C Lazy U, Part 3

Good day!

I am enjoying another perfect summer day here at home. Even managed to get caught up on some gardening projects and household chores. I have one more major reorganization project to tackle here in the office, then it’ll be time for a ride.

I’d better finish the Memorial Day weekend story or I’ll soon be more than a week behind my life. My last post took us to the middle of the second day of VRH clinics and our turn at the Working Cow clinic. We were thrilled to have one of the top clinicians in the country, Sandy Collier of Buelltin CA, www.sandycollier.com .

Sandy has a talent for getting a lot of information across in a short amount of time. She explained the procedures for “boxing” the cow on the end of the arena and showing how your horse can control the cow (it’s similar to cutting except that there is only one cow and you are holding him on the fence). In VRH, after you have boxed your cow, you take him down the long wall of the arena, past the middle marker, turn him back on the wall, run him past the middle marker again and turn him again. This usually is high-speed and thrilling (or sheer terror for some).

Before starting the live-cow work, we did an exercise with two horses—one rider pretending to be the cow, one being the horse/rider herding the cow. I discovered that this exercise only works when your partner knows how to act like a cow 😉 but it helps you gel the theory in your mind before trying it on a cow.

We practiced moving the cow by putting your horse’s nose at his flank and circling the cow by putting your horse’s nose at the cow’s ear. I learned a key exercise for my chargey, over-zealous cow horse that relates back to what I learned about him in the cutting clinic—the reward is the cow. If Dually makes a frantic charge at the cow, instead of stealthily sneaking up behind him to turn him, I immediately take him off the cow, put him directly behind the cow and just let him push the cow around the rail into the corners. We’ll continue at that pace, just following the cow, until he is relaxed and then try sneaking up on the cow again. Every time he gets chargey, we start following the cow, pushing him down the rail instead of turning. Once he makes two good turns on the cow, we quit.

Still trying to preserve my horse’s back for the schooling competition the next day, I only worked him once on a real cow. I was proud of my determination not to over work him, but as I took him back to the trailer I had a nagging concern that I perhaps had not worked him enough and he would be too fresh tomorrow. But since Dually was on a heavy dose of Alleve, I felt it prudent to err on the side of caution since twice before I have been unable to compete on him after a two-day clinic.

I tried this rail work exercise yesterday, training here at home, and it worked great! We also roped a little and I had two good catches and stops J I guess I am going to have to finish his story in a fourth part, because now I have to get some work done and so I have time to ride my horse. Next I’ll share what competition day is like in VRH and let you know how we all did at the competition.

Until then, ride safely!


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How Can Cow-Work Benefit Your Overall Horsemanship

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Julie, when did you first start working cattle?

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and moved to Colorado that I first enjoyed the thrill of working cattle from a horse. After the hunter/jumper identity of my youth and the racetrack jobs of college, I was eager to try something totally new with horses and learning about western performance horses became my personal ambition. My professional ambition still kept me busy teaching people and training horses of all persuasions, so it was really only in my down-time that I got to pursue the nitty-gritty work of the cow horse.
Since I already knew a lot about herding, from a lifetime spent with horses, moving cattle, rating cattle and sorting cattle was easy for me to understand, in concept. But putting it into practice, slowing down the high-adrenalin rush that comes with working cattle and learning the precision of the technique takes a lifetime to master. I’ve had the opportunity to train with many great cow horse trainers over the years and continue to study as much as I can, but not as much as I’d like to. Like a lot of you, my real job keeps me pretty busy.
Working with cow horses that are bred for the sport and live to conquer the cow, is a thrill all its own. The concept of letting a horse do his job and think on his own, of putting your hand down on the neck and trusting the horse to do the job for which he was selectively bred for many generations is an important lesson in letting go. Working with an incredibly cowy horse and keeping him well-disciplined while letting him think and work on his own is an interesting exercise in trust.

How has learning cow work impacted your riding?

