Cowboy music

I really enjoy what I call cowboy music.  When I was in high school Chris LeDoux was my favorite. Red Steagall was added in my college rodeo days.  Ian Tyson, Tom Russell, Dave Stamey, R.W. Hampton, Don Edwards, Wylie and the Wild West to name a few sure helped myself and family enjoy our barn and riding lots of horses.

This song and these images by my friend Stocklein say it all as it pertains to this weeks subject in my blog.  Many of the people in the photos helped me or inspired me to improve.

Matt Robertson, a Wyoming boy, with a Canadian wife, is a great new talent in the cowboy world and also writing and singing about it. Corb Lund, Linda Thurston, and Adrian Brannan are some of my new favorites.

I have not put very much “cowboy” music on the Friday feel good music because it is real hard to find cowboy music that fits the theme I am trying to talk about.

I have listened to Marty Robbins for as long as I can remember, probably before I was born.
I used to sing “160 Acres In The Valley” when I was riding my pony Pee Wee, dreaming about my outfit I wanted to have.

Most of the cowboy music is about things that may not go along with what we are discussing here.  The songs portray some of the same skills and lifestyles that we are trying to overcome in having the livestock industry fit with modern day production and the consumer of this period in history.

I think this is a very important issue to look at.

First things first.  We have to define what we are talking about.  Cowboy is the most common word to describe our western tradition of handling cattle horseback, but in some regions they would rather be called a “buckaroo.”  I prefer the term “stockman” for myself, because it pertains to not only the handling of, but care of the animal as well.

The cowboy really came from the southwest (Texas and surrounding states).  This is harsh country, and after the Civil War times were tough. If you had the skills, it was possible to capture wild cattle and make a living from those skills.  These were wild dangerous cattle, in wild dangerous country, and it took wild dangerous men and women to do it.  The cattle did not belong to anyone, so you had no ownership to tell you how to do things, and if you could not capture them quickly, and get control of them they would be someone else’s to capture.

This created a cowboy that had the skills to get ‘er done and get it done now with no room for error.  They were not concerned too much with style, just getting the animal in their control before someone else did, or the beef learned how to escape them. This created gear that was tough, horses that were tough, and cowboys that were double tough.

The buckaroo name derived from the Spanish word “vaquero.”  It meant a cattle driver.  This style was developed from the “Californio” region where the Catholic Missions controlled much of the livestock grazing areas.  This was paradise for raising and caring for cattle. The vaquero did not have to concern himself with anything other than the skills of horsemanship and handling cattle. The Missions had peons and slaves to do other work.  This created real style and finesse in the horsemanship, roping skills, and cattle handling.  They were able to take time to create gear that was not only useful, but showed pride in craftsmanship. They had highly trained horses and cattle that were easy to handle because of the owners’ requirements, as well the time to teach them to handle.

This was the two main styles of cattle workers in west.  As time went on and cattle ranching expanded the style went with the expansion.  My home state of Montana is a perfect example of this.  In western Montana the Californio style was more prevalent. Across the continental divide on the eastern side you saw a strong Texas influence, because of the trail herds coming from the south.

This is a modern look at ranching with a great song that I feel shows the “feel” the Texas drovers had for the cattle they were in care of.

We have seen a huge change in the ranch or stock horse in the past decades.  This is mainly because of the work of Ray Hunt.  He traveled the country showing people how to work with their horses.  The so called “old way” of horsemanship has changed so much in the past years and now it is becoming the norm to work with the horse rather than forcing the horse to do what we need of it.  I don’t believe this is something new, and I don’t believe only the people doing clinics were or are doing it.  I also don’t believe every one who did things the “old way” did things that were abusive to horses.

Ray Hunt was the first and most mentioned person I am aware of to do clinics in this style (Monty Forman also did clinics, but it was more on performance horses).  Ray was the pioneer and many have since followed.  Next we had video, then television made it possible to get information without actually being with the teacher, and the Internet has been great for getting information.  This has been great, and some have even called it the horsemanship “revolution.”

I would say that much of this style of horsemanship came from the Californio tradition, as well as some of the methods of the Calvary.

This goes back to the environments and lifestyles of the time and traditions in California and Texas.  The Texans had no choice but to get ‘er done to survive, and survive and thrive they did.

They were the best at what was required of them and really fit the time they were in.  I’m not saying the Californian style was all easy, but I do think they had it easier, as far a survival, than the Texas and southwest waddies .

I remember how people used to question, and even criticize Ray Hunt when he would come to town. Many people did not even know what he was doing but still criticized it.  As time went on it became more of the norm, as more and more people started doing it. Now it is accepted by most, not all as a good thing.

Horses for most people are a source of pride and pleasure, even if they use them for their livelihood.  This type of horsemanship is popular all over, even in Texas.  Times have changed. The way we do things can change for the better.

