Tag Archives: cattle handling

Horses, Ropes, and Dogs

I recently did a cattle handling clinic for a group near Red Bluff, California.  Most of them were competing in a competition called “The Rodear.” The competition consists of working cattle in a low stress manner, with sorting, moving and placing cattle through different obstacles on horseback using a dog.  The emphasis is on the proper use of stockmanship to complete the job.  I think it is a real good idea and hope people will get interested.

While doing the clinic I got to thinking about how ironic it was for me to be there sharing ideas about handling cattle so they could work their border collies better.  I feel most of the cattle handling techniques and ideas that I was sharing with them came from myself or people I had learned from observing the work of a good stock dog.

That lead to the thought of horse, ropes, and dogs and the role of each in the production of livestock.  The use off all three evolved from man’s need to control livestock.  Horses have been used as transportation for the human while working with stock, the herding dog has been used because they can get to places or in position to herd livestock quicker and more effectively than the human or horse can.  The rope was used to restrain an animal when we needed to completely control or stop the movement of an animal. All three of these required skill to achieve success.  Any time something requires skill, it creates a pride in these skills and different styles and levels of the skill.

The industrial revolution created tools to control livestock and eventually the technology and products evolved that made the horse, rope and dog less of a requirement.

Barb wire, trucks, stock trailers, four wheelers, portable corral panels, crowding pens, squeeze chutes, two way radios, cell phones, and electric fence have all made it possible to control livestock with stuff rather than skill, even though some level of skill is usually required, no matter the tools used.

Somewhere along the way it became popular displaying and contesting the skills of the horses ability to work cattle, dogs herding and gathering skills, and cowboys contesting with roping competitions.

These contests and competitions created associations, events, judges,and rules.  It has also evolved into a way to generate income, not only from the actual competition, but in preparing horses and dogs for the competition, and teaching people the skills to be able to compete better, as well as marketing products to make competing more successful.

As all this evolved, for many the focus shifted to honing skills to win the competition.  Many times to win the competition time was involved, or exaggerated movement to display the skill of the horse or dog competing.  All of these things created a movement in the livestock industry, and even though not everyone competed, the style of working with livestock with a horse, rope or dog was influenced greatly by the competitions.

From what I see today many of the people that choose to work with livestock are basing the decisions of how to work with livestock on either the style used to win competitions, or many are using technology and equipment to get the job done.

I am a firm believer in the owner of property, as long as they are not breaking the law,  has the right to care and handle that property the way they deem fit for their needs and values.

I am also a very strong believer in the law of supply and demand.  The consumer has every right to purchase the kind of product that fits their needs and values.  If the consumer desires products a certain way, someone will provide it to them.  If not they may make a different decision on the purchase of a product or decide to not use the product at all.

A growing percentage of livestock producers are going back to the methods of skills before the competitions, and combining them with equipment and technology, to create a skill of working and caring for livestock with a profit mindset.  Animal husbandry, animal handling and modern technology are being used to raise animals in the best way possible, for the owner and the consumer.

For me, this is what I am working on.  I use a horse, a rope and a dog.  I use them in a stockmanship style.  It is what makes me enjoy what I am doing to the fullest.

If I feel the need, I can enter a roping competition, show my horse or go to a dog trial and use the style it takes to win.

This is why I am so happy I live in the time and place in the world I do.  I have the choice and no matter if you are on the production or the consuming side you have choices too.  I hope by sharing my thoughts it will help making the decisions easier.

So we involved in livestock production do things the way we want and that is great.  The challenge is with the consumer.  They do things the way they want and are influenced the way they want.  My fear is the majority of consumers are on one path for food decisions and producers are on another trail for production.  Only the future will tell if a path and a trail can merge.

~ Curt Pate

Convenience Store Critcism

I was traveling home from Colorado a while back and we stopped in Sheridan, Wyoming to fuel up at about 11pm.  While in the store a ranch couple came in and I introduced myself. The gentleman had seen me do a demonstration in Florida and was a little critical about how I worked the cattle.

I didn’t really expect to be criticized in the middle of the night in a C-store, but I have been getting pretty used to the criticism. He was not wrong in criticizing me, but I feel he missed the real problem and mistake I made.  He said I had to many cattle in the “Bud Box.”  I am not sure if that really mattered, because the real mistake I made was not preparing the cattle better before I went into the box with them. The Brahman bulls we were working were a stick-together kinda bunch.

I had talked too long and did not take the time to get them ready for working in the box properly. I could not only bring part of them so I just went with what I could in the time I had.  I learned from the first demo and then got along pretty well in the following 5 or 6 that we did.

I learned from my mistakes.  The challenge is when you do things in public everyone sees the mistake, but never see what you learn from the mistake.

