Dressage training has helped my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse with her rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection. Yet quickness hasn’t been something I have practiced on a regular basis, and it really becomes apparent when we sort cows.
Recently I took my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse mare Gift of Freedom (Makana) to a Wednesday evening cow sorting league. We are clearly the odd ball in the group among quarter horses that are naturally built for this sport. These horses are highly engaged from behind and can lope, stop, pivot and spring off in a new direction in half a second.
Will my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse ever be as quick and responsive as the quarter horses? Not likely, but being lowest on the pecking order seems to motivate her. Makana LOVES having something to push around. Each week we get better at moving the cows from one pen to the next in order, and have more clean rounds than DQs.
Watching the riders warm up their quarter horses, I’ve noticed that they often use rollbacks as an exercise of choice, so I began adopting rollbacks into our warm up.
Rollbacks have great benefits. They increase engagement and make her think about quickness and responsiveness. This is helping us in the hole as we attempt to keep the unsequenced cows from sneaking through before their turn.
P.S. As a side note, I show up at sorting league as a cross dresser: my horse wearing Western attire and me wearing breeches, half chaps, and my riding helmet. I figure if I’m going to be the oddball among all these spur wearin’, shank sportin’ cowboys and cowgirls riding their cowy quarter horses, I might as well go all out!
Video: Rollbacks for the Gaited Horse
(Take it from me, it is easier to ride rollbacks in the security of a Western saddle.)
This year I’ve pretty much put showing on hold, because its been so touch and go with my Dad who is in hospice care. But, I thought I could sneak in a few local events: a Virtual Western Dressage Show (that I can do without leaving home), a Cow Sorting League (only minutes from my house) and the Mosquito Run Endurance Ride (held once a year at a local park).
Only I didn’t seem to notice that all three events were held in the same week until the week of. Working full time with an ailing father in hospice, what was I thinking?!
Virtual Western Dressage
North American Western Dressage Association (NAWD) offers several Virtual shows each year. Makana and I gave it a try a couple months ago and we couldn’t wait for the next one. We have been practicing the feedback I had received from the judge’s remarks and from my gaited dressage mentor Jennie Jackson.
When I saw that NAWD was having another Virtual Show, my over zealous enthusiasm overtook my sense of available time. I registered three horses for the show. Most challenging was finding time to squeeze in the rides between working full time, visits with my Dad, the cow sorting league, endurance rides, filming the tests around my husband’s schedule, the week’s inclement weather, and forcing my grandma brain to memorize three new Western dressage tests!
For this Western Dressage Virtual Show I entered my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse, Gift of Freedom (Makana), my friend’s naturally gaited grade horse, Lady, and my Spanish Mustang, Indian’s Legend (Indy). It was Lady’s very first show and Indy’s first Western Dressage show.
Our window for recording our rides just happened to be at the same time our neighbor took down his trees next to our arena with the brush hog. This stirred up an arsenal of repellent-resistant biting flies that came in for the attack!
Despite the distractions, we made the best of it. I rode Makana in IJA Western Training Level 2, Lady in NAWD Intro 2, and Indy in NAWD Basic 3.
A couple weeks back I saw a last minute opening for the July Cow Sorting League. I knew Makana was due for some cow time, because it’s her favorite thing to do. (My theory: since she’s lowest on the pecking order, cows give her something to push around!)
We finished our first week getting all ten cows sorted in order within 70 seconds! Not the fastest by far (which was an amazing 46 seconds) but it felt good to officially achieve this milestone.
On Sunday, I entered Makana in a ten-mile Mosquito Run novice endurance ride at Crow Hassan Park Reserve. That morning we were hit with ANOTHER thunderstorm. Many riders had packed up and headed for home just before Makana and I arrived. So many riders had left that I thought the event had cancelled. (At least it made it easy to find a parking spot!)
The novice ride headed out with two large groups of seven. The footing was slick in spots with lots of puddles, but the storms cooled down the temperature for a comfortable ride.
The week’s thunderstorms had taken a toll on the park. We passed hundreds of mature trees that had fallen during the storms. Many thanks to the Park Reserve staff who worked hard to clear the trails so that the endurance ride could go on.
Our group was composed of three Tennessee walking horses, a Rockie, and three Arabians. It was wonderful to ride with other gaited horses. While our gaited horses outpassed the nongaited horses at a walk, the speed required of the ride in order to make time forced our gaited horses to trot, speed rack (or canter) the majority of the ride. I asked Makana for a speed rack. She held it for a while, but waffled between the rack, the trot, and canter.
Three miles before the finish line we all cooled off in the lake. Makana and I took our first swim! We walked in the water until her entire body submerged and all that surfaced the water was her ears, nostrils, and eyeballs. Thank God horses are intuitively good swimmers!
Makana and I made the optimum time and took sixth place out of 12 entries. (We even surpassed the Arabians!)
