A Cowboy Reveals the Secret…

A long time ago, I rode in feedlots in Colorado and New Mexico. I was not an employee, but I was riding with friends who were “pen checkers.” Their job was to ride through pens of feeder cattle, and look for signs of illness, taking out any animals needing care.

As we rode I began to notice how the cowboys, and they were all skilled horseman as well, maneuvered their horses into the various positions required to perform the tasks they were paid to do. It was truly an education. With the reins dangling from the saddle horn, the cowboy would have a little book in one hand and his other hand on the gate latch. With seat and leg signals, the horse would side pass to the gate, adjust forward to allow the latch to be released, back two or three steps to clear the gatepost, turn on the forehand around the gate so the cowboy never had to turn loose of the gate, side pass the gate closed and wait while it was latched. All the while the horse and rider team were to be wary to guard the gate against an attempted escape by a steer.

Over time I learned their method. Their horses were taught to move in response to weighting a seat bone, an invisible signal. The movement is modified by touches and positions of the riders legs. A leg pushed forward with pressure on the stirrup means stop and/or back up. Pressure at the cinch means move only the shoulder over. A touch at the back cinch of the saddle means move the hindquarters over. The opposite and leg is held off the horse, “opening the door” so to speak. Then if the leg pushes between the shoulder and the other two spots, the horse “side passes” to open or close the gate. Neat, Huh?

A dark horse captured gazing at the camera from a half shaded vantage point with bridle and halter.

One thought on “A Cowboy Reveals the Secret…

  1. I have never worked feedlots, but have always respected the skills that go into training a horse for this type job. Repetitive commands, and patience are the key to this type training, as it is with all types of training. I have broke and trained many horses in my time, but have only had one that was super trained. It was a little mare I raised named Ginger. Between client’s, poor Ginger got all my attention. She got to the point that I could do just about anything on her. She got to the point when I could hand her headstall over the saddle horn and do trail rides with her. I was at the point of my training experience when I was learning to use subtle cues. Unfortunately my military career moved me around too much to concentrate on developing the skills needed to advance my training, but I have seen and experienced what cues can do if used to train horses. If I had left the military sooner, who knows… maybe I could have become a real trainer. A feedlot job would have probably made me a better trainer..

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