Monday, September 28, 2009

Working Cows

We spent the weekend in Tehachapi at a working Cowhorse/Versatility Workshop. We were able to get a lot of riding in and we learned a lot.

It's a very small workshop with only four students and we got a lot of one-on-one attention. We spent Friday afternoon going over Matt's positions #1-#4. I wished we had practiced this more. Matt gives instruction based on these positions and we were pretty rusty with them and it would have worked out much better if we had them down pat.

I struggled a bit trying to mesh my DUH techniques with his. He doesn't ask, "John, what cues do you use to get horse to do this?" He says, "Cue this way do get your horse to do this." So, it was easy for not only me to get confused, but I managed to confuse Jessie too. Still, we were picking up a lot of good information and my philosophy is "I'm not there to show him what I know, I'm there to find out what he knows. So, shut up and pay attention."

Saturday morning we worked more on the skill moves of getting our horses to roll over their hocks. Jessie is front loaded and we struggled with this. We did a lot of backing up. Later, we played with flag a bit before lunch and Jessie did just "okay".

Things were building to what would happen after lunch. We were going to work the flag as it was moving. Now, I was trying hard to follow Matt's instruction. Sometimes his instructions seemed to contradict each other and when I asked for clarification, I didn't really always understand his answers. He is really skilled at what he does on the back of a horse and I have neither the timing or feel he does and chalked up my confusion to this. Friday night he had pulled me aside and said he really wanted me to "step it up" with Jessie. I told him I would and filed this information away. Saturday after lunch we watched a cow working a flag video and when the horse didn't stop, the instructor (who shall remain nameless) said, "We can't make him stop, but we can make him wish he had" and it looked like a pretty aggressive move to stop his horse. I filed this away too. After lunch, Matt was the first to work the flag and when the horse he was riding didn't pay attention to him and he spun that horse halfway across the arena so she would pay attention to him. He had to do it a couple of times. I watched and filed that away. When it was Jessie's turn at the flag, we went across the arena, I asked her to stop, she ignored me, I took hold of her mouth, and Matt was all over me. "Don't. Don't do that!" "Well, crap", I thought, "what had I missed?"

He thought I was frustrated with Jessie and I wasn't. I did need to correct her for not stopping, I had my own way (which never came into it) and I had the way I had seen just a few minutes before and I wasn't able to use either one of them. He's asked me to step it up and now I wasn't really sure what anything meant. We eked our through that exercise, but I was thoroughly frustrated.

In the afternoon we got to track a cow and that's always a fun time. I was trying to learn how to read the cow as well as move my horse, so my brain was just a humming with activity.

Sunday morning we were scheduled to work the flag again. Warming up Jessie I noticed every time we came to the corner of the arena we had struggled in the day before, she would get wound up. We past the flag and she was nervous. So, we worked on those areas during the warm up. We loped a lot in that beautiful arena and I let her rest in the trouble spots. When it came time for us to work the flag I had my mind made up. Since I wasn't understanding what Matt wanted from me AND I felt I knew what my horse needed, I went out and worked the flag the way I wanted. We walked across the arena, stopped, the flag turned and we turned and we walked back across the arena. The whole time Matt was telling me to speed up, to get my horse going, to catch the flag. Jessie and I made four turns and had stayed calm and listening to me which was exactly what I needed her to do. We stopped, backed and turned off the flag. I had gotten what I thought my horse needed and it wasn't heavy handed (it also wasn't fast, but we can always get faster). Everyone else had worked the flag for three times the length I had and when they saw me end the exercise on my own they were a bit stunned. Matt asked me to explain myself and I did. He said if I had been having problems, I should have asked him. I couldn't tell him he was the genesis of my frustration.

He didn't let up however, and later pressured me some more, so I described to him the two reactions I had seen him make when a horse wasn't listening and how I tried to mimic those and we went back and forth with him explaining how his screwing a horse into the ground was effective and mine, which looked and felt the same only a little tamer, was completely ineffective. The conversation was civil, but I really didn't think he was seeing my point of view or really even listening to me. So after a bit, I just agreed with everything he said like I really understood it. It's a character flaw on my part, I know, but the conversation wasn't really going anywhere because I couldn't really see the difference in his reaction to a horse not listening and mine. And, because I had kind of disobeyed the teacher, I now had a lot more attention being paid to me than I wanted and I wanted it to just all go away. Let's move on.

My motivation for learning may be a little different than others. I want to learn how to be a better horseman. I don't want want someone to train my horse. Train me. I'll train her. This is a much bigger challenge. A lot of these guys who have been on a horse all their life can climb in the saddle and know what buttons to push. Teaching a rider whose only been on a handful of horses with only a few years of riding when and where to put his legs and hands is the really tough part.

Working the cows in the afternoon was a hoot. Jessie was solid. She was clam and curious. She showed an incredible amount of interest, whether our not she has the athleticism to be a cutter is something we'll have to see. We don't really have the maneuvers yet to effectively work a cow. (But we do know now what we need to learn).

Despite what I described above, it was a great time. I get very intense when I'm learning something new. I shut out what everyone else is doing and try to focus on what I think the teacher is trying to tell me. I put off a lot of people and I think some misunderstand my wanting to observe and learn as much as I can for thinking I know it all. Really, I only care about the tools I can use to convince my horse to do the things I want her to do. Matt's ranch and arena are a great place to work your horse and I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to take Jessie up there.
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