If there aren’t windmills to be checked or cows calving, there’s usually some cattle work to be done, either pairing out, moving cows to a new pasture, or gathering heifers to run through the chute for vaccinating. The colts are right there working alongside the seasoned ranch horses, doing their part in pushing the herd and working the gates.
Occasionally Brad has a colt who’s never seen a cow before, and the first time can be scary for that colt. Gathering a herd not only accustoms the young horse to the presence of cows, but also gets him to bend, flex, and move out.
A colt usually goes on to sorting from gathering, whether we hold the herd in the corner of the pasture, which is sometimes more practical, or take the cattle to the corral. Brad works on getting the colts to stop, back up, and turn over their hocks to sort a cow. Even the greenest of horses can be helpful if he is in the right place at the right time.
Brad sorts cows on a colt the same way he does everything else on a young horse, in a calm and relaxed manner that asks and rewards. It doesn’t matter if the colt misses a cow or turns a little too late. Brad can always get the cow back, but not always the colt’s mind. If the colt is rewarded for making a move in the right direction, he will try harder next time.
Asking a colt to go out around a cow that has escaped from the herd is another way to get him to line out and to bend and rate. Brad often uses this opportunity to get the colt focused and begin tracking a cow, and to become accustomed to the feel of something on the end of a rope.
During April and May we help neighbors, friends, and family brand calves. If it isn’t practical to ride to the branding, Brad trailers a load of colts to help gather, sort, and drag calves.
When a colt is moving out well and giving to the bit, Brad ropes on him in the branding corral. He takes the colt into the big round pen beforehand to swing a rope on him for the first time. If the rope bothers the colt and he tries to move away from it, Brad bends him around in small circles until he is no longer scared of the rope whizzing past his head.
Brad also drags a tire or a log around the arena so the colt can get used to the weight and feel of something dallied and dragging along behind.
Brad never drags more than four or five calves on any colt the first time. He keeps the colt in a walk in the herd, and lets him pull the calf at whatever speed he is comfortable. Brad’s Wade saddles have mule-hide horns so he can let the rope slide a little, which makes it easier for the colt to pull.
The branding corral is an excellent training tool in small doses for colts. It might be hard to quit when a colt is doing well, but that’s when Brad changes horses. It’s too easy to overdo it and get a young horse stirred up and unwilling to pull.
When Brad uses colts to doctor cows or calves, he wants them to watch the cow, to rate, and, with the more experienced colts, to hold the cow while he doctors her. Brad will not push the colt any faster than a slow lope to catch the cow. If the colt stays calm and the cow doesn’t get stirred up, Brad can always get the job done. It might take him a little longer than with an experienced ranch horse, but he achieves far more than just getting the cow doctored.
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