Fall Work and a Fall…

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

Of all the jobs there are to do on the ranch, working cattle, horseback, has to be my favorite. Fall and Winter provide no shortage of opportunities to ride, which makes this cowgirl extra happy, and happy is my default setting, y’all. One of the reasons we choose to work our cattle horseback is because it makes our horses better. But, that’s not the only reason.

When you’re horseback, the interactions between the cow and the person moving them can be more thoughtful. We like to give our cows the opportunity to find the path of least resistance — same with the kids, dogs, and the horses we train around here. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Give the cow a moment to think and a place to go, and she’ll find it, without getting all wound up.

You can do less to move your cows when you’re horseback. I’m up close and personal to them, and it allows me the chance to take small, baby-steps on my horse, into their flight zone, thus offering them the chance to move away quietly. Being closer to them also helps me practice my awareness in all situations, because I am better able to read the cow, and help her along, so she doesn’t feel like she’s being chased. Also, It’s easier to make lateral movements on a horse than it is an ATV. Lateral movements not only make my horses better, but they allow the cow a chance to move ever so slightly, teaching them to “bend” as opposed to simply going straight – to left – to right.

Fall on the Ranch

Fall in South Dakota almost always brings snow with it and for sure the weather will be cool.

Because of our thoughtful way of going we can call neighbors at the very last minute to come help out around here, which was the case when we ended up preg testing (last minute). Due to our ability to operate in a low-stress manner, three phone calls will bring help as soon as they can arrive.

No one is yelling at the cows.
No one is yelling at the help.
No one is waving a flag or paddle around.
You may be yelled to — so as to be heard over the cacophony of moos — but that’s different than being hollered at.

It’s our way of going — be thoughtful in every interaction you have.

When we threw together our last minute preg-testing shin-dig this year, Old Man Winter had moved in already — early, as usual — which meant a couple days of riding in the snow. Riding in the snow isn’t one of my favorite things to do, even if it does involve working cattle horseback! It does however, make me grateful for the fact that I’ve learned to be aware of my horse, his feet, and what the cattle are telling me. Because I’m thoughtful on a daily basis with any horse I ride, and in my interactions with every person or critter I come across, they trust me to be an effective leader. It’s easy to know that they’ll be with me should we get into a bind…

The day we moved the cows off of a river pasture, closer to home, I had to hustle my mount to get around them. It was chilly and the coming 4 year olds were really feeling good. I was headed, at a pretty good clip, down an icy, choppy, river bank to get around a group of cows going the wrong direction, when my horse stumbled and fell to his knees. Certain I was coming off over his head, I kept my wits about me and pushed myself back upright by using his neck to balance. I stayed calm, and he stayed calm, and with the help of our hired man, who showed up with impeccable timing, we got them turned and headed up the draw towards the rest of the group. If I had chosen to panic, and not been thoughtful about how I could best help my horse, I might have lost the entire group of cows and my horse because I’d have certainly come off.


Banjo – My mount for moving cows off the river.

During the gather, the morning of preg testing, I led my horse across what I thought was a solid spot to cross the creek and he ended up buried to his belly, struggling, to get to the other side. He busted his lip and cut his leg, in the icy, muddy bog while in the melee. Good thing I wasn’t on him or it might have been much worse! Never mind that we both ended up covered in mud! He still loves me and I won’t make that mistake again. While I feel terrible about where I chose to cross the creek, my horse came out the other side, relaxed and quiet, ready to allow me to mount up.

Had I been on him, the wreck would probably have been much worse, as the added weight might have actually gotten us stuck. I’m grateful I have a horse that will lead wherever I ask. That my friends, is not an accident. He got that way because I’m always considering what effect my body language has on him. Same with the cows — be aware of them before they’re aware of you and you’ll almost always be ahead of the game.

As harrowing as both those incidents were for me, they make me appreciate the good horses I’m blessed to ride, the good handling I’ve learned to provide to the critters on this outfit, and the forethought to find the positive in every situation. I’m not going to lie — I don’t mind Winter — even if it does mean riding might be dangerous. I’ve tried my best to build some rapport with my mounts, and the incidents above, proved to me that the relationship is a good one.

So, here’s to hoping that you have built good rapport with your horses, kids, cows, friends and neighbors. You can’t ever be too thoughtful in your interactions, so, I’ll leave you with this: Think before you speak, smile when you’re mad, and take a deep breath when you’re about to lose it!

Happy Trails!

*This article was originally published in the American Chianina Journal for January/February 2015.

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life

About Jenn Zeller

Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...

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