Tag Archives: stockmanship

Combining Pressure and Spirit

If we combine thoughts on pressure and spirit it may make some things easier to see, or as I have been discussing to “see it.”

I talked about how I like to keep the spirit in the horse while getting them to the highest level I can.  A mustang may have lots of spirit when you first adopt it, but if you are not very careful you kill all the life in them. It may seem like you have a real gentle horse, but really you have killed the life and the spirit of one of the greatest animals in nature.  They give up and quit trying.  To me this is sad.  

I feel the same way when I drive through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  We took the life and spirit out of so many of the proud people of the Oglala Sioux Nation much like the wild horse.

It is important to make sure we match the spirit with the pressure we or the environment we create is going to put on the animal.  If we don’t get things matched up this creates stress in the animal that could affect performance, cause sickness, vices, or even death.  Imagine trying to run a normal dairy operation with a herd of buffalo.  If you took a herd of dairy cows and dumped them in Yellowstone National Park that would be great for the wolves, but not so good for cows.

This is the challenge we have in range livestock production.  You must have livestock that can survive and prosper in wilderness conditions with the lowest inputs possible, but after they have “grown out” of the range stage, they must adapt to a much more confined setting.

Life is easier.  A highly nutritious and palatable diet on a regular basis and good fresh water any time they want is like a dream for an animal.

Life may be too easy.  A lack of exercise seems to be one of the real problems for livestock that don’t have to graze and travel to water, or have predators to stay away from.  We may need to take our dogs and our cattle for a walk.

This  becomes the challenge.  In the wilderness livestock want to know they can move away from danger.  In a small pasture or lot they feel like this is not possible.  If human interaction is done in a way that creates fear, the animal will always be hunting a way out and will actually put stress on itself even when there is no real threat.  As an example, picture an animal pacing back and forth in a cage or stall.

I go back to my young horses I am riding.  I want to get them productive, safe, and content with the world I have created for them and not take the life and spirit out of them in the process.  The more skill I develop to do this the better it is for them and for me.

From what I see it is of the utmost importance that we learn how to acclimate range animals to the good life we can provide them in the finishing stages of animal production.

You can look at it the same way you look at working with a wild horse.  Help them to understand how to take the pressure.  Don’t put the kind of pressure on that takes the life and try out of the animal.

All animals take pressure differently.  A stockman reads this and learns to put the pressure on in a way that controls the life but does not kill the spirit.

I thank Tom Dorrance for really getting me to want to explore the subject of spirit.

~ Curt Pate

Spirit

This is a word that has many meanings and interpretations.  I have been riding a couple of horses lately pretty steady.  I have not gotten to do this much as of late and am certainly enjoying it.

I am working hard on getting them handy, safe, and content with me and the work we will do while not taking the spirit out of them.  This is the spot that does not get talked about much, but I think it may be the difference in horsemanship styles.  The way you go about controlling movement can kill the spirit or keep it there.

Horses with all the horse left in them don’t work for many situations.  Many riders don’t have the skills to ride a horse with lots of life and spirit.  Imagine a dude ranch with a bunch of spirited horses.  Beginning and novice riders need horses that are as sensitive to pressure as the jockey is at giving it.

This has had a big effect on horsemanship.  In the show world we take the life out by loping circles and drilling the horse so they can be shown.  In the world of horsemanship clinics we must get control of the horse physically by bending and disengaging the hind quarters of the horse, to try to keep the rider safe even though he is behind the action of the horse.

It is very important to be safe, so I am not saying it is wrong to match a horse with a rider’s skill level.  But for me I get so much pleasure, pride and performance out of riding the horse for the spirit in them.

To do this you must stay ahead of the horse mentally. If he gets ahead of you, you must be able to ride good enough to get him through it and bring him back to you mentally.  If you overpower him physically by bending him or disengaging the hind end you are able to get control of all the life in him. Then you start over or put the life back in.  If you do this too much you can really take the life or spirit out of the horse.

