Stops On A Fast Cow Can be Harrowing!

Stops On A Fast Cow Can be Harrowing!

I receive some form of this question a lot:

“What advice can you give an amateur cutter who becomes very anxious and feels out of control when the cow takes off running when practicing in a large round pen … and your biggest fear is the unexpected STOP. Any advice or practice tips you can share to help get control of this?”

This can be a really scary situation, not to mention a little dangerous sometimes.

My first thought is a rather obvious one, but I have to mention it.

Stay safe. I don’t really know how your horse stops when he goes fast. If he stops on his front end every time, that is difficult for anyone to ride.

For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that your horse stops on his hindquarters… at least most of the time!

These three things are necessary for stops to be comfortable at high speeds:

1. Both the horse and the rider must rate the cow.

By this, I mean that if as a rider you are dreading the stop and you’re not focused on reading the cow, there is no doubt you will most likely keep your feet in your horse and cause him to stop on his front end.

Riding cow horses has a tremendous amount to do with reading a cow no matter the speed… slow or fast.

It takes time to trust your horse and yourself as you read a faster cow.

However, that being said, you can talk to yourself constantly while working a cow and tell yourself, “Read the cow. Read the cow. Read the cow.”

This mantra helps you focus your eyes and your mind on the cow instead of thinking about the fear of the speed and what could happen. By saying this to yourself repeatedly, over time you WILL learn to read a cow if you focus on it.

As you learn to read a cow better, you will begin to round your lower back and drop your seat down as you see the cow begin to stop, which gives your horse time to stop on his hindquarters in position with and in time with the cow.

2. A horse must be collected and have some propulsion to stop well.

The rider aids collection and propulsion (or hinders it) with what he or she does with their feet while traveling with a cow.

Regarding a stop, make sure your seat is down and stays down as your horse stops AND all the way through the turn.

Your feet need to be OUT OF HIM as he’s stopping.

When you begin to travel with a cow at the end of the turn, your feet re-enter the scene to guide or propel a horse.

My suggestion is to really understand (with the help of a trainer or mentor) this entire sequence of how to use your feet for the stop and turn.

Different trainers have different philosophies about this. Really seek to understand first. Then, practice it on a flag if you can, as well as on cattle.

It takes time to master timing with your feet, but it has everything to do with if your horse stops well on a fast cow.

3. Your upper body needs to stay soft and pliable, especially your hips and your lower back.

Your center of balance is in your lower abdomen. Your hips should feel soft and heavy and your back should feel soft and rounded for stops.

I agree with the concept of “push on the horn” if you are just beginning to work a cow, especially if you are pulling on the horn.

Beyond that time however, I believe it is much better to tell yourself to “Get heavy, soft and deep in your hips,” as you stop.

I WAY prefer this to “push on the horn” which makes your arm stiff… which stiffens your entire upper body… and ultimately actually takes your balance out of your seat.

I do think it’s a good idea to gently use the horn as a balancing lever by pressing against it with the heel of your hand if necessary from time to time, but not as an end in itself.

When someone tells you to push on the horn, press gently on it and get heavy in the saddle. Consciously tune into softening your hips and lower back.

While these three suggestions are not all-inclusive, they are vital to help you develop great stops with speed.

In time you will come to love feeling the rhythm in controlling a fast cow. In the meantime, practice the above and be patient with yourself in this learning curve.

Although it takes time, the end result is well worth the time and effort.

The End of the Turn

The End of the Turn

Most cutting pictures are similar to the one above because they capture a beautiful deep stop at the beginning or middle of the turn.
 

A lot of herdwork and cutting instruction has to do with how to sit and use your feet before stops and during the middle of the turn.

 

For example, there’s a lot of discussion about sitting and waiting, etc.
 

There is another phase of the stop-turn sequence that is also critical to understand and ride correctly. It’s at the end of the turn where the horse completes the turn and then accelerates on the line.
 

The reason why the end of the turn is important is because this is where the horse: 

  • Continues to read the cow undistracted (very important!) 

