Position Counts When Dancing with Cows

In the movies, every cowboy wears big hats, shiny silver spurs and gallops his horse to chase down the cows. It makes for action-packed scenes, but if you work cows all the time like they do in the movies then you’re doing something wrong.

Sure, now and again you do have to light a fire under your horse’s tail. I always go zero to sixty when there’s an opportunity to cut the escape off early before losing the whole bunch back over the 800 acres you just covered. The horse kind of enjoys it. Shoot, so do I.

But if you’re good – and if you’ve got a good horse under you – you don’t have to prove how good you are all that often.

Canyons along the Snake River

A couple months ago, I was riding the canyons in search of strays who hadn’t come in for the winter yet. The two we found hit the trail running and disappeared out of sight while the fence was being fixed. Instead of legging on out for home, those two holed up in a thicket of brush on a steep side hill.

Sneaky. But not sneaky enough. I waited for ’em on the far side, and when they come rustlin’ out they were at a high-headed run with their noses pointed back up the canyon we’d just traveled.

I was tired. I’d been riding a fair piece, and I wasn’t keen on the long ride to retrieve these two old girls if they made it passed me.

I dug my heels into the sides of the roan I straddled. He’s a good-enough type of horse, and he was solid gold that day. Two big leaps down off the steepest part of the hill put us in front of the runaways. They could either stop or dive off the perpendicular edge of the canyon bottom.

They stopped, made one more stab at getting back up the canyon and then turned around for home. I gave the roan a pat on the neck and settled into a walk behind the two cows.

Position is really important in working cattle. Understanding flight zones. Working angles. A good horse and knowing the terrain certainly helps.

You’ll still have some movie-worthy chases. Cows are cows after all. Lots of work at a long trot, but the shuck your long johns, hot after ’em chases? Those can be cut down to a couple quick moves if you’re paying attention to your position when the dancin’ starts.

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