This to me is important, not only for horses but for all living things.

I have mentioned the book Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton.  In this book he talks about cellular biology. All living things are made up of billions of cells.  In his study of cells he claims each has three main purposes.  Growth, survival, and to “live.”  Cells need to live it up like the billions of cells that make up the horse that needs to run, buck and play.  If every time the horse shows enthusiasm and we shut it down, we take a little life out of him and some of the spirit.

It seems the same is true in how we deal with people.  Parenting, teaching, being a boss or a preacher can be done in many styles.  The ones I enjoy observing the most are those that get the job done with spirit and not killing the life and enthusiasm in the person.

I hope this gives you something to think about.  If we navigated our way through life trying to create spirit and improve quality of life by matching spirit with the environment the animal or person is in, there may be much less negative pressure and the stress it creates.

~ Curt Pate

Ray Hunt

I was not friends with Ray Hunt and probably spoke less than 100 words to him.  I rode in one of his clinics once.  I spent many hours watching videos he had done, read everything I could about him, and listened to and watched many of people who had spent time with him.

For what I do with a horse,  this is the person who I feel had the information and skills which best matched my desires more than anyone else I saw.  What he did with a horse to prepare it fit my athletic ability first and the way he rode a horse fit with exactly the jobs I wanted to do horseback.  This is why I decided to really study what he did.  I noticed his horses and his ability while on those horses was very different from a lot of the people and wanted to understand this difference.

His horses seemed to take so little effort to engage movement or control movement.  They always seemed to be in balance and ready for the next move and he seemed to be in the perfect spot to encourage and not get in the way of the horse’s balance.

I did an intense study for myself on what it appeared to me made him so much to my liking. What I came up with was some things that led me to some horsemanship ideas that upset some folks. Some of these people  even accused me of going against the principles of Ray Hunt himself. I think I made some mistakes on how I went about sharing my ideas which really offended some folks.  I would maybe change the way I presented the ideas, but I still believe in what I translated from the study.

It is not the purpose of this writing to get into a bunch of horse training discussion.  What I think is important here is to understand what made Ray Hunt so good and how can this can improve your communication and skill with animals and maybe humans.

This is all speculation on my part and not what Ray Hunt may have thought or did.  I am just using him as an example to help you see things from the way I see them.

At his clinics it seemed like he only did things that fit the horse mentally and physically, and if you did not have the ability to ride through it, you were in over your head and it might not work out so well.  Many people felt this was wrong, but I don’t think he asked them to sign up. There was no pre-screening of abilities.  That was your job before you signed up for the clinic.

So many people who were starting colts were in over their head, and in the horsemanship classes you had to be able to think and ride. If you were not at that level you might get a little confused.  There always seemed to be several people who did fit the skill level required and they really benefitted.  The good thing about the ones who did not have the skills at the time was he made such a huge impression on them and he had all those great teaching sayings. When the person’s skills did improve the things from the clinic surfaced.  I think it is pretty amazing to teach in this way, yet never compromise the horse while doing it.

The greatest inspiration I got from Ray Hunt was learning how to make changes in an animal by applying pressure and a release of some or all of the pressure.  To watch him work with a horse in the round pen and how much he could influence a horse with so much feel, timing and balance was very inspiring. He could really communicate with the horse using a rope, flag and halter and halter rope. He also was very good at communicating with the spectators with his voice and emotions.

Another place which I think had a huge impact on me was how he worked with a group of horses outside in the arena after saddling them in the round pen.  With his flag and saddle horse he could get 15 or so horses which had not been together before, studs, mares, geldings or who knows what, and get them to getting along. He would be in control of their movement enough to keep the riders safe on the first ride. That is if the rider left the horse alone and let Ray control the situation.