  • Accelerates in a collected manner as he begins to move out of the turn and on ‘the line’

  • ‘Stays on the line’ and does not go either towards the cow or does not move away from the cow as he travels across the arena (unless forced to do so)

To get a feel for this end part of the turn, I’m going to go out there into fantasy land for a moment, so bear with me here.
 

Imagine you are sitting in a swivel chair, like the chair at your desk. 

 

Let’s pretend like you don’t have to do anything to make your swivel chair turn, but sit quietly. The chair turns on its own. You just have to look at something that will move your chair on its own.

 

As you sit in the chair, your feet are quiet and do not impede the movement of the chair.
 

Again, your job is to focus on whatever is moving the chair and allow it to turn on its own.

 

But then at the 180-degree mark, your feet need to do some coordinated and correct actions to accelerate the chair on a line and keep it from rotating more than 180 degrees.

 

With your fantasy chair, when you use your feet correctly, you could accelerate the chair on a straight line at the 180 mark and keep it parallel to the object that pulled you through the turn.
 

Okay… let’s come back now to working a cow.

 

The cow ‘pulls’ a horse through the turn, i.e., the horse waits for the cow to move and then turns with it (much on his own) in a rhythmic, synchronized and correct form manner.

 

The sequence is: the cow goes; the horse comes next; the horse brings the rider on the horse’s back. 

 

At the end of the turn, the rider helps the horse move well, stay in position and travel correctly with the cow across the arena. 

 

So, while the cow initiates the turn and dictates the speed of the turn, at the end of the turn, the rider’s feet make a huge difference for what happens next.  

 

Just as in the chair analogy, for example, if you were rotating to the right, your right foot could keep the chair from over-rotating to the right and moving off of a 180-degree turn (if needed).
 

The difference between a chair and a horse (there are a lot of differences (-:) is that the cow-side leg is critical, too. 

 

When used appropriately the cow-side leg ensures that the horse’s body complete’s the the turn and comes out of the turn in a collected way. It is used in coordination with the herd-side leg, which keeps the horse on the line.

 

Therefore, at the end of the turn, the rider not only accelerates the horse, but he or she can also help him move in a collected way and in a straight line.
 

As you become more aware of this end-of-the-turn moment, and you begin to feel that critical acceleration place, it will help you use your feet more effectively and more accurately.

 

In the meantime, you can ride your office chair! (-:

How to Fix What Went Wrong on the Cut

How to Fix What Went Wrong on the Cut

It can be challenging to learn herdwork. There’s so much to absorb about cattle, angles, making decisions about moving targets, etc. This is especially tough if you’ve had little to no experience with cattle before you started your cow career.

Then there’s more to add to the mix of challenges. There’s the impact of your draw in the herd, or the kind of cattle at the show that day (numb or wild or in between). Herdwork is just plain challenging.

It’s something we all work on… amateurs, nonpros, and professionals alike. You’re not alone.

To help you sort through how to improve your herdwork, try the following idea.

Watch your video and ask yourself the following questions. Look to see where an error just began to happen. Therein lies the magic place where your correction can be made next time.

1. Were you aware of taking each cow (on each cut) to the middle of the arena?

2. Were you aware to keep driving way up and away from the body of the herd on each cut? Where did you slow down when you could have kept stepping the cow forward?

3. What cuts worked well and what cuts did not?

4. Where exactly did things take a turn for the worse?

5. Were your moves smooth?

6. Did you apply enough pressure so that the cow moved at an even speed? If not, did you go too fast, or lag behind?

7. If you moved smoothly but the cow went the wrong way, exactly where were you when the cow moved the wrong way? What was your angle? When/where did you move too far, or too fast, or not far or quickly enough?

8. Did you have a strategic plan for the type of cattle for that day as well as your draw in the herd?

9. Were you and your number one mentor/herd holder on the same page before your run?

10. Did you see all of the cattle around you and move strategically, or did you get tunnel vision?

Figure out where things just began to fall apart and then make an adjustment next time. Often you will know what you need to do, but if not, ask your trainer or trusted mentor.

Then, make a plan for your next run to focus on one or two small adjustments. Over time, you will make huge advancements.

 
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.

 

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.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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.

