, you are an equestrian athlete. Professional and Olympic athletes train mentally, emotionally, and physically.

As riders, we can do the same. We can utilize the EXACT same skills as the pros. When we do this, we maximize our showing and our riding.  

You can train yourself to be “tough” in your thinking when you show. (That may sound a little harsh to some people! (-:)

But, tough simply means your ability to use words and images to call up calmness and focus on demand. 

Tough thinking can calm your tendency to get angry and lose your cool with yourself, or anyone else when you make a mistake.

How does it work? It’s a discipline before and during your ride.  

The first idea is to always talk to yourself in positive ways. 

For example, you can never rid yourself of a negative emotion by trying to get rid of it. You cannot “not be nervous”. Instead you go for feeling calm and focused … and ready.

You recognize you’re feeling anxious and then you replace the nerves with thoughts that evoke calmness and focus. For example, you could say to yourself, “Stay cool. Breathe. Focus on your job.”

Another part of “tough” thinking is to lean into challenges. You don’t shy away from difficulties. In fact, the whole idea is to learn to love pressure. The more difficult it gets, the more you like it.  

Because stress will always be a part of all of our lives (we can never eliminate it) to be a top competitor, you learn to handle stress. You see difficulties as challenges … not events that will take you down.

And no matter what happens as you ride, you say to yourself … and believe, “No problem!”.  

Ten Tips For Starting Out in Herdwork

Ten Tips For Starting Out in Herdwork

This month, I thought it would be fun for you to help me respond to the following note I received:

“Hi, Mrs. Schulte! I have just now started to ride cutting horses ……. I was wondering if you had any tips for someone like myself who is just now starting to cut. Thanks!” ~ Liz C

This note gave me pause to reflect on one of my biggest beliefs.

No matter if you are just starting out, or if you have been cutting for a long time … it’s always about the basics.

I thought a list of basics could serve Liz well, AND be a source of reminders to all of us about making sure OUR OWN fundamentals stay sound.

I think it would be beneficial to Liz, and to all all of us, for you to comment at the bottom of this article with any advice you have for Liz starting out. Please feel free to comment on my suggestions as well. Your comments will be posted under this article on our website.

Here are my Top Ten Tips for new cutters and when you’re learning herdwork:

1. Find a horse that suits your needs.

2. Find a trainer/mentor you can trust and who can teach you well. Never underestimate the importance of being a good match with that person personality wise. Just because a trainer is supposed to be “the one” per another person’s opinion, you have to feel comfortable in the relationship.

3. Learn the rules via the NCHA Judges’ Rules and Guidelines.

4. Learn to be very proficient at cutting for shape. You will use this fundamental skill for the rest of your cutting life no matter how skilled you become at cutting specific cattle. 

5. Seek to become a better horseman or woman. Keep learning basic horsemanship skills. Become a student of the horse and cutting through any and every educational resource you can lay your hands on … free, borrowed and purchased. Take what works. Leave the rest. 

6. Understand where you are supposed to be on a cow. You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going. Learn correct positioning on a cow and how to achieve that on your horse. 

7. Understand and then seek the rhythm of the … stop, draw, “drag” through the turn, acceleration to stop … cow sequence.

8. Cultivate mental and emotional skills as diligently as you cultivate technical cutting skills.

9. HAVE FUN. It’s a challenging sport no matter if you are just starting out of if you have been cutting for a long time. Never lose sight of the fact it is just a sport and you are in it to have fun.

10. As long as you love it, NEVER GIVE UP. Blue skies are just around the corner.


Go ahead and agree or disagree with what I just said.

What are your greatest pearls of wisdom?

Your advice could really click for someone just starting out. It could help them avoid some of the pitfalls you endured along your way.