At first when I watched this I could not see what he was doing and thought he was just getting movement.  Not until I started doing it myself and watching Buck Brannaman do it did I start to understand how much influence you can have on a single or herd of animals.
This skill is one of the highest forms of stockmanship I have seen.  This is not about running horses around the arena or getting cattle up a chute. It is about putting someone’s life on the line with your stockmanship skills.  The real good colt starting clinicians that start several colts with several riders have to be good at this.

So of all the people I have tried to learn from Ray Hunt seems to fit me best.  I am happy I did not spend anymore time than I did with him. I don’t think he liked me all that much, or I might have been around him more.  But I got to see just enough to inspire me to start searching.  Anymore and I would have been trying to copy and I can’t do that.

I wish he would have been more involved in the cattle handling movement of today.  I think of anyone else he had the greatest impact on influencing my ideas on all stockmanship. It would have been interesting to see what  direction he would have taken cattle handling in a for-profit mindset. In my mind his cattle would have handled as good as his horses, and that was borderline amazing.

~ Curt Pate

Stockmen of the past

My life has been a life learning about livestock from cattlemen, cowboys, cow buyers,rodeo stock contractors, rodeo coaches, rodeo cowboys, butchers, hog farmers, sheep herders, sheep farmers, dairy farmers, auction market operators, and more I can’t remember.  This was all before I was thirty years old.  I not only learned about livestock, but also about all kinds of different styles of management of many types of agricultural operations.

I went to college on a rodeo scholarship and took animal science classes.  I did not last a whole year. There were lots of reasons, but the main one I think of now is I felt I could learn more from my family at home.  It might of also been because I was about to flunk out. Since that time I have always been on a livestock operation and can’t imagine not.

I barely remember a man named Dan Buck.  He was a brand inspector that gave me my first real lass rope.  I have heard lots of stories about him.  He was a very different person and had many different ideas about how livestock should be handled.  I wish I would of known him better.

There is also an Indian fellow named Bill LaFromboise from Helena, Montana that I have known all my life.  He has a very special way with livestock and I have seen him do some amazing things with animals that I wish I could understand.

Curly Atkinson was a sheep herder and livestock man that was kind of a legend to me when I was young.  He worked for Sieben Livestock who had a feedlot next to our place and my mother cooked for him sometimes.  She and my grandfather had great respect for his abilities.  I could go on and on about the great stockmen and horsemen I was influenced by either through stories or actually working with them, but I will not.

I am pretty sure if you have been around livestock much you know what I am talking about.
My first big influence and inspiration was a fellow named Butch Anderson, as far as doing things different and working with an animals mind.  He also worked for Sieben Livestock.  I spent a whole bunch of time with him. Fom calving heifers to catching horses to working with dogs, Butch taught me to take a very different approach.

These great stockmen were just a few in the Helena, Montana area, and there are many more I haven’t mentioned.  I have been told so many stories about folks that were special with livestock all over the country. The common theme that I have seen with people that are good stockmen is that is all they have ever done.

The horsemen and stockmen instructors of the day are great at helping people that don’t get to work with livestock all the time.  The world has changed in the way we need to work stock and the modern day instructor is helping to get this done.

If you were raised on a big ranch and left you did not see all the good hands that were getting the job done while you were not interested.  If you are new to livestock you have no way to know all the top stockmen that have been in the area, so naturally you go to the knowledge that is available.

But let’s not forget the men and women of the past that have dedicated themselves to the care and handling of livestock.  From the Texas trail drivers of the 1880’s to the shepherds of Biblical times to the yak herders in Mongolia, I am pretty certain there have been a few good ones in all the livestock that have been handled through time.  It seems a little arrogant to think otherwise.

So on my part, I am sharing things I have learned through my life from good and bad stockmen.  When I give a live demo or write something it is partly how all these experiences have influenced me.  So thank you to all the folks that have shared the skills of a stockman with me.  If you have been dedicated to livestock all your life and have skills share it with others.

