Tag Archives: feel


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


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