It bothers me when people criticize me, as it does a lot of people.  I am doing my best to help folks figure out better ways to work with animals.  I never “pre-prepare” animals to work if I am in control.  I just let ‘er roll and see what happens.  If it works like it says in the books and movies that’s great. If it is a wreck, I feel people learn how to adjust to fit a situation or see how not to do something.  For me this is the only way I will do things or I would not enjoy my work.

If I get criticized by someone who is really good at something that does not bother me much, especially if they tell me to my face.  The ones that really bother me are the ones that don’t have the guts to talk to me about it.

I offended a friend one time by questioning the “one rein stop” in horsemanship and he did not hesitate to give me his opinion.  We are not friends anymore so I guess we really were not that good of friends.  Buster MacLaury read the same article, did not agree with it, wrote his own article explaining his thoughts, and I and many more people learned from his point of view.  I hope we are still friends, because he is a very good person to horses and humans.

One of the reasons I started writing this so called “Scoop Loop” is because of a criticism written about me in the Stockmanship Journal.  I am so thankful to Whit and Lynn, because I am enjoying writing so much, and I feel I am getting better at sharing and learning my ideas on stockmanship and stewardship.

I am guilty of being very critical of some of the folks in the horsemanship world.  I had to learn that not everyone has the same ideas.  I don’t like to sell things to people to make them a better horseman, and actually think it takes away from the actual horsemanship skills. But I now realize if you offer someone a shortcut, or what seems to be a shortcut, they will take it.  That’s just the way it is.  Who am I to judge someone for paying the bills on someone else’s needs?

The challenge for me is when I feel horsemen are putting too much or the wrong kind of pressure on an animal and then it has trouble with the pressure.  You must do too much to learn how much is too much, but I feel we should be way farther along in this area.  Many of the horse clinicians I have seen put a lot of pressure on, but talk about how natural or kind they are being to the horse. I hope they are learning from their experiences.

So I have quit being critical of others to others.  I think what I think but mostly keep it to myself. Most people involved in the cattle business are really trying to help cattle handling improve.  We may have different ideas and methods, but pretty much everyone has the animals’ best interest in mind.  This is a very good thing.

I worry when I hear talk of the Bud box being superior to the tub, or curved alleys being better than straight , or what kind of driving aid is the best.  This is the same as which halter or lead rope is best in the horse world.  The main focus needs to be on the skill of handling not what is your choice of equipment.

A problem that I think happens is when we become enamored with an instructor, and try to do everything how they did it.  From what I have observed, it is very hard to be someone else and interpret the way they think.  It would be way better to learn from someone but use their knowledge in your own style, not in a copying manner.  Just because you have the same hat, saddle, or use the same equipment or words, and try to move in the same manner does not mean you will be successful.

Tom Dorrance said many times you should feel like you could ride your horse up a telephone pole or down a gopher hole.  I doubt he told anyone what type of equipment to use to do it, and I am pretty positive he did not try to sell them the equipment if he did suggest something.

So I apologize for any unfounded criticism I have thrown out there.  Also I hope people know that when I voice my opinion it is my opinion, and just because it may be different than there own, I not trying to offend, and if I think your opinion is worth listening to I will try to learn from it.

I still don’t like to be criticized, but it is certainly a good way to fuel my fire to get better.
So thanks to all of you that have criticized me publicly.  I am sure plenty of folks are pretty critical of what I do in private discussions as well.  I know in my heart I am trying to do the right thing for humans and animals, and am willing to make mistakes, but hopefully not the same ones over to many times.

The one person that I get concerned with when she criticizes me is my wife, Tammy. She has stuck with me and supported me through all my mistakes, and had the confidence in me to know I would get it figured out.  When she has criticized, I am really in the wrong and she has not missed on that too many times. Now that is a good wife!

Buck Brannamann gave me a copy of the The Man in the Arena a long time ago.  It is very good and maybe everyone should look at it once in a while.

~ Curt Pate



This seems the perfect time to discuss my thoughts on timing.

If you have read some of my previous thoughts on pressure being what causes animals to do the things they do, and the amount of feel we apply this pressure with, then the timing of the pressure is the next logical thing to talk about.

If the timing of the pressure is correct and the proper type of pressure for the situation is used, it will work. However, the correct pressure at the wrong time may have little to no effect, or even a negative effect.

Timing may be just the opposite of feel in the aspect of learning. Timing is easy to teach or demonstrate, but very hard to learn. The more things going on, and the faster the pace,the harder it is to have good timing.

