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Angus Productions Inc.
Copyright © 2009
Angus Productions Inc.

Ranch Horsemanship


PHOENIX, Ariz. (Jan. 28, 2009) — South Dakota rancher and stockmanship clinician Curt Pate believes there are advantages to working cattle from the back of a horse. From that perch, the stockman gets a better overall view of the stock, particularly when working with large numbers of animals. The mounted stockman gains an advantage in mobility. When he or she is well-mounted, moving to a favorable position relative to the cattle may be accomplished quicker and more smoothly.

Pate talked about practical ranch horsemanship during a Cattlemen’s College session in conjunction with the 2009 Cattle Industry Annual Convention, in Phoenix, Ariz. He admitted that not all riders gain an equal advantage, and some may be better off afoot. And frankly, some horses are better off tied outside the corral when cattle are being sorted.

Curt Pate Curt Pate

Pate said even people who are accomplished competitors in rodeo, cutting and other horseback events can have trouble when trying to handle stock in a ranch setting. And even if they get along fine while gathering a herd from a pasture, things can change when they move to the corrals and try to sort their stock. Sometimes, things simply fall apart. Often, Pate said, the best thing people can do is slow down.

“Low-stress cattle handling is not like rodeo or any competition,” Pate said. “It’s not about the ‘show,’ and it’s not about speed. Handling cattle is about applying and releasing pressure, whether you’re horseback or on foot. You should try to apply the least pressure needed to get the response you want. Ideally, no one would even see you do it, except the cattle.”

Pate offered tips for encouraging a ranch horse to be a willing and responsive partner capable of giving an advantage while handling cattle. He urged riders to learn to ride light-in-the-seat, using their thighs, feet and gut, to avoid riding heavy on a horse’s back. He also advised them to keep their hands low while handling the reins.

“If you try to never let your hands get behind the saddle horn, you won’t pull on your horse’s mouth so much,” Pate stated, noting that a horse can only do one thing at a time.

“It’s awfully easy to give a horse mixed signals, with our hands and legs at the same time,” Pate explained. “So I recommend giving clear and careful cues — hands without legs, and legs without hands.”

Pate also said some of the “natural horsemanship” methods can be overdone. He believes some people become obsessed with flexing and bending their horses, and such exercises can be overdone. In low-stress cattle handling, most of a horse’s motion should be forward, stop and back up, while holding its body straight, he explained. While a horse needs to be able to turn and go with an animal to gain a position of control, too much bending can be counterproductive.


Pate also advised his audience to respect the horse and the potential advantage it affords. He urged them to remember a favorite axiom, which states, “The horse knows what you know, and the horse knows what you don’t know.”

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API), which claims copyright to this article. It may not be published or distributed without the express permission of Angus Productions Inc. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at (816) 383-5270.