When trailing cattle, Nevada rancher Ty Van Norman finds opportunities to train his horses and cows.

The scheming red heifer showed little regard for direction, breaking away from the small group of crossbred cows and the cowboys driving them north.

This being a short drive through a flat, treeless pasture, rancher Ty Van Norman saw a learning opportunity for the nonconformist heifer as well as his 3-year-old filly. Rather than simply riding to the cow’s left and pushing her back into the herd, Van Norman stepped behind and made her run in the direction she had chosen. He positioned his horse behind the heifer’s right hip, sending her in a large circle that looped to the left and eventually back to the drive.

“If I just keep pushing her back in, she’ll just keep wandering back out,” says Van Norman, who manages his family’s ranch near Tuscarora, Nevada. “But if she has to run a big circle and then come back, next time she’s going to be more inclined to stay with that herd because it’s work outside the herd.

With repetition, Van Norman’s mare learned to keep her shoulder elevated while circling the cow.

“I can dictate how far out she has to go, how fast she has to go. And the key is taking off the pressure once she’s headed back to the herd.”

After several escape attempts—each time getting forced to run in a large left circle leading back to the herd—the red heifer finally acquiesced.

Additionally, Van Norman saw a positive change in his young mare, who at first was rushing into the lope and dropping her left shoulder in the circle.

“It was a good chance to slip in there and give that young horse a purpose for picking up the left lead,” he says. “The cow gives a horse something to focus on. So I used that to get the mare started in the correct lead and to teach her to build speed gradually. If she would have taken the wrong lead, I would
have slowed her down and got her in the correct lead.

“I don’t want my horse pushing or leaning on that cow. I want her to stay where I can take hold of her and keep her shoulders up as she makes the turn.”

Using his reins and left leg, Van Norman kept the horse’s left shoulder elevated. Because the cow broke from the herd several times, he loped his horse in several large circles to the left. The repetition taught the mare to stay balanced and patient while chasing the cow.

“After several times, my horse left real soft when I asked her to pick up the lead and roll to the cow,” he says. “She stayed in my hands and wasn’t bothered by the cow because it had become routine.”

Good stockmanship and horsemanship are passions of Van Norman, who, with his wife, Ronda, manages the ranch. The operation raises cattle and native grass hay; however, its focus is the horse program, which earned the American Quarter Horse Association’s Best Remuda Award in 2001. With approximately 30 broodmares and two stallions—Peptos Playboy and Wranglers Starlight—the Van Normans raise, train and sell a large number of horses each year.

Van Norman handles many of his duties horseback, and he’s always looking for training situations. As long as he doesn’t stress the livestock, he says working cattle creates opportunities to teach a horse speed control, turnarounds, stops, how to rate a cow and other lessons.

“I don’t do a lot of training if I’m going to be on that horse all day,” he says. “Sometimes just getting through the day is about all that horse can handle. But this time, there was no brush and it was a short drive. So you’ve just got to pick your conditions.”


This article was originally published in the February 2013 issue of Western Horseman.

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