How to Coordinate Your Hand and Feet on the Cut

How to Coordinate Your Hand and Feet on the Cut

There are three main things going on as you’re walking through the herd to make a cut. The first is effective communication with your horse. The second is reading an ever-changing situation. The third is making good decisions moment-to-moment.

That’s a lot to manage all at one time! 

This article is about how to use your feet to communicate with your horse on the cut (as opposed to the natural tendency to go to your hand almost exclusively.) The truth is, good communication with your horse on the cut is about seamlessly integrating your hand with your and feet. 

Here are 5 guidelines to help you coordinate your hand and your feet on the cut.

1. Keep your eyes focused on where you’re going. 

When we’re not sure exactly what to do next, it’s easy to get flustered, look down and start moving our hand erratically. 

No matter what, keep your eyes up with a wide vision. Then as you develop the feel of moving your horse with your feet, you will guide him more accurately because your eyes are always focused on where you want to go. 

I’m not sure why this is such a powerful concept, but it is. Controlling your eyes is instrumental in using your feet and hand appropriately. 

2. Know that when you have light contact with the horse’s mouth, he will respond. 

You want to know that at any moment your horse will “listen” to you when you pick him up to direct him or guide him. Ideally, when you pick your hand up, he is light, pauses and waits for you to give him his next direction with your feet. 

3. Point your hand. 

Point your hand on the mid-line of his neck in the direction you want to go. Additional communications as in lateral movement, forward movement, and acceleration come from your feet. 

4. Add your feet purposefully after you point your hand.
 

  • To add speed to continue on in the same direction, use both feet simultaneously.

  • To shape a horse’s body part, use one foot. For example, a light foot pressed against a horse’s rib cage will typically cause him to turn his nose in that direction.

  • To hold a horse steady, apply consistent pressure with one foot to keep a horse from “wiggling” back and forth. For example, if he wants to move his hind quarters to the right, just move your right foot back and towards his hindquarters and hold it there until he stops moving. Then release your foot.

  • Both feet may be used in sequence or simultaneously for different functions like shaping a horse’s body in the direction of the turn prior to a pivot, but then use the opposite foot to move the horse through the turn.

5. Coordinate your hand and feet when a cow jets quickly across the arena. 

When you get a fast cow on the cut, the movements are the same as described above, but they are happening at mach speed. In general, use your hand to point in the direction you want to go and “keep your horse with you.” However, it’s your feet that shape a horse’s body, move him laterally or across the arena and then up into a cow. 

It takes patience to develop these complex skills. With time they will become more natural.

8 Reasons to Quit a Cow

8 Reasons to Quit a Cow

Quitting a cow is one of those crucial decisions you make at the spur of the moment when you show in cutting or in herd work classes. This article is about helping you make good decisions about when it’s time to decide if you should quit … or not.

But first, here are a few generalities regarding “good, mediocre and bad” cattle.

If your cow is “good” has she been maximized … that is, did you get all the credit-earning work out of her yet?

A good cow faces your horse and goes back and forth for 15-30 feet at a medium speed in the middle of the arena. She has “feel” which means she stops and goes the other direction when you get into the correct position to stop her. The ideal cow never darts toward the turn back people, the herd holders, the back fence or the side walls of the arena.

If your cow is “mediocre,” is she worth staying on for what you need to accomplish in your run as a whole?

Typically this kind of cow wanders around a lot or stays out away from you. She’s not that interested in you and your horse or even interested in getting back to the herd. She also might move at a rather slow speed so she doesn’t give you a chance to earn credit. She’s “safe” but not not run building.

If your cow is “bad,” is the only smart thing to do quit and get another cow?

This could be a cow that doesn’t move, doesn’t respect your horse or who runs all over the arena. Normally, you need to quit that kind of cow immediately.

Here are eight reasons to consider quitting a cow.

1.) She starts off well, but then darts hard towards one of the corners.

The key word here is darts. You can bet that the next time she comes back in the same direction, she will try even harder to get to the corner and/or return to the herd. That cow is no good. Do your best to stop her and quit working her as soon as possible.

2.) She is numb.

She stands there and your turn back helpers are yelling and slapping their chaps. She barely moves. Quit.

