As riders in New England we use horses in many different ways, but typically ‘working cattle’ is not one of them. Fortunately for those in midcoast Maine, horseman Elijah Moore provides an introduction to cows and the movements needed to work them at his farm in Searsport. We try to expose our horses to as many different situations as possible, and since many horses are initially afraid of cows, we headed over to the ‘Flying M’ last week to work with “Lige” and his herd.
We took Ozzy and steady companion Tristan along for the horses’ first (to our knowledge) experience with cows. Both were suprisingly unfazed by the small herd milling in the next door roundpen, and soon Lige had both riders mounted up and slowly beginning to move cows around while he called out instructions.
Moving cows around on horseback is fun in itself, but Lige explained that the cows will actually help you train your horse. When both you and your horse are focused on directing a cow, suddenly all of the work that you may have practiced on the ground or under saddle comes into play: the rider’s ability to move their horse’s haunches or shoulders over, leg-yielding, turn on the haunches, backing up…it all has an immediate purpose. To successfully move cows, the horse has to be attentive, soft, and responsive to the aids; while both horse and rider need to work together to accomplish the task. Lige used his own horse to demonstrate just how subtle and refined a rider’s aids may be once a horse is well-schooled, and he explained that most horses will enjoy cattlework and also gain valuable confidence from the experience.
Both of our horses made improvements throughout the session, and Lige helped riders work through any tension that the horses displayed. Ozzy and Tristan were able to move the cows between arenas and to separate individual cows from the group. It was impressive to see how quickly the horses picked up on their ‘job’ with Tristan even bumping cows with his nose if they were walking too slowly. Both riders had the chance to work on lateral movements, softness and connection with their horses, and everyone involved had a great time.
There is truly something thrilling about working in partnership with a horse to accomplish a necessary job. By the time we said goodbye to Lige, we were already wondering if maybe we could get a few cows for our farm. We’ll certainly be practicing the skills necessary to be good cow wranglers, and in the meantime we look forward to future lessons with Lige and his herd.