Tag Archives: horsemanship

Horsemanship Clinics for Stockmen planned for September 24, 25

save the date horsmanship clinics for stockmen

Featuring Curt Pate, Ken McNabb, Ted Howard, Dr. Tom Noffsinger, and Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz

The clinicians will demonstrate basic horsemanship principles, cattle handling techniques, tack evaluations and safety and much more. Processing and treatment crews will have the opportunity to discuss handler activities working on foot to empty pens, sort, acclimate and process cattle.

There will be two clinics and both will start with registration at 8:30am. The clinic will run from 9:00am – 4:00pm at the following locations:

  • Tuesday, September 24 in the Kiplinger Arena, McCook, NE
  • Wednesday, September 25 at the Scott County Fairgrounds, Scott City, KS

Admittance costs $100 per person or $400 per organization and will be collected at the door. Lunch is provided.

RSVP today by calling (785-673-9572) or emailing (kelly.terrell@pacdvms.com).

For more information visit: http://pacdvms.com/

1930s ranching

1930s ranching

Modern-day ranching

Modern-day ranching

These two photos are a good comparison of the 1930’s ranching to modern day.

First the country is quite different.  Miles City, Montana is the setting for the old photo and Red Deer, Alberta is where the present day photo was taken.

It is also evident the genetics of cattle and horses have really improved in the last eighty years.

The skills the western range cowboy needs have not changed much in the past century. Good horsemanship and stockmanship, as well as skill with a rope, are still essential.

We had roped this steer and laid him down as low stress as possible.  If things were to stressful I don’t think those other steers would be hanging around.

I saw a bumper sticker in Nebraska that said, “The West as not won on salad.”  It was won with good stockmen raising beef.  I think it is great to have all the technology, yet the skills of the cowboy are just as important as they were 100 years ago.

Horse slaughter

I like to take difficult issues head on and try to have a common sense point of view from what I feel is factual.

First a little history – I was raised with horse slaughter.  My grandfather, Leonard Frank, was a killer horse buyer.  He would buy horses in the Helena, Montana area, and when he had a truck load would take them to a horse buyer.  Cripples, outlaws, or old horses were disposed of in this way.  We had a lead smelter in the area, and if horses were kept to close they would get leaded and were not able to be used. I remember many real good horses that were ruined because of this.

When I was old enough, I would try to fix the outlaws and horses with bad habits.  I really knew nothing about training horses, but could ride pretty good so I figured out if I could get ’em moving and not get thrown off I could fix ’em.

I remember only a few people that would not sell their horse for slaughter, but put them down and bury them on their place.  My grandfather and many other people could not understand this.

Many people still thought of horses as work animals and not many people had pleasure horses. Farmers and ranchers used the horse for work and some also went to rodeos. Gymkhana or omaksees were popular and 4-H shows were popular at the time,  but these were small with mostly ranch folks participating.  We did not see all the horse activity we see today.  Team roping, horse shows, and barrel racings were all not popular until much later.

The people that owned horses in the time I am talking about, the late 1960’s to the middle 1980’s, cared about the horses they owned, but were thought of as farm animals, not companion animals.  With farm animals, it was the way it was done to slaughter animals to dispose of them.

This does not mean they did not care about the animal.  I saw many grown men cry as they loaded an old horse on the truck, and I know they were truly sad at seeing an old companion go. Some showed no compassion at all, but most really cared about the horse they were sending to slaughter.

It is important to understand that at this time, many farmers and ranchers would put animals down with gunshot if they were not marketable.  Old or nuisance dogs, cats, or varmints were shot on the farm.  Many people today do not understand this.  We have really changed the way our emotions control our thoughts with animals.  I do not think people liked animals any less in these times, but understood the way nature worked a little better and thought of animals as a commodity with life, rather than a companion.

When you are around lots of animals, you are around lots of death.  You learn to deal with it. I have had so many animals that I have seen die.  This is tough but I have learned to deal with it.  I have not had near as many people close to me die, but the animals have helped me learn how to deal with it.

This is the problem that has come up with horse slaughter.  We have some that feel a horse is a commodity with a life, and some that think a horse is a companion animal.

Just because a person thinks of the horse as a commodity with a life does not mean he does not treat the horse to the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view), and just because a person thinks of the horse as a companion animal does not mean she gives the horse the best quality of life (from the horse’s point of view) either.

This is a very important point for all to consider. Is the way we are caring for or handling animals really improving the quality of life? Or are we just putting human thoughts on the animal that are really not improving the animals quality of life at all, but maybe lessening it?

I have seen a huge shift in people’s opinions of how an animal should be treated in the last forty years.  People have always cared about animals, but now many people care about them so much we are running into conflicts, and laws and traditions are changing.  The horse has gone from being a beast of burden to a companion animal in a large part of the population.

In some cultures they eat dogs and cats.  They would not understand our feelings for our dogs.  Would you want to send Fido to the Philippines instead of putting them down humanely and burying them in the backyard?

If you have only known a horse as a companion animal you would feel the same way.  The people that are against horse slaughter feel the same about horses as we do about dogs.

My grandfather felt some people were cruel in the way they kept horses.  He felt horses in stalls with no exercise, horses kept alone, horses turned out with halters on, and horses without lots of feed and water were very bad.  One of his favorite things to say about horses was “fat” is always the best color on a horse.  He liked horses and took the very best care of them, yet purchased them for slaughter.

