“Part 4: Working the Cow”

This is Part 4 in our video analysis series.

  • Herdwork Planning (Part 1)
  • Walk to the herd (Part 1)
  • Approaching the Herd (Part 2)
  • Executing Your Two Jobs IN the Herd (Part 3)
  • Proactive cuts (Part 3)
  • Key points for working the cow (Part 4, 5)
  • Between cattle strategizing to build a run (Part 6)

For the series, I’m using a Youtube video posted by Cutting Horse Central during which Austin Shepard coaches his son, Cade to a big championship at the Breeder’s Invitational. Austin has a Go-Pro camera mounted on his hat. While the quality of video is not ideal, there are priceless, classic coaching points made by Austin.

This video depicts “real life” in the cutting pen as experienced by the cutter being coached. That’s why I thought it would benefit you!

In this Part 4 episode you will learn interpretations for two key words and phrases trainers use while you work the cow. You will also learn key points for how you can apply them to your cutting.

If you have any trouble accessing the video from the arrow below, here is the direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfGj6zqJ4t0

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Video Time Window for Part IV
2:37 – 2:42

It’s amazing how much goes on in 5 seconds during your run!

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Video Time 2:38 – 2:39
What’s happening: The transition from herdwork to working the cow

At 2:38 Austin says to Cade, “Right there”. Even though it’s not easy to see in the video, this is the point where Cade puts his hand down and starts working the cow after an aggressive cut.

What’s important for you to know is that a KEY moment exists (and requires specific action on your part) when you transition from making the cut to working the cow.

This transition moment involves specific body shifts plus a mental focus shift.

KEY POINTS to remember about the transition from making the cut to working the cow:

  • Be clear that it is up to you to make the required shifts in mind and body. Think about them. Practice them. They are up to you to execute.
  • Physically, your rein hand goes down to the horse’s neck; your upper body and seat drop significantly in the saddle.
  • Your eyes and focus are now intent on reading the cow as you strive to accurately support your horse with your seat, legs and feet as he works the cow.
  • If you had a rough cut, at the moment you put your hand down tell yourself, “No problem; work the cow!”. Here’s why. If you continue to be concerned about the cut and do not shift into new body positions and a new mental focus, you will be inaccurate as you ride your horse on the cow. Also, because you are distracted (thinking about what just went wrong on the cut) you will likely not read the cow well.
  • No matter how the cut went, make the transition to working the cow the same way every time. When you put your hand down, get into working the cow immediately. That’s your job.

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Video Time 2:40 – 2:42
What’s happening: “Wait!” Stay quiet and deep in the stop. It’s another critical point that’s up to you.

At 2:40 Austin says to Cade, “Wait”. If you stop the video at 2:41 you will see the classic moment when all cutting horse riders need to “Wait”.

How many times have you heard, “Wait, wait, wait!”?

To explain more about this idea of “wait” I’d like to lay some ground work.

Working the cow is a combination of position to control the cow (when possible) within a movement pattern (stop, draw, turn, accelerate) … all ideally in a pretty rhythm.

It is the accuracy of the horse’s movements along with the timing and rhythm of those movements that make working the cow so beautiful when done well.

A critical place in the rhythm is when the horse stops with a cow.

The horse’s job is to not only stop but then draw his weight back even more over his haunches as he (and the rider) read the cow.

Both horse and rider wait for the cow to make the next move as they remain deeply anchored and still.

The horse must maintain his weight on his hind quarters in order to pivot and turn with balance when the time comes to move with the cow.

As the rider’s waits for the cow, his/her job is to sit low, soft and still in the saddle.

If the rider moves his/her upper body or legs during this critical time of balance for the horse, often the horse’s balance is compromised. He might shift a little forward and transfer some weight onto his front.

Or, if the horse is wondering, “Why the rider is moving up there? What is the rider trying to tell me?” he might be distracted from reading the cow. If so, his next move may be too quick or too late.

Hence the instruction from your helpers/trainer, “Wait!”. They want you to sit deeply and quietly until the appropriate time comes to support your horse on the line or in the turn. You need to wait quietly for the cow to make the next move.

“Wait” has to do with dropped “weight” (-: stillness and a laser like, yet patient, focus on the cow.

KEY POINTS for “Wait”:

  • Get a clear purpose in mind, when you need to wait and why. This is a critical piece of the rhythm working a cow. You impact this time for the horse by what you do with your body … in either a positive, or negative way.
  • When you stop with a cow, sink deep into the stop and tell yourself, “Deep. Soft. Still. Read the cow.” This self-coaching will tell your body what to do AND give your mind the correct direction to read the cow as you wait for the cow to make its next move.
  • When you hear your helpers say, “Wait,” let it comfort, support and remind you to stay low and still … and read the cow as you wait for the next move.

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In Part 5 of this series, I will talk about getting “across a cow,” rhythm working a cow and using your herd side foot.

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