I’ll see you soon Dad. Hang in there! I love you! (Next time I’ll double check my calendar before committing to these events.)
It’s been a while since my naturally gaited Walking horse, Makana and I have worked with cows. I was so excited to see that Hi Circle Vee Ranch was having a Beginner’s Cow Sorting Clinic. My horse was due. She loves moving cows more than anything else. I think the reason she enjoys it so much is because she is the lowest on the pecking order and the cows give her something to push around!
Our clinician, Brandon Kruger, offered us strategies in reading cows and practical exercises to help our horses be more maneuverable.
One such exercise was the use of the counter bend. I’ve used the counter bend as a straightening exercise with my horses, but it had never occurred to me that it would have practical use in sorting. Brandon suggested to ride the horse on the counter bend along the fence, because it allows quicker change of direction for the horse when the cow darts off the other way.
The application of the inside leg to outside indirect rein has been so ingrained in my riding, because I am so fixated on getting the inside hind leg to step deeper under my horse. Brandon offered another practical maneuver which involves a different set of aids to lighten the forehand by engaging the hindquarters. The aids are to use the inside rein and outside leg at the girth. This makes the horse lighter in the shoulders so that it can more quickly lift up and change directions to stay in step with the cow.
Working the hole (the space between the two round pens) is the hardest thing for me and Makana to do because those sneaky cows read us and out maneuver us more often than not. Brandon worked with each of us one-on-one and gave us some great tips. One of the best tips is to ride the horse two feet in front of the hole instead of inside of the hole. This tip along with the inside rein to outside leg kept more cows from sneaking through the hole than when we stood inside of it.
After our one-on-one lesson, we broke into two person teams for sorting. Sara and her Quarter horse and me and Makana made a great team. Sara had only been riding her Quarter horse for a week and it had been her horse’s first time working with cows. In the three sorting rounds, we got all ten cows sorted in order in 90 seconds or less. This is a first for me and Makana thanks to Brandon’s teaching. Everyone at the clinic was excited to join a sorting league!
Video: Sorting cows with a gaited horse
Thank you to Hi Circle Vee Ranch for hosting the clinic and to Brandon Kruger and his lovely wife for the teaching and encouragement.
When I heard that Hi Circle Vee Ranch was offering another beginner’s cow clinic, I had to sign up my naturally gaited walking horse. We needed a Spring Break!
On Sunday, February 2, 2014, I trailered to the facility worried that I wouldn’t find a place to park since 27 riders were signed up for the two-hour clinic. To my surprise I was the first one there. Looking at my dash, the temperature read -10 degrees. Then I wondered if the clinic had been cancelled.
Soon two more trailers showed up for a total of five riders. Twenty-two people had cancelled due to the polar vortex, but it wasn’t cold inside Hi Circle Vee’s indoor. I thoroughly enjoyed riding in good footing and a 55-degree climate.
Normally at these clinics each rider gets two five-minute coaching sessions with the cows, but because of the low turnout, the five of us had LOTS of cow time. The first hour gave each horse plenty of time to get familiar with the cows. Then the second hour we were given an introduction to sorting cows. In our four runs, we got lots of practice guarding the hole, cutting off sneaky cows, improving our timing, adding more speed, and judging our position with the cows. Our dressage training had really paid off!
What a gas! I never imagined that this dressage rider would be working with cows until a friend encouraged me to give it a try, and now I think working with cows is one of my favorite things to do with my gaited horse.
It was the last night of my cow sorting league, and I finally got to take the my naturally gaited TWH, Makana. She’s who I had in mind when I had signed up, but she was recovering from a tick-borne illness. Of the three horses I took, Makana got into this the most. I think she enjoys the idea of having something to push around being the lowest on the pecking order!
Dressage training has really helped us maneuver our way around the sneaky cows when they quickly change directions. At the sorting league we got to ride one time with each person, and I was one of two first-timers among very seasoned riders—and the only one riding a gaited horse.
The goal is for a team of two to move ten cows in the correct sequence from one round pen to the other within 60 seconds. The center between the two pens is called the “hole.” Each cow wears a number from 1 to 0 with two blank cows in the herd. When the timer starts, the announcer picks a number for the team to begin with. As a team, we alternate guarding the hole and moving a cow from one ring to the other. If the wrong number cow sneaks through the hole before it is their turn, the team receives “no score.”
Our best run of the league was with Makana, and we moved six cows in a minute. One team moved all 10 cows in 39 seconds which was fast-paced and exhilarating to watch.
I had my hopes to break six cows when my last ride was with one of the best sorters in the league. I don’t know what was funnier, that me the rookie said to the advanced rider, “Let’s shoot to get all ten,” or that we ended up getting the fastest “no score” of the league! The “5” and “8” cows were running at me from different directions while we were manning the hole.
We’ll get you next time number 5!
Video: Gaited Dressage Sorting Cows
Dressage is more than trot and the saddle you ride in!