1. How the cutters both steer and move their horse amid the threatening situations
Have you ever wondered what someone means when they say, “Get a hold of that cow!” You might think, “What in the world?????”
When a trainer or a helper says this, he or she means to become more aware of your mental and physical connection to the cow in that moment. It’s like saying, “Above all else, zone in on the cow.” That’s because beyond all of the technical things we do with our legs and seat, we always need to relate them to the cow first and foremost.
Sometimes as cutting horse riders, we become so wound up on getting the cow cut, putting our hand down, keeping it down, sitting deep in the saddle, using a herdside or cowside leg … the list goes on … that the cow becomes secondary as it moves around in front of us. We’re too busy multi-tasking on all the other stuff to be intently focused on the cow.
But actually, the connection to the cow should come first.
It’s analogous to playing tennis. You have to keep your eye on the ball to play tennis or else you won’t be in the game very long. Your connection to the tennis ball is key.
In cutting it’s keeping your eye on the cow. It’s the same in regards to your effectiveness as a rider as you work a cow. The more connected to a cow you are, the more accurate and purposeful you will be as you ride. The difference between tennis and cutting is that we don’t always have to be that focused. Our horse will cover for us most of the time if we don’t laser beam in on the cow.
Here are three ways to get more connected to a cow:
1. Make getting and staying focused to the cow your first priority. Have a phrase you say to yourself repeatedly that connects you to the cow.
The thought “Watch the cow” is a good one, and of course essential. But by nature, the word “Watch” is a little passive. There’s nothing technically wrong with that idea. But if you tell yourself to “Take a hold!” … now you’ve got some energy going on! Boom! “Take a hold of that cow!”
2. Be purposeful regarding the angle you take to stop the cow. Go for more than just position on the cow (although that’s a good starting point). Go for moving up into the “energy” of the cow at a slight angle to the cow.
3. “Read the cow” in all you do, especially with your seat. Go beyond the mechanics of how to sit. Use the mechanics of your seat for the purpose of connecting with your horse and stopping the cow. Let the purpose of stopping the cow tell your body when to sit. Take “a hold of the cow” in the stop with a dramatic seat drop.
“Seat” as used here refers to stability in physical balance as well as a close connection to your horse.
Physically, I’m referring to your backside, particularly from your lower back to the top of your legs.
I’m talking about the ease and stability of that portion of your body as it acts like a flexible, heavy anchor aboard your horse. With this soft and heavy comfort, the rest of your body parts can function freely and independently.
It is finding and flowing with the movement of your horse in this sweet spot that allows all other parts of your body to their jobs.
When this part of your body feels soft and heavy, your arms, legs and feet will feel like they are on hinges as they work independent of your lower center of your body.
You will feel grounded physically AND mentally because this is the part of your body where your emotions are housed as well.
There are some simple things you can do to find and keep your seat.
1. Try this simple action. It is more internal than external in developing this anchor of stability.
Press your abdomen/tummy within towards your back bone. Feel the compression on the inside.
It will feel heavy, yet you will feel connected to your horse. With this awareness, soften your shoulders and your arms. Feel the independent use capability of your arms and legs.
2. As you ride your horse in different gaits, become aware of your seat bones and how your horse moves your hips and specifically those two seat bones.
3. Keep reminding yourself to be stable and conscious of your core by saying a word or words to yourself over and over to develop this awareness.
For example, say to yourself, almost like a chant, “Core. Cow. Core. Cow. Core. Cow.” These two words will keep you focused on the cow and focused on your core/seat at the same time.
4. Remind yourself to stay loose and watch the cow as you work the cow. Add “Loose” to your previous mantra. Or, you might want to add the word, “Heavy’. Say to yourself whatever works for you.
Keep telling yourself this. I know it sounds a little unusual, but when you say these words to yourself over and over, to “Cow… Core… Loose… Cow… Core… Loose,” now you are the one in control of feeding yourself the reminders that you need to be connected to your horse, loose and connected to the cow.
Enjoy developing more balance and more connection with your horse, as well as the ability to use your hands and your feet independently as you work a cow.
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.
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! (-:
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.
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.
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.
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.