If you're a member of our new Horse&Rider OnDemand video streaming platform, chances are you've probably seen me featured in a few of the videos from our latest video shoot. While I've been an admirer of cow horses for several years now, this was the first time I ever had the chance to ride a working cow horse.
When I pitched the idea of doing a lesson with Brad, Bill and Janiejill Tointon of Diamond Double T Ranch were kind enough to offer up their property for us to use. That would have been enough to have a great day, but then I found out I'd be spending the day riding their prized stud, Shining Lil Nic. I'm not sure I could find a better horse to learn from!
Here are five things I took away after my one-on-one lesson with Brad Barkemeyer.
1. Stop sitting pretty. I come from the AQHA all-around world where perfect posture is a huge part of events like horsemanship and showmanship, and my whole riding career has revolved around trying to sit up and tall and keep my elbows to my sides. When it came time to work a cow, the first thing that went out the door was trying to sit like I was in a horsemanship class. It takes a lower center of gravity to make sure you stay with your horse when there's a cow in the picture.
2. Adjust your stirrups. I've always ridden with a longer stirrup for the all-around stuff. However, I learned really fast that with a longer stirrup you risk losing your stirrups when it comes to working a cow, which is why Brad suggested I adjust my stirrups to keep me in an athletic riding position. (You can learn more about stirrup adjustments for working cow horse events here.)
3. Keep your eye on the cow. A lot can go wrong when you don't keep your eye on the cow, but the main thing is, you can't read a cow if you're not looking at it. I caught myself going into all-around mode looking ahead at where I was riding, and not paying attention to what my cow was doing.
4. Holding the horn is OK. Throughout my career I've been told to avoid touching the horn—as it's a penalty, or disqualification, in certain events. However, when it comes to working a cow, holding the horn allowed me to stay centered in my saddle when it came to quick movements.
5. Getting out of your comfort zone is fun. I've been riding my whole life, and started showing 20 years ago. I had become extremely comfortable riding and showing all-around horses, and even found myself starting to get bored with it.
Before this lesson I hadn't been around cattle in probably 20 years. (And even then, I was only around them when I would visit my grandparents' house.) I was extremely nervous about getting out of my comfort zone; I was used to doing well in the all-around arena and didn't want to embarrass myself on a horse when trying a new event. I learned within the first 10 minutes that it's OK to not know what you're doing and it can actually be quite great to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.