3.) She is crazo!

Her tail goes up and maybe over her back. She is on a mission to go anywhere at jet speed and get by any horse she can. She might aim at the turn back horses or just run around wildly in the arena.

If she is super wild and you keep working her, even if she’s not coming in your direction, chances are she’s going to turn on you sooner or later and come at you hard! Stop working her.

4.) She starts off like an ideal cow, but then starts moving in any direction out of the middle of the arena sweet spot. She may not be that bad, but chances are you’ve gotten all of the good stuff out of her and she’s not coming back to stage center. The choice to stay on her depending upon other factors, like how good or bad the cattle are as a group, how much time you worked your first cow, etc.

5.) She starts running from wall-to-wall. It’s time to quit.

6.) She tries to get through the turn back helpers. Thumbs down.

7.) She snorts at you! Quit ASAP.

8.) From the very beginning she has absolutely no interest in your horse.

She wanders from one place to another … everywhere but in the vicinity of you and your horse. She may or may not be that “bad,” but without you and your horse being able to really affect her behavior and stop her, you won’t be able to earn a lot of credit while working her. Again, it’s your call whether to quit her or work her a little bit longer, depending on other factors.

A great way to practice deciding when to quit is to watch cattle from the bleachers during other classes. As you watch, regardless of what the cutter does, decide when you think it is the best time to quit.

How to Stop Leaning

How to Stop Leaning

Have you ever struggled with a pesky upper body that insists on leaning before and through the turn? Do your shoulders and torso have minds of their own?

Try these ideas to sit (and stay (-:) square, still and deep in the saddle:

1. Let go of trying not to lean.

Our bodies cannot ‘not’ do anything. You will be well on your way to sitting quietly, deeply and still as you focus on what you want, instead of what you don’t want.

2. Focus instead on the mechanics and feeling of a silky, deep cutting turn.

Work towards the goal of being a partner with your horse in a seamless kind of deep swiveling sensation as you turn.

You and your horse are a team. Your horse provides the power and the movement. You provide the support.

You each have your own jobs.

3. Understand your horse’s job.

The turn begins with a square stop on his hindquarters.

He then draws his weight one more notch back.

His primary weight just after the stop and just before and during the turn needs to be on the opposite hind leg away from the cow.

So if you are facing left, getting ready to turn right, after your horse stops, he anchors his left hind leg in the dirt. He holds that crouched position and weight distribution to make a balanced turn in rhythm with the cow.

If you’ve heard the terms, “losing his rear” or “fishtailing” … that occurs when there is less weight (and wait) on the opposite hind leg away from the cow.

4. Understand the rider’s job.

The rider must maintain proper balance and weight, in order for the horse to do his job.

Help your horse stop by collapsing your back and dropping as deeply as you can into the saddle when you see the cow slow down or stop. Stay down. Tell yourself, “Collapse. Go deeper … deeper … deeper.” Try to press your belt buckle down and toward your back bone.

Check in with your hips. The hip on the outside of the turn … the same hip as the anchor leg of the horse … remains quiet and still … and heavy.

Now, ever so softly and deeply, your hips are quietly a part of a swivel turn.

Your job is to stay balanced and allow your horse to turn around.

As your horse turns, imagine your hips going even deeper as he turns. Feel the swivel.

Try exhaling into the stop and turnaround.

Wait to use your feet until you have almost completed the turn and you are approaching traveling on a line parallel with the cow. Your trainer will coach you about when and how exactly to use your legs after the turn. Different trainers have different approaches to this piece.

As you visualize and practice these technical pieces, coach yourself in feeling words, like “soft, deep, collapse, go deeper”.

Always focus on what you want … repeatedly.

Break It Down

Break It Down

It’s easy to lump an entire run together as really good, or really awful, and not think another thing about it. (Well, maybe you ponder it a bit longer if you experience the low end of the totem pole.)

I once had a friend suggest that I should make a decision about how long I was going to feel badly about something based on how truly wretched or slightly off my error really was.

What takes your herdwork and cutting to higher and higher levels over time, is your ability to break it down into very distinct segments.

