Monday, August 9, 2010

Ranch Sorting, Trust and Expanding Your Horse Horizons

Say Hi to Opie. Or is it OP? Which stands for "Old People."
Opie, don't worry, everyone is very nice on this blog.

The orginal plan is that TR, C and I would head over to Dave's place and get some lessons, cowboy style. Straight shooting, to the point, no pussy footing around. So when I texted the only cowboy I know who can text and ride, I was surprised when he called me and told me that he had forgotten that he had a clinic going on for sorting cows - ranch sorting is the technical term.

Personally, I sort all my cows at the grocery store. Lean, super lean, today's special... you know.

And cows make me a little nervous, truth be told. Remember when the bull came over to the barn? I did manage to chase him off, but I was more than a little intimidated.

But I was too excited about my all horsey weekend to not ride out this change in plans. So, I let TR know, and while he didn't think me or C would get what we really needed (which was some cowboy telling us in no uncertain terms the 500 things he tries to tell us all the time), he was up for it. He decided to bring his horses for him and C, but I let cowboy Dave know that I'd need a horse.

After all, my goal has been to ride a different horse every chance I get. TR wants me to get on as many different horses as possible, and in the last 2 weeks I haven't ridden the same horse twice in a row yet.

Hence, OP. Op was brought to the clinic for someone who ended up with a hangover... er... ended up not coming because they weren't feeling well.

Thank goodness TR told me to bring a saddle. OP is 20+ and has some serious power steering. That horse knows how to sort cattle, which made one of us. He was fantastic but once again I found as I was riding him around in the beginning, trying to get use to his nature and controls, that we were wandering all over the place.

Trust the horse, I told myself. Once I trusted him, I knew that the only thing left was to fix what I was doing wrong.

So I focused, realizing that I was cueing this horse somehow. He was so soft, that while he was dead broke, he was also very responsive and I was unconsciously cueing with my legs again, just as I had on Smokey. Thankfully Opies was also very forgiving. I got myself together and we were finally going straight and true.

There was quite a mix of riders. Some were women like me - never did anything like this, just loved horses and were looking to learn anything they could. M and I were the only total newbies, everyone else had done it at least once before.

Funny, I never had that old trepidation, even though I was on a horse I didn't know, doing something I had never done before, in a place with people I didn't know very well, with thousands of pounds of future happy meals running around.

M on her lovely horse Louie, Me on Opie, the smarter-than-a-40+-greenhorn horse

Two women were fearful of their horses and their horses were ill behaved. It was good for me to see this, it was like a bright highlighter came on in my mind every time I saw control crumble in their hands.
  • She's not correcting that horse that's pinning it's ears.
  • She's not carrying through, waiting until she gets the horse's head down before releasing the pressure.
  • She's rewarding that resistance because she's too scared to finish.

I thought of the times control crumbled in my hands, a dozen little missed cues, adding up exponentially until I had worked up to a buck or crow hop. Or just aimless ambling.

To their credit these women rode out many of the issues they had with those horses, rode through their fear. I knew that place on their journey. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. But now, I'm on the other side of it, just by a millimeter, but it's the biggest darn millimeter in the world.

J on her buckskin - she was one of the best riders out there, TR and Lola next to them.

Other riders were solid riders on solid horses, like J on her hot, beautiful buckskin. That woman could ride and sort! She was there to improve her technique, but I just admired the way she moved as one with her horse.

There were three men, including TR. I was a little surprised - I know women own the horses in this country (by and large), but this ranch sorting thing seemed like it was boy horse stuff. I didn't expect a 3 to 1 ratio here too...

The rest of us were somewhere in between - a little more solid with our horses, but still with things we needed to work on.

I watched teams working, tried to pick up some idea of what the heck I was supposed to do.

Then it was my turn, and M and I, the only two newbies, headed into the pen.

I'm going to presume that you know what I know about ranch sorting. NOTHING. So you experienced people, just scroll down for a minute.

The idea of the game is a lot like flying Southwest Airlines. Load the pen in numerical order. The calves (or are they cows? I have no idea), who are suddenly little things when you are up in a saddle, have numbers around their necks (although I've been told there are lots of ways to put numbers on them, so YMMV (your mileage may vary)).

So there's the little herd, wanting nothing more than to stay together, and you go in there with your horse, find your calf numbered "7", and separate him from his buddies and only let him go into the other pen without 3, 0 or 1 running in with him.

Usually one person goes and drives in the calves and the other guards the pen. But we switched out constantly. I suspect that was for our training, not for efficiency.

And let me tell you, chasing little calves with numbers on their neck is FUN! If this is on your bucket list, go get it done, but look out - cuz you won't want to stop. The best part of it was that you learn while focusing on something outside your horse. You have to get yourself in a good basic riding position, but then you have to watch the calf, move it along and not over think what you're doing.

And cows are not just pre-burgers! We had one little cow, number 3, that had the best head fake in the business. He'd look like he was going one way, then would dive another way. It's enough to make you think about switching over to sushi. (Kidding. I intend on supporting my new calf sorting addiction with some organic beef)

The instructions from Dave were:
  • Watch the cow's head, not it's butt.
  • Keep riding.
  • Get out of the hole, quick. (the hole is the gap between pens where the cows run through)
  • Communicate to your partner.
  • Keep on your calf, your partner worries about the others.
  • Keep him on the fence.
  • Break up the crowds, just get in there!
  • Don't turn away from the calves when you are in the hole. Back your horse, move his hindquarters. (So that's why you teach them that!)