Timing has to do with the mind of the handler and the animal. The brain can only think of one main thought at a time. This is why it is so dangerous to drive while texting or trying to read a map. Your timing of driving your car is thrown off, and you will apply the pressure to the brake, steering wheel, or gas pedal at the wrong time. When a person has perfected the motor skills of driving and does not have to have complete concentration on thinking of what to do operate the car, the driver can carry on a conversation with another person in the car. I don’t know about all states but in some if you are driving a semi truck and are talking on a cell phone without having your hands free it carries a heavy fine. Timing is very important, mainly thinking ahead when driving, especially when it is hard to stop.

Livestock seem to be very single minded. The first step to proper timing is to get the animals mind in a state to take pressure. If the pressure startles the animal, depending on the animals temperament, it could cause the animal to react more than is necessary or in a negative way. Startle a sleeping horse from behind and you may get kicked or slam the door on a pickup truck with a pen of flighty cattle, and while you are limping around or building fence, it will give you time to think about improving the way you time your approach.

The way you go about changing the mind of the animal to your pressure is key to how well the animal will accept and respond to the pressure. Once the animals attention is on you, the timing of how much pressure and the kind of pressure you use is also very important to not only get the animal to do what you would like it to do, but also keeping it doing it. You must become more important than every other stimulus in the environment, but not scare the animal because of too much pressure. If we go back to the driving scenario, it’s like someone who is real jerky on the gas pedal, goes real fast, then slams on the brakes to stop fast. The smooth driver times the pressure and release of pressure with the flow of traffic and terrain of the road. The smooth stockman does the same.

Most animal abuse is caused by improper timing of pressure. When excessive pressure is applied and an animal can’t or has no place to get away, this is abuse. Improper timing can create a response in animals which creates the need for excessive pressure where it would not have been needed if the animal had been trained properly.

So here is the order I think one should take when moving livestock …

Try to approach from an angle and speed that lets the animal discover your pressure before you penetrate the flight zone. When you get a response, it is important to immediately change your pressure, to reward the animal or reassure it that you have feel, and to get it thinking out of the pressure. The timing of this is so important. The closer you make the change in pressure to them thinking about it, rather than physically doing it, the better the timing.

Once you find the pressure zone that creates movement then you can change the angle of the pressure to create direction. You may be wrong in your estimations and this is when you time your change of pressure to get the direction you want. By your timing of pressure and also the real ease of pressure, the animal is learning to take your pressure and work for you, while you are learning the best way to work with the animal to keep it on the thinking side of its brain so it gets easier to work.

No matter if is a herd of livestock or one animal, I treat it the same way. With one animal I get movement that fits the situation, then try to point the nose where I would like it to go. With a herd it is important to get proper movement, then establish direction with the lead animals with out stopping the movement of the herd.

When I help people starting and riding young horses the thing I always found myself saying to them was, “You’re late.” This is the challenge with learning timing. With animals if you don’t apply the pressure or release it at the proper time, they can’t reason it out. They are in the moment.

When you are learning. you don’t want to make a mistake, so you try to decide or think of the best option. By the time you think of all the things to do, then make the decision to implement it, you are late. So you try another set of options, then you are really late.

With real gentle cattle you can get by with thinking in the pressure zone, but the more sensitive the animal is the less time you can be in the wrong spot if you are in the pressure zone. You should step back out of pressure, quickly regroup, and then step into pressure with the new plan. If you make smooth positive movements, not quick jerky moves, the animal will respond better.

This is why I say timing is easy to teach, but hard to learn. You can be told all the right things but the only way to get experience is from mistakes made, then learned from.

The more advanced you get at handling livestock the better you can use timing to get better results. You time the change of pressure with the physical balance of the cow or the shape of the herd. When trying to load a steer in a trailer or up a lead to a chute, if you position yourself properly to apply just enough pressure to get him to see the opening, as he looks at the opening you increase the pressure at the proper time and amount. To early and he won’t be lined up to go up the chute. To late and he may choose another option. This is when proper timing really is helpful in animal handling.

Here’s a simple example of timing:

A few years back I was watching the rodeo in Missoula, MT. After the rodeo I was on the track visiting with a real good steer wrestling horse trainer that I was college roommate with. He was on his bulldogging horse and the fireworks started to go off. His horse just stood there and we watched the fireworks. That’s pretty good to get a steer wrestling horse to just stand there when fireworks are going off. The fireworks had been going on for a few minutes and a barrel racer came running across near us saying to Steve (Blixt), “My horse is tied to the trailer.” He never even hesitated but said, “You’re late.” Her timing was way off.

I really feel timing is the one thing that you always need to keep working on. All the physical things you do are only helpful when you time them right. The way to get better timing is to do things and then analyze the result to check your timing. If you never think about and remember what worked your feel and timing will be off. By analyzing performance we create balance, and that will be next weeks topic of discussion.

~ Curt Pate