I mentioned in previously thrown loops about goals. People have many different goals when riding a horse. What I am discussing is what I think the best horsemanship for handling cattle that goes with the least amount of stress possible, but getting the results required for modern day beef production.
Western horsemanship evolved from cattle work. The western style tack we use evolved from the needs of a person working cattle.
The skills it takes to handle cattle, such as sorting, roping, trailing and penning, as well as the horsemanship skills needed for these tasks have all been made into contests. That has made a great industry all coming from the skills of the cowboy and the cowhorse. The thing that is important to realize is when you create competition, the dynamics are to win the competition, and the top competitors are the most extreme and the best at the competition. This creates its own style over time and could take the skill to an extreme level and not as it was when it started. This is called progress, and it is amazing how roping, cutting, reining, cowhorse, and team penning have gotten so good and changed so much in the last fifty years.
So now I feel the very thing that influenced and started these events, the events with time, points, judges and money influencing them, are now the model that creates horses and horsemanship for cattlehandling. So the very thing that influences and started western performance horses, ranching, is now being influenced by western performance horses.
The challenge with it is that when you add time and competition it becomes a forceful or hurried situation, and a contest between the horse/human and the critter in the contest.
The cattle in the competition are being forced to do something. This is alright for the competition, as it has rules and time limits and the goal is not animal production, but performance of horse and rider. The bovine is simply a tool to show the performance skills of the competitors.
A horse show is to prove who did the best job at home preparing the horse to preform the way it is to be judged. It is amazing to me how handy horses have become. They put many hours into getting the horse ready, and work constantly to keep em good. Most ranchers don’t have the time and skill to prepare the horse in this manner.
Cattle used in competition are prepared for the competition, the arena is flat and free from obstructions, usually on very good footing so the competitor has the advantage. They can run and turn and stop without much chance of falling. A fence keeps the critter within a distance to be worked fairly. No brush, creeks, manure piles or ponds or tanks to escape to.
As we look at modern beef production, there have been many changes since the 1800’s when the industry was really taking off. But really the main thing we wanted to do then and now is to keep beef animals gaining weight and reproducing. The horse has been a big part in moving cattle from point A to point B to get better production from our beef animals.
If we let the western performance horse world determine and influence how we work our cattle and prepare our horses to work them, we may be hampering the ability of the cattle we raise from gaining weight and reproducing to the full genetic potential. The reason is because we are working on defense and force, rather than on pressuring the animal just enough to change their mind and make what you want seem to be their idea.
This requires a horse to be very precise. The speed of movement and the direction of movement is what creates proper pressure. If we are ahead of the action these are usually small movements, and if we are late it takes bigger movements.
Horsemanship like cattlehandling is a real personal thing. How you get your horse handy at creating pressure is up to you. You can buy a well trained horse or make one yourself. The important thing is to be effective for your goal. Don’t be influenced by things that won’t help you get there.
For me personally, I get lots of pleasure at getting animals to willingly decide to do what I need them to do. That’s a positive. When I have to force an animal to do something it makes me feel bad, and disappointed in my skills. That’s a negative. I take responsibility for my abilities. When I make mistakes, I try to learn from them. To do this I need to look at things how they really are, not how I want them to be, or how the popular crowd is doing things.
It’s your deal, but make sure it’s your deal, and your not doing what everyone else is doing because that’s what everyone else is doing. Do what works for you.
Always enjoy reading your thoughts, its too bad we couldn’t come up with ranch rodeo events that were both exciting and displayed the true art of quiet stockmanship. Quiet is boring and that’s just how I like it around my herd.
Magnificent. This is the best description I’ve ever seen in describing the difference between the arena show horse and working ranch horse. Very well written Curt. I couldn’t agree more. Appreciate your insight.
Thank you very much!
You made some comments at the Big Timber workshop a couple of weeks ago about the back cinch but I could not hear them where I was sitting. I have been looking at a book of Charlie Russell paintings and they do not show them being used in the old days. What did you have to say about them?
It was good to meet you and Tammy in person finally.
Many of those rigging were center fire, meaning the cinch pulled at the center of the saddle. They made it hard to get your saddle to stay put. A full double moves the saddle back and creates a fulcrum when roping so you need a back cinch to keep saddle down in back.
I feel in between, at 3/4 or 5/8 position is best for what I do. It sets my saddle to set me to have the least effect on the horses balance (closer to the withers), my saddle fits better in that position so I don’t need to tighten cinch so much, and I can use a back cinch but don’t have to. I don’t use back cinch because it keeps me from putting to much pressure on horse and cattle if I am roping. I couldn’t do it if I was tied on or roping with rubber on my horn. I also can’t drag heavy animals.