TR was kind enough to video a few runs, so I've included them below, these were at the very beginning. Possibly the slowest ranch sorting you'll ever see (usually you have 75 seconds then you're done), but I'm still pretty proud of what we did.

I was pumped when we got ours done, finally with a clean run, at a little over 2 minutes, on our last run of the day.

Oh yeah. And I decided to buy Smokey. But that's another post. :)


morningbrayfarm said...

How cool is that? Looks like a great day with great fun. Can't wait to hear more about your purchase. ;)

Shirley said...

I'm glad you got to work cattle; not only is it FUN, it's a great way to ride with a purpose, to focus on what you and your horse are doing as a team. It helps everything fall into place.
I knew you'd buy your dream horse! Woo-hoo!

jill said...

Ha! I did the exact same thing this weekend with my horse!
What a blast!

Funder said...

I am so impressed with your follow-through! Identifying the problem is easy (well, some people never do, I guess) but actually getting out and fixing it, day after day, is HARD. You're getting out there, riding different horses, getting yelled at - errr, instructed by different people, and working it.

Grats on the new horse!!

Kate said...

Good work! That's fun, and in fact it's good when it's slow - real ranchers with real cattle they're trying to market don't want them running around, unlike what you see in the timed competitions.

I had the chance to do this a couple of times at the Mark Rashid clinics in Colorado - it's a real exercise in blending, balance and subtlety.

I like your program of riding lots of different horses - that's always a way to accelerate your learning.

Kate said...

I almost missed it (sometimes I read too fast) - you're buying Smokey!!! Can't wait to hear more!

Melanie said...

Sheesh...I am absent for one week and look at you!!!! Out there riding green broke dream horses and sorting cattle on experienced!!! Good for you! : )

Yes, trust is key to riding, but the horse that you are riding has to ask you for it, right? There has to be a dance, a partnership, a little give and take.

Good, reliable, dependendale, and trustworthy horses are out there, you just have to find them...or have them find you.

I think it is great that you are having "fun" with different horses, and I think that Smokey is lovely. Ride him, work him, and play with never know, he may be the horse for you because of his open honesty.

You have more than shown that you can handle a green horse that doesn't want to join up with you, so think of what you could do with one that does????

Of course, there is nothing like a dead-broke, been there/done that horse either. : )
I am excited to watch and see what happens in this new stage of your horsey life......

Cactus Jack Splash said...

Wonderful horse day. Cows are fun to work.
Can't wait to hear more about Smokey

Crystal said...

Wow all that excitement of the cattle sorting, and then you bring up the big news about Smokey!
Congrats, he already sounds more like a horse for you to learn on and be safe as well as having fun.

Trailrider said...

I'm going to go on record and say that Smokey MIGHT end up being the right horse for you. I just cannot bring myself to say that a 4 year old horse WILL be the best choice for you. Buying him will be taking a chance. No matter how good he is, he is still 4 years old, with about 60-90 days ride on him, and he will still do stupid things for no good reason because of his youth. (Kind of like some things I did when I was young and stupid - oh, wait. That was last week!)

BUT, BUT, BUT, if you continue your training with a knowledgeable instructor (NOT ME), AND continue to ride other horses AND continue to take yourself out of your comfort zone and try different things with your horse AND commit in your mind to spending money on a trainer to "finish" Smokey when there are things you cannot teach him, it might all work out. Keep in mind, that's a lot of "BUT'S and AND'S" I threw out there.

By the way, I agree with Kate about working cattle. In the real world, there is no way we would work cattle hurriedly. I was most proud of the runs we had yesterday where we sorted all 10 calves correctly, rather than the runs where the run was a "no time" because we pushed too fast and mis-sorted. But it was a blast trying, wasn't it?

Beth said...

That IS on my bucket list. It looks like SO much! Glad you had a good time.

It is nice to take a moment and realize how far we have come isn't it?!

AareneX said...

I WANNA DO THAT! What fun!

Can't you just see me out there on my big ol' standie mare, wearing my bright purple helmet, and moving those little calves around. Sign me up, I'm ready!

I note that TR has some trepidations about Smokey....and the concerns sound pretty important to me. Of course, I always wish you the best but please Be Careful. Okay?

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow! What a good horse OP is. You could see in the video that he knew just what to do and he wanted to just get it done, but he listened to you anyway and tried to be patient. That's a good horse for a beginner sorter. How fun!
And good for you for getting out there and accepting all the instruction, too.

Interesting how no one is wearing helmets, though. With all the smart, wise women and not as many 'cool, tough cowboys' you'd think there'd be more helmets worn.
I'd be worried about falling off my horse and having one of those cute 'happy meals' hoofin' it across my skull.
Wear your helmet....don't worry about fitting in with the crowd, k?


Oh, and didn't I tell you that dreams sometimes really do come true? I can't wait to read more about your decision to buy him....I really do hope this time, that Smokey is THE ONE. :)

Leah Fry said...

Congrats on Smokey! Looking forward to hearing all about it.

Sounds like a blast. I don't think I'm a good enough rider to do it.

Jan said...

Oh, I'm jealous! What a terrific time it was to sort cows! And like you said, get to focus on something outside of the horse so you don't overthink everything. I sounds like it was such fun. And a good experience also. I've never done it but would love to. Can't wait to hear more about Smokey!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

How fun. I was watching a cutting competition on TV last night while working out. Bombay and I sometimes do this type of exercise, only he's the cow and I'm the horse. This is another well-written and witty post.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Looks like you had a lot of fun. It's always nice to learn different things with to do with the horses. I think you did a great job for your first time. And I love that horse Opie.

Can't wait to hear all about the exciting news about Smokey.