It really bothers me when people say that the stockman of yesterday are not up to par with today’s names in teaching horse and livestock handling.  When I give a demo or talk publicly about dealing with animals, in my mind all of the great influences of my past are a part of it. This is a huge responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.

Ballie Buck was a great stockman in our area.  He was kin to the before mentioned Dan Buck. There is a book I would recommend (available on Amazon) titled What the Cow Said to the Calf. The name of the book comes from Charlie Russell saying now there’s an Indian that knows what the cow said to the calf.

That kind of says it all about total stockmanship.  We should all try to understand “what the cow said to the calf.”  I will try to keep learning and sharing ways to get there.

~ Curt Pate

Proper pressure

My focus this week is working with bulls. For those of you that don’t work with livestock, I think the same principles apply to people handling. I challenge you to think of handling humans with proper pressure for better results, and hope by reading this it will get you thinking about how to work better with all things with a mind.

The subject this week is proper pressure. When working with bulls not applying and using pressure properly will result in negative results quicker than any other class of cattle.

There are many things to consider when working with a single bull. The distance you work from the bull should be determined by the bull. If you try to work the bull to close and keep the pressure on he will get agitated or find someplace to keep the pressure off (i.e. going in the brush). If you are hesitant, and work to far away the bull will learn very quickly that he is in control and can control the handler.

Most bulls are thicker and more muscular than other types of cattle and can’t bend as easily as others. If you get behind them they can’t see you as well and can’t bend so they either stop and wait for you or they turn and look at you. Either result is negative and creates the need to reapply pressure to start the process over.

You should start the pressure from the side in an area the bull can see you without bending its head and move towards the bull at an angle that keeps the head pointed in the direction you want it to go. You will also need to step forward at an angle that will keep the head pointed in the desired direction. If the head turns, step back immediately, then step forward at the given angle and speed the bull is indicating will work. This is reading the bull. He will tell you what to do if you are observant and can think about what to do at the right moment.

The more you work with a single bull properly, the better he will be to work. You are communicating to the bull that if he moves you will not put more pressure on than he can take. If you work a single bull properly and enough, he will learn to work, and not get as agitated because of this training.

When working a group of bulls it is much different than any other group of cattle. Fighting is the problem. When one bull challenges another bull it causes the bulls to have their minds on the other bull. The other bull puts much more pressure on than the human can safely do so the handler can’t do much until the fighting stops. If you get to a spot that you can get the bulls attention, it is very dangerous because one bull running from or being pushed by another is very fast and hard to get out of the way of. The first few times you handle a group of bulls they will have to have some time to work things out amongst themselves. If you don’t have time and space it can get dangerous. Once the bulls get things worked out, they will be good to handle if you pressure them properly.

By teaching bulls to understand pressure you will actually teach them to fight less, because they have learned to respond and move away from pressure. This relates to other bulls’ pressure as well. It will not eliminate fighting, but reduce it and make it easier to stop once it has started.

From my observations it is very important to learn how to teach bulls to work. Safety is the main reason, productivity second. If you are a professional, these things are important. Make the time to train bulls to work. If I was selling herd bulls I would train them to load in a stock trailer out in the open. This would be so valuable for the purchaser, and would force the herdsman to teach the bulls to take pressure to get them to load. Just an idea …

I purchased a bunch of bucking bull yearlings from D&H Cattle Co. a few years back. One of the bulls was a great looking bull but real mean. He was trying to hook the horses when they were bringing them in and when I was feeding would try to hook me when I was taking strings off the bale. I challenged myself to change him. He still gets on the fight if he gets to much pressure, but he seems to enjoy being worked properly and likes to be around me. I really like this bull. He taught me a lot on how to work with an animal that is on the fight.

curt rides cow 2

Curt and the bull named “H”

I can pick his feet up and and scratch him all over, but I am very careful about how I approach him and move him. I like the savvy old saying, “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.” Now those are words to live by.

~ Curt Pate