I’m lucky to live in an area full of working cowboys. They use their horses for jobs. It’s a scenario that many of us fabricate in order to keep our horses handy and engaged.
On a recent cattle drive, for instance, I watched as their horses ground-tied perfectly, self-loaded into a trailer, moved through gates, and worked well around the cows. Meanwhile, my horse and I tried to be useful and tried to stay out of the way when we couldn’t help.
On the whole, I think working cowboys are pretty darn good horsemen. Except when they aren’t.
I visited with Randy Rieman about ranch work and horsemanship. Rieman himself is a longtime working cowboy. A protégé of Bill Dorrance, Rieman worked for years starting colts on Hawaii’s biggest ranch and now tours internationally as a clinician. He will give a three-day clinic here on September 24-26. Click here to find out more and register.
“The reality of ranch work is such that you’re often mashing a horse through the process,” said the Montana man. “It isn’t that working cowboys won’t get it done. They may not get it done smoothly.”
Rushing and not preparing a horse for a task has short- and long-term consequences, he said.
“If a horse is rushed through a deal, he’ll be uncomfortable. He may move quickly but incorrectly. He’ll carry an apprehension
with him in other riding situations. If your horse is especially frantic or uncomfortable, it doesn’t take much to pass that on to the cattle. His discomfort is going to have a negative impact on your work somewhere down the line.”
He said he sees a lot of cowboys who do to their horses the equivalent of throwing a swimmer into the deep end of the pool before he knows how to dog paddle. “Ranchers will tell me, ‘I realize I never did get my horse ready for that job. I just made him do it.”
Rieman has observed additional consequences of an anxious or ill-prepared ranch horse:
“I’ve seen a tightness and reduced range of motion from these horses. You’ll see that dopamine rush and lip-licking only when they’re put up for the day, not during the work,” he said.
During a clinic, students have a chance to practice accomplishing a task in a relaxed fashion and to reward softness. What you learn at a clinic will allow you to get those jobs done more smoothly.
Always one to tip the hat to a colleague, Rieman mentioned horseman Billy Askew, a longtime friend and fellow cowboy. “You never see Billy’s horses in a hurry. He is always thinking ahead and his horses are always where they need to be; they are unhurried and unworried,” said Rieman.”Ranch work is so much easier with a relaxed animal who’s not defending himself.”