After 3 months of spring training, preparing, riding, Cash and I were prepared to herd cows up into the mountains. Or so I thought.
This was his first time off our place and neighboring cows to herd one of our son’s and his father-in-law’s cows six miles into the mountains.
I woke up at 6 a.m. reading to load and haul to the San Poil Valley, a little over an hour away. I was to be there at 8:30 and ready to head out at 9:00 a.m.
We arrived on time and saddled up. There were four of us that day, normally there would be six or eight to move 70 cow and calf pairs and 2 bulls. This may seem like overkill, but with cattle that like to meander into the woods and across creeks, having at least six is a huge help.
I warmed Cash up, riding between boulders and between or by farming equipment. All was as smooth as a newborn foal’s muzzle.
Before heading out, we separated a bull out of the herd that would remain back at the ranch.
Still, everything was going as planned: smooth, confident, calm.
Until we hit the pavement.
Then came the 1st surprise: We turned north onto the highway. Last year, the cows crossed the paved highway into an open field and were herded to the gate a half mile north, then crossed back over the highway before plodding into the mountains.
I swallowed and reined my five-year-old horse left and followed the herd, riding drag. We slowly pushed the cows north along the highway.
We were on the pavement, down a ditch, back on the pavement, down a ditch on the opposite side of the highway, making sure the cows followed the leader. Then a white cow showed up on the other end of the east fence and scared Cash half to death. He’d seen black, brown, and red cows, but never a white one. We side ran both ways until he calmed down, eyes darting from the cows ahead to that white cow behind him.
Then a compact car approached to his rear, creeping it’s way behind us respectfully.
This was the 2nd surprise: As Cash kept flipping from side to side, watching the white cow, then the car, back and forth, back and forth, to rear up a couple times and circle around in between.
And here I’d thought he was prepared. He’d encountered cars and 4-wheelers before. He’d been around cows for three years. Dragged logs. He was ready, darn it!
But not for a big semi with an empty lowboy trailing behind!
He reared up again. Thankfully we were in the ditch and on the opposite side of the road.
We had a truck up ahead slowing traffic, ready to block the road when we were ready to cross, but still. This was too much for my greenhorn.
There was a bridge left to cross up ahead a few yards before turning west and to the mountains. I ended up dismounting and walking Cash over the paved bridge in order to settle him down and build his confidence back up.
Once back on dirt, I mounted and we finished the job. Cows made it to their summer feeding spot in the cool forest and we headed home. But not with a few other spooks: a huge culvert with rushing water hanging off a steep bank, a downed tree hovering over the road, huge barking dogs (luckily they were fenced in) that Cash was sure were monsters ready to attack.
Which was the 3rd surprise.
So, what were the 3 ways I kept safe under pressure and under saddle?
- I kept my cool. I never panicked. What I did do is keep Cash faced toward his fears so he wouldn’t bolt. I teach all of my horses a safety net, the one rein stop. He did stop and stand when asked. Because I kept my cool, so did he––to a point.
- I dismounted before Cash reached his breaking point. Since we were on the pavement, which can be slick against horseshoes, I figured it was safest to get off and regroup. I continued to herd the cows in front of me on foot, then mounted when my horse was calm and using the thinking side of his brain and continued on.
- I took the scary moments and turned them into lessons, especially on the way home. We went back to the culvert and Cash realized it wasn’t some monster. Heck, it didn’t even move. Same with the tree on the road. Not so much with the dogs coming back, but he tried, side running past them. We passed all this on the way up, but the cows distracted him enough he kept quiet. As each car whizzed past us, he grew accustomed to them. At one point riding back to the ranch, I saw a semi approaching from the south. I was able to ride a few feet down a driveway, getting Cash off the side of the road and away from the rig. He did stand quiet and relaxed as the semi sped by.
When I got back to my house two days later, after camping for Memorial Day Weekend, I had my dad drive his 4-wheeler behind and around Cash. I also drove him in the round pen and have been dragging logs for two days when on trail rides. He hardly flinched. I wished I’d had a day or two more herding cattle along that same path to really boost Cash’s confidence.
On the upside, that was a great gauge as to where Cash is on his training and preparedness for his first Mountain Trail competition coming up in a couple weeks (one since this has been published.) I find relief knowing he won’t have as much stimulation at one time during the competition and we can focus more on skill building.
By then we should be ready! Or so I think.
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