This includes everything from how mentally focused you were, to how well prepared your horse was, to your ritual before you went in, to watching (or not watching) cattle, to how you made your cuts, to how you worked the cow, etc., etc. You get the idea. 

The key is to discover within each small piece where an error just began and make your corrections there. 

I see herdwork in seven distinct large categories.

Then, within each of these 7 categories, there are even smaller chunks.

Getting better at herdwork by approaching it in larger categories and then even smaller segments within those categories has worked for me in my training and in my teaching.

These are the 7 larger categories:

1. Mental and emotional skills to perform at your best “under pressure,” as well as to make the best out of difficult times.

2. Horsemanship knowledge and skills to be able to effectively communicate with your horse in and out of the herd.

3. Herd-work skills to maneuver well in a herd, choose the best cow in a particular situation, and earn score credit for herdwork.

4. The ability to be accurate and in the correct position as you work the cow; anticipate and counter a cow’s moves with grace and speed.

5. The ability to school your horse at home so you can maintain his correctness and become a pro-active rider instead of a vulnerable passenger.

6. Showmanship skills to escalate your competitive advantage and be successful in competition.

7. An ability to design your own program and your horse’s program according to what you enjoy as you stay true to your personal values.

 

The best news is that sometimes as you master one seemingly small chunk within a category, many other things fall into place naturally.

It doesn’t matter so much about your God-given talent. What does matter is your willingness to build your confidence by improving your abilities within the small pieces within the categories.

Be sure to give yourself credit for what you already know (and can do with relative ease) and then take the next steps to improve that next small step.

How to Guide Your Horse on the Cut With One Hand​​​​​​​

How to Guide Your Horse on the Cut With One Hand​​​​​​​

When guiding your horse with one hand in the herd (with fast cattle sometimes!) smoothness and accuracy can be a challenge.

That’s because sometimes in the heat of fast action, cues can get confusing for the horse. 

You see, early in a cow horse’s training career, he is taught to turn with a specific sequence of cueing. 

A trainer typically initiates the turn with a “pull” of a direct rein. (Direct rein means if you’re turning right, you would pull the right rein.) That direct rein points the horse’s nose initially in the direction of the turn and begins the turn. Then the turn is completed with offside rein and leg pressure to bring the shoulders across the hind quarters to complete the pivot.

Sometimes amateurs and non-pros (and trainers, too!) can have a challenge steering their horse in the herd with one hand, instead of two hands. 

Here’s why.

When you neck rein with one hand during a cut, if the rider is unaware, the horse’s nose ends up inadvertently pointed in the wrong direction at the beginning of the turn. The horse gets confused and becomes “bound up”.

That’s because the horse responds to pressure in his mouth first, instead of pressure on his neck. He feels the offside rein shorten and “thinks” it’s a direct rein cue. He points his nose toward the offside shortened rein, but unfortunately, it’s opposite the direction of the turn. 

Then, the harder you try to neck rein, the more the offside rein shortens and pulls the horse’s nose even more in the wrong direction.

The secret to an accurate turn is to always make sure your horse’s nose is pointed either straight ahead or in the direction you want to go before you apply the offside rein and leg.

Here’s how …

To initiate the turn, first lift your hand to lightly connect to your horse’s mouth. (This is one of the reasons we back horses right before walking to the herd … so they get back off the bit easily.)

Next, place a soft calf/leg pressure on the horse’s side in the direction you want to pivot. The key words here are “soft pressure.” Most horses will respond with a tilt of the nose toward the same side where you lightly touch your calf/leg to your horse’s ribs.

Only THEN, when the nose is faced forward or pointed toward where you want to go, do you apply offside rein and leg pressure to initiate and follow through with the turn.

Needless to say, this sequence of rider cues requires muscle memory when things happen quickly in the herd. 

You can make this an automatic skill by practicing guiding your horse outside of the herd with one hand. Take your time. Practice slowly and frequently to get the sequence down:

  • Look where you want to go.

  • Have light contact with your horse’s mouth.

  • Apply just enough soft calf pressure on your horse’s ribs to tilt his nose in the direction of the turn.

  • Apply neck rein and off side leg pressure to initiate and complete the turn or pivot.