I want you to know I was not friends with Ray Hunt (he really made me nervous and afraid I would do the wrong thing) but I was fascinated by his skills in working with a horse.  Ray Hunt dressed like a cowboy or buckaroo, had all the skills it took to be a top hand.  He seemed to be in perfect balance with a horse no matter if it was standing still, bucking, or any thing in between, and was an excellent roper. He could get a horse to perform at the top of its athletic ability, had a wealth of experience, and could read livestock well.  He had the skills to be just as tough and rough on horses as anyone going.  He could have roped and choked, tied horses down and thrown a tarp over them, tied their heads around for hours, or many other things that have been done to horses in the name of western training methods.  But he did not do these things.  Instead, he worked with what he spoke of as “feel, timing, and balance.”  Other horseman had the same style of gear, same clothes, the same physical skills, but not the same feel, timing, and balance.  This makes the difference.

When we talk about cattle handling in the western tradition,  it is much the same as western-style horse handling.  You must have skills.  You can not read a book or watch a video, and simply walk out of the house and start a colt or rope a bull, and you would probably have a hard time even moving cattle if you had no previous experience. It is a learning process.  The more you work at improving the skill the better you should get at it. The physical skills must be there, but how you use them is the important part.  I think this is where feel, timing and balance become important.

The main motivation for livestock to do anything is pressure.

Feel is applying the proper pressure to get the animal to do what you would like it to do.

Timing is applying pressure when the animal has the ability to respond first with the mind, then with the body, and reducing or taking pressure off after the animal responds to pressure.

Balance is combining feel and timing of pressure to keep the animal in a thinking state, rather than in a survival state.  This creates trust and acceptance of the pressure, and allows the animal to learn or think its way out of the pressure.

The reason I think the type of horsemanship Ray Hunt brought us has become so popular is because first of all it is real.  If you develop skill and use feel, timing and balance to use those skills, you will get better results in a much better way, for the animal and the human. The other thing that has been so great, is that when people start using feel, timing and balance with the horsemanship, they learn to use it in their human relationships as well, and that is when quality of life really goes up.

If you are a horseman and you have not experienced the feeling of working with the horse to get what you want, I feel you are missing out on great personal satisfaction. To me there is an added satisfaction in taking responsibility to not expose the horse to unnecessary pressure simply for human pleasure, or what seems to be pleasure, but for many turns to frustration.

In the cattle business we must handle cattle.  No matter what type of operation at some point we must control the movement and placement of the cattle. This handling will cause some amount of stress to the animal. If it is excessive it can cause problems that effect production and therefore profit, quality of life for animals and humans, and could create a negative desire for the consumer of beef.

Much of the cattle handling that is done in modern age is done in the horseback traditions. If we really want to improve cattle handling, this is the most important and most difficult place to make change.  The reason are similar to the reasons Ray Hunt created some animosity at first.

Let me list some reasons I think cowboys and buckaroos are skeptical.

  • To force and fight animals takes talent and skill that is exclusive to a certain group, and if you make it so everyone can do it cowboys and buckaroos loose some status.
  • It is exciting and fun to do the high pressure types of cattle handling.
  • There is much honor in being a good cow fighter.  It is easy to see the skills it takes to rope a wild cow, or cut a animal out of a bunch with a athletic cutting horse, or make a hard run to turn a steer.  We show case these skills in cutting horse contests, team penning, ranch roping, ranch horse competition, and ranch rodeo.
  • The majority of the cowboys and buckaroos are young with a need to live on the edge and be wild and free.
  • You must have control of you emotions.

I know these reasons are true because I have lived it.  I am so thankful I have had the opportunity to work around some great hands.  I developed my cow fighting skills and feel I was very good at it.  The lucky thing for me is that I got to experience how real and effective horsemanship can be with skill and feel, timing, and balance and was able to see this would also improve the way I worked with cattle.

I feel the late Ray Hunt did so much to help horses and people have a better deal.  In the cattle business we can benefit greatly from this style.

No matter if you are of the “Texas” or “California” tradition or a mix of both, if you add feel, timing, and balance to the tradition of cattle handling you will add to and improve the tradition, as well as improve quality of life for every one involved.

I have spent many years working on this and hope with my sharing of ideas through print and live demonstrations, it will help you on the journey to become better at working with animals.  I take it very seriously and hope you do as well.  It is important to improve.

I feel it is very hard to teach someone better cattle handling skills, but it is very easy to learn better cattle handling skills.  All you need is the desire and the time and you will get better. Learn as much as you can, figure out what will work for you, put effort into it and you will be on your way to improvement.

As a tribute to Ray Hunt and all the other great livestock handlers before us lets not forget.

FEEL. TIMING. BALANCE.

~ Curt Pate

2 thoughts on “Cowboy music

  1. April Williams-Ginns

    Hi Curt, I know your history lessons started a little later than ours but your original stockmen/cowboys came off the boat from Ireland and England, they were your original stockmen and then a few generations later on the “American cowboys” became known. Sending you a hug and a wink…….April 🙂

  2. Curt Pate

    I think many of our old traditional “cowboy songs” were ballads and poems from the old country. Thanks for the reminder.

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