Monday, October 12, 2020

Can a Thoroughbred Work Cows?

Obviously the answer is yes, but can Cupid?  This weekend we went to an Intro to Cattle clinic to find out!  Cupid has seen cattle from a bit of a distance, and ridden through cow pastures without problem, but I wasn't sure how it would go being in close quarters or if they take off.  Luckily, Cupid handled it really well!  This clinic was organized by our regional Working Equitation group, and led by Heather Kornemann. 

The day got off to a bit of a rough start, as I had packed my trailer the night before but couldn't find my keys in the morning.  I spent some time looking for them, then gave up and grabbed all my back up tack so I could still ride, but unfortunately not with what I planned to use.  So instead of the comfort snaffle we've been riding in, we had our double jointed snaffle (which led to a bit of chomping), and instead of my jump saddle I had my dressage saddle (having recently sold my western saddle, which Cupid hated anyways).  And instead of my short boots, I luckily was able to zip my tall boots over my jeans (but also confirms what I have been suspecting, that I should probably go with slim boots next time).  So a bit behind schedule, and without my preferred gear, we missed the orientation but  made it just in time to ride in our group.

There were about a dozen cows in the arena, all huddled down at one end.  There were 4 horse and rider clinic participants including Cupid and me, and our trainer Heather and I think 3 mounted assistants in the ring.  The participants took turns letting our horses approach and get used to the cows, with Heather staying close.  Cupid was interested in the cows, and not scared to walk right up to them.  We walked among the herd, between the herd and the fence, and started playing a bit with pushing them.

All photos courtesy D. Clayton

Investigating these strange creatures

In working equitation, you have three minutes to cut your designated cow from the herd and move it into a holding pen.  You are on a team of 3 or 4, but your team members have to stand behind a line until you get your cow past that line, at which point they can assist with getting the cow into the pen (but also have to keep the other cows behind the line, I believe.)  

In this clinic, our objective was to pick a cow, cut it from the herd, and move it down the arena across the line of other horses and riders.  We each took turns, and while you were waiting your turn you did not assist but stayed out of the way, and moved aside when necessary to create a hole for the cow to go through.  It was kind of like a group jumping lesson, which we haven't done in a very long time so it was also good for Cupid just to practice standing.  Sometimes starting out he is a bit antsy, but he was on his best behavior today (aside from some bit chomping, which I think was because I haven't ridden him in the double jointed bit in a long time.)

Waiting our turn
Not all cow horses where western saddles!

After making sure Cupid was comfortable, we gave the cutting and sorting a try.  Our first few turns I made the mistake of just going for the cow closest to the line we needed to cross.  And also trying to move them along the fence, thinking it would be easier because then I just have to watch one side.  But apparently these are bad strategies!  We did manage to get it done, if not gracefully.  Back to my original question, Cupid doesn't really have the instinct to cut a cow or anticipate where it's going to go, so he lets them get away but then seems to have fun chasing after them!  (Haha, maybe he wants to be a roping horse?  Let's try that next!!)

After a few goes, he seemed to start getting a bit anxious.  Heather said it seems like he is a very task-oriented horse, and to just forget our task for the moment and just relax and let him play.  Just before she said this, I had been thinking that it seems like he knows I want something, but can't quite figure out what it is and might be getting a bit frustrated.  I let me reins lengthen and let Cupid walk among the cows, sniff them, and trot after them - as long as he was remaining engaged.  Occasionally if he started to wander I would turn him back.  So some of our turns we cut and sorted, some we just played. 

Get 'em!


This clinic was a ton of fun!!!  I'm really glad I got to try something new, and build my relationship with Cupid in a different way!  It will take a lot more practice for us to learn to read the cows and really get the hang of this, but I'm definitely looking forward to trying again.

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