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