Feel, timing and balance – this discussion all started from my desire to preserve and improve the American Western style of horseback livestock handling and management.

This is very important to me. My people have been livestock people for as long as I can find in the past and my children are both choosing to go forward with livestock in the future. I truly feel it is what my whole life has been set up to do, and now I feel it is time for me to share the knowledge I have accumulated to give people that are interested more options to think about and hopefully act upon.

The challenge is as humans we have the the mental ability to use all the things available to us to become very powerful. If we are not careful the power becomes the main desire and we over use this power to create what we think we need and want. If a person is not careful this power becomes addicting or habit and what is pleasure at the moment can lead to problems in the future.

We need this power to survive as humans, and the world needs us to to use this power in BALANCE to survive. As I look to all the disagreement in the world most of it seems to come back to the use of this power.

In livestock management the amount of skill you have in controlling the feeding and handling of this stock creates success or failure. In some society’s the animals are very gentle and easy to manage, and in others the animals are closer to the wild animals that grazed the environment before them.

On the western ranges of North America, because of the feral cattle being wild it created the need for power to overcome the animals ability to escape pressure. This is what created the skills of the cowboy. (For this discussion lets call everyone who works cattle horseback a cowboy.)

The ability to create a horse that is more athletic than a cow and the skill of using a rope or whip to aid in the management of cattle were essential to being successful at profitable ranching in the early days of ranching. Today we still need these skills in some situations, but because of modern facility design, smaller pastures and enclosures, and modern advances in technology not everyone has to be a cowboy in the cattle business.

To me you must use what works best for your personality. Beef cattle are stronger, faster and have more stamina than the human. The horse is stronger, faster, and has more stamina than the bovine. The human must use its brain to outsmart the cow, or to train the horse to outmaneuver the cow.

The skills of the cowboy are very admired. What I call being a good cow fighter is very well thought of in most ranchers’ minds. It takes a bunch of dedication and skill to get this power over a beef animal. Good horsemanship skills, good roping skills, and reading a cow are very important in the fighting of the cow.

This is all great, but what if we could change things just a bit, change the feel and timing of pressure, to create a more balanced approach to getting the critter to do what we want. If you don’t want to change because then you would not get to rope as much or have the high power horse skills in use as much, I understand. You are not in the business for profit, but for lifestyle. And you are also saying you like to be hard on livestock. When you rope cattle in the pasture, throw a trip on ’em to doctor them, you are being hard on ’em. When you yell, scream, slap your chaps and run into the bunch to get ’em through the gate, you are being hard on them and teaching them to be afraid.

I like to think of a good cowboy the same way I have heard a good black belt karate master should be. The black belt has spent years accumulating skills to have the mental and physical ability to have power over other humans. If they don’t use this power in balance it would create many problems. They could end up in prison or dead if they become to aggressive with their skill. From what I understand the black belt develops these skills but does all he can not to use them, except in a controlled match. This is how he tests his ability to use the skills, so in a real life situation he is ready to use the power.

What we are talking about with effective cattle handling is the ability to use feel and timing to get an beef animal to go where we need them to go. The better you handle the cattle the better trained they become and the less pressure it takes to handle them. If they have not been trained, or have learned to escape from bad handling, then you should have the skills (power) to get the animal to do what you want. This is when the balance of power is important.

For me personally, at one point in my life I thought the use of my cowboy skills was the most important thing to develop, and it was. But what I have found with experience (another word for mistakes) is that I overused the skills because I was good at them and did not know how good it felt to get something done with feel. My personal satisfaction and profit level have increased and chance for injury or death have decreased.

What helped to get me to that balance was being around good stockman that understood the balance. I had the skills, that’s why I had the job. The boss’s job was to keep me in check and to balance my cowboy powers with the feel it took to do the job right.

These days I am learning ways to work with animals in harmony as much as possible. Time and experience have helped me learn to balance pressure with animals and humans. There are times when neither will cooperate and that is when more pressure is needed. If you don’t have the pressure available to you, you will either not get it done or have to hire someone that does have the ability to get it done.

Cowboys come in all different styles. In every style there are a few that have learned feel, timing, and balance. This earns them the title of a “top hand.” Not just from other cowboys, but from all involved, and that is real important. I hope you are one or are working hard at becoming one.

If we use balance in our gift of humans having power over other animals the rewards are many. If we get power hungry the instant satisfaction is usually followed by future problems. This is not exclusive to cowboys, but to all humans and all aspects of life. Balance may be the secret to the highest quality of life.

Find it.

~ Curt Pate

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