I first learned to work cows on foot. At the time, I groused about all the legwork. But now, I think having that foundation has made me a better hand on a horse, at ease working with chute systems, and fully capable of handling a cow in places my horse can’t go.
When you’re on a horse – and especially when you’ve got a good cowhorse between your legs – being out of position doesn’t automatically equal an escaped cow. The athleticism of the horse gives your team an edge that can compensate for a mistake here and there.
But when it is Team Cow versus Team Human? There isn’t any room for error. You quickly learn how cattle move off of pressure and the individual quirks of each cow in your herd. You understand the angles better, how to work with flight zones, and how position is everything.
Suddenly, cow psychology becomes paramount. Learning to think like a cow and how to read a cow’s actions are also a huge benefit in implementing low-stress handling techniques. The more I work with cattle, the more intent I am on maintaining as low of a stress level as possible for the animals I’m working with.
Working with a cow’s natural instincts equals a lot less stress for both the animal and the human, consequently making both happier and healthier and resulting in more efficient and effective handling patterns.
But just so we’re clear, I’ll work cattle all day from a horse if at all possible. I prefer to practice my cow psychology from the saddle!