First, what I love about good cow horses is how athletic they are, quick thinking and even quicker reacting.

Working cattle head-to-head (while practicing cutting) is exhilarating. When you’re with a horse that is hooked on to the cow, so that every cell in his body is attuned and you are just along for the ride, you can feel every cell in your body. You sit with one hand on the horn (pushing yourself back into the saddle while your rein hand sits on the neck of the horse) and sit back–trusting the horse to do his job. The stops and turns the horse makes cause a rush of adrenalin. Staying in the middle of the horse and staying out of his way requires balance, relaxation of all your joints, good reflexes and the ability to move with the horse exactly as he moves.

Turning a big cow running at full speed down the long side of the pen is a thrill that has to be equivalent to sky diving, but you’re much closer to the ground. When I was youthful, I got this kind of thrill from riding jumpers; in college it was race horses. Now, to me, the ultimate ride is on the back of a good cow horse.

Cutting horses and reined cow horses are among the most elite equine athletes. To be able to ride one, knowing that it is trained and bred to do the job, with only your occasional guidance, and knowing that at best, you will stay out of the horse’s way as he performs, makes you want to become the best rider you can for your horse.

The skills of the ranch horse are many and varied—trail obstacles, riding a pattern of transitions similar to dressage, reining maneuvers, cutting, working cattle, dragging logs, roping, opening gates. Having total body control from head to tail and being able to put your horse in any situation and rely totally on his compete obedience. Any one of these pursuits are fun and challenging; to have a variety of things to work on keeps the horse and rider fresh.

What does it teach you about your horse?

Moving and controlling cattle is like herding horses. Understanding and putting into practice all the spatial understanding involved in herding, learning the balance points, how to move cows slowly, one step at a time and control their every movement makes you a better horseman too since horses and cattle behave the same way in this respect. Whether you are working a horse in a round pen, on a lead line, in a pen full of horses or even riding in a group, it is useful to know how to move horses and where the pressure points are.

Working with a horse bred to work cattle is much like working with a champion border collie or retriever. They instinctively know how to do their job and they live for every moment of working cattle. The rider just keeps the horse correct and makes him follow the rules of play, work on command and remain obedient to the rider. One thing I learned about my over-zealous cow horse is that his reward for performing correctly is getting to work the cow. If every time he makes a mistake, I pull him off the cow as punishment and he has to endure his personal walk of shame for losing the cow, those mistakes soon disappear.

Not all horses can become high-level cutters or cow horses; most are not athletic enough and not all horses will be cowy enough to hook onto a cow intensely. However, most horses can learn the job of a ranch horse and although they may not be naturals, they can be taught how to work a cow with the rider’s help. The same could be said for jumping.

In versatility, since the ranch horse has to do all the tasks of the ranch horse, he may be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Hence the term “ranch cutter.” In ranch cutting, the rider is not penalized for assisting the horse and picking up his hand from the neck for guidance while he is cutting. The ranch cutter may never beat a “hand down” cutter, but if he performs well in all the other disciplines, he’ll rise quickly to the top in the competition.

What skills does it help even if you don’t necessarily want to compete in cutting or cow events? What’s the benefit for all?
Learning total body control of your horse and how to communicate with imperceptible aids through transitions and turns. Working in partnership with a horse that is totally obedient and willing to listen to the cues of the rider in any situation that might occur on the ranch. Challenging yourself and your partnership with your horse to try new things, cross new obstacles, teach a horse to work cattle. Set a variety of goals to improve your own horsemanship and your horse’s training, while having fun and never getting stuck in a rut. Even if you never worked a cow, learning the skills required of a cow horse—go forward willingly, stop, turn, back, leg yield, stay calm and focused—are sure to improve your horsemanship and your horse’s training and are lofty goals.

What’s The Difference In Longeing And Lead Line Circling?

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Question: Julie,

I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?


Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work , done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.
As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader.
Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard. The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually light weight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship-building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.

There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise. Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!

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