The Power of a Good Start

It’s been a busy summer. I’ve been helping a few ranchers with cow work – good, hard work for myself, my stock dogs, and, of course, the horses. We are learning more about the art and science of moving cattle on big parcels of land (think 30,000 acres). We’re getting fitter and handier.

Barry rocks the salt-hauling assignment

Nervous Barry recently hauled 160 pounds of salt up to a mountain meadow at about 9,500 feet elevation. Round trip, about 16 miles.

My aging mares have struggled with the long, arduous days. So after much contemplation, I acquired a new horse from my friend, Raechel. He’s Gunner, a handsome, six-year old quarterhorse from Livermore, Colorado.

Working with Gunner has reminded me how powerful a good start can be. Thanks to Raechel’s excellent work, there has been little drama to our introduction. The things we need to work on – picking up the hind feet, sidepassing, moving through gates, for instance – will be managed without much fuss, I believe.

I asked Raechel, who is a dentist and also raises cattle, what her strategy was with the young gelding:

“Beyond haltering him and a little ground work, I didn’t do much with him until he was three or four. There was some typical round pen work. I rode him bareback a few times in the yard. But nothing serious. I did pony him everywhere off my older gelding – on trails, across creeks, up hills. I ponied him with a saddle and at all gaits.

Raechel and Gunner

He tends to be a pretty drama-free horse, but also I didn’t give him reasons for drama. I think it’s much more important to have relaxation than to get stressed on the technicalities. He tends to comply once he understands what’s being asked.

It was interesting when I put him on cows for the first time. He left the paddock at the bottom of the pecking order. When he came back, after learning that he could move cows, he was suddenly no longer at the bottom.”

Thanks, Raechel!

Of course, I still love working on the endearing project, Barry, a big horse who suffered significant trauma and poor treatment before coming to me. But having a horse who likes cows, who likes doing stuff, and who doesn’t have lots of baggage of past trauma, is so much fun. I’m feeling spoiled. It’s also boosted my confidence and helped me relax in the saddle. What a joy!

Read more about Barry’s journey here, here, and here.

Gunner during a recent day with cows in the Rio Grande National Forest

Posted in Dogs and Horses, Training.

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