At this point I am against horse slaughter for my own horses. The reason is because of animal handling.  Horses are much more sensitive to pressure than other animals.  This includes physical and mental.  A cow can get tangled up in a barb wire fence, kick fight and pull for five minutes and it can come thru without a scratch.  A horse would either never recover or take a very long time and may be crippled for the rest of its life (and need to go to slaughter?).  A colt cannot survive being born in sub zero temps like a calf can either.

Most horses have a much higher need for self preservation than cattle.  We can teach them to trust us, but they can go to not trusting very quickly and fear takes over.  When a horse goes into panic mode it needs to run away from the danger.  If it can’t, it will protect itself with its hooves in a different way, by kicking or striking.  Horses also seem to have a more violent social order than cattle, so commingling strange horses together creates great stress if the animals can’t get out of each others’ area of comfort.

I had a horse I called “Count” that I put down and buried a few years ago.  He taught me way more than I taught him.  Count was the most sensitive and athletic horse I have ever had and maybe the best I ever rode.  He was real bad to panic and could buck a little.  He really kept me aware of everything going on around us.  He was real scared of a rope around his legs, and if he got into trouble he would leave the scene with you or without you.

I roped on him a bunch, and only got in a few panic situations.  He taught me how to keep a wreck from happening, and I learned from him how to get to roping on a very inexperienced horse safely. He got to trusting me not to get him in a jackpot, and I truly believe if I would of asked him to ride off a cliff he would have.

How could I send him into the hands of someone who does not know and maybe not even care about his fear of danger?  He was not a companion animal to me, he was my partner and I really miss my old partner.

If you have ever seen my daughter Mesa, you know she is very confident on a horse, and around all livestock.  She has not always been that way.  When she was learning to ride, she had a old horse to ride called Willard.  He was gentle and slow and she did great.  After Willard she moved on to a real good ranch horse I rode called Zoro.  He would get tired of her and buck her off. She may be the only kid to ever get bucked off in a round pen in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.

She lost confidence and was truly afraid on a horse.  We bought a great big paint horse named Painter.  He was the best kid’s horse I have ever been around.  I credit that horse for giving Mesa not only the confidence to work with horses and cattle, but to be able to do business at a very young age, in a very confidence requiring atmosphere. It was a sad day for all of us when Painter was put down and I always have a good memory reminder when I ride by his grave.

Rio was a pony that our son Rial got when he was two years old.  The first thing he did was double barrel kick Rial in the chest.  I had to lead him at first because he would go under trees and get rid of Rial.  Pony’s have a way about them to get what they want in life.  He was a tough go for a while, and I remember my wife Tammy getting on him and trying to straiten him out.  It still makes me laugh.  We sent him to Idaho to the Hogan outfit and the best young horseman I ever saw by the name of Spike Hogan made him into a great using pony that many a kid benefited from.

Our Son Rial has more compassion for animals than many people I have observed.  I think much of this comes from Rio.  He would be so frustrated with him, get mad at him, then work things out and they would be back to best buddies.  When we put him down due to an injury, and even though  Rial had not ridden him in several years, I felt so bad for him because of his grief and we both cried.  Rial now rides broncs and is riding horses in the fox hunting world, and I am real proud of his compassion for the animals he is in contact with, and I thank Rio for that.

We all have memories horses have given us.  We all have beliefs in how animals should be treated. A fact in agriculture we must face is that we will be regulated more and more on how we care for livestock.  If we don’t comply with the wishes of the majority or the most vocal,  they may be able to regulate our decisions we make with our own property.

This has happened with horse slaughter.  My grandfather would not even of imagined this could ever have happened.  There is a big shift happening in our part of the world as far as animals are concerned.  Animal agriculture will change the way we do business.  We will either change the way we raise animals to fit the customers needs, or we will change the customer to fit our needs.

The only way we will change the customer to fit our needs is to prove to them through honesty and integrity that we are treating our animals in the best way for the animal.  We must get the public to quit thinking of animals like humans.  Do this for the animals and the humans.  We must also get better at animal care and handling on a large scale, or it will go away.

What would it take for me to send my horse to slaughter?  If I could be assured that he would be hauled, penned, and kept in a way that his brain did not have to go to the survival mode.  If I knew he would have the time to work his way through a facility that did not cause him to panic.  I would need to be guaranteed he would not have a hot shot used on him or be scared by air or a noise-making aid.  If I knew the method used to put him down was immediate and did not induce panic, I would be okay with it.

I am not sure we can accomplish this on a large scale without a huge shift in the way we train people to handle livestock and the facility design we work them in.

To me the horse slaughter issue is the canary in the coal mine.  We had better do some changing in the livestock for food production model or it will change for us.  Take animal care and handling seriously.

As I look back and honestly look at the results of the banning of horse slaughter in the U.S., I see more positives than negatives.

When it was easy for people to get rid of any horse, people were making purchases of horses that had no business owning horses.  Horses were kept in places they should not be kept, to many kept on small acreage with no regard to the environment, people riding horses and getting hurt that should not be riding in the first place, and studs breeding mares of poor quality.  It has been a tough go for the over supply already in place, and the way it was immediately implemented with no way to scale back or prepare for the lack of places to market a horse was unfair, but that is the reality of it.  Now when we purchase or breed horses we know it may be tough to get rid of them and we think before we buy, and anytime you think before you do something it is a better outcome.

Horses are a wonderful animal.  They have done so much for mankind that I think we owe them the best quality of life and the best quality of death.  The way to do this is to make a commitment to the best animal handling and husbandry skills.  That is stockmanship and stewardship.

~ Curt Pate

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.


~ Curt Pate