Playin' Cowgirl ©

If I was any good with lyrics, I'd write a song whose theme was “hindquarters, hindquarters, hindquarters”. The moral of the story would have to say something about how all those molehill issues can quickly become mountain-type issues.

And maybe I'd add something about REAL attentiveness in our horses.

Why? Because I recently had the pleasure … the frustration … the joy … and the angst of helping a friend gather up a herd of cows.

And, hey, using the word “helping” is beyond understatement!

I showed up at the appointed hour with the required horse. I was asked to bring a horse that would not be spooked by any of the following: other horses, cows, mules, donkeys, pigs, trees, high brush, water, tractors, or assorted debris. Having been with horses for a few years now, I only replied that I did, in fact, have a horse that did not typically shy at those things but I made no promises for what THAT day would bring. (Experienced horsepeople know that equines were put on earth to keep us humans humble.)

My exposure to cows has been slightly more extensive than the childhood drive-by when my father not-very-slyly “moooooo-ed” for us giggling kids in the car and juuuusst enough to have observed that racing after them dogies might look like great fun but probably wasn't the most efficient method of gathering a herd.

As expected, the second part of my vast “cow experience” was the most helpful. In fact, I believe it is what solicited my first bit of feedback from my friend/host/teacher: “At least you know enough to do NOTHING if you are not sure what to do”.

Hmmmm. This kind of comment causes one to stop, roll the eyes up to the side, and think reaaaal hard about whether that was one of those backhanded kind of compliments. Or, it makes you squinch your eyes up and hunker down more in your saddle. Being the overachiever type, I wanted to cover all the options so, I managed both responses.

Now, if you ever have any inkling that you, too, would like to play cowgirl (or cowboy) and “help” gather up some cows with a friend, you first need to ask yourself if this kindly person who offers to show you around is really a friend. If they are … you might want to reconsider using them as your victim, er, teacher. I mean, if you want to KEEP them as your friend.

I was full of motivation, that's for sure, and I was intent on listening and staying out of the way. I had decided ahead of time that I would do whatever was requested and ask questions afterward. What a lesson in self-control. Can you imagine?!

My poor friend/host/teacher had to have an inhuman amount of patience! And, I'm pretty sure I saw a bloody dent on his tongue when we stopped to eat lunch.

Alright, alright, back to the scene of the crime.

It is helpful if you can see the layout of the land first and have some idea of where the cows are and where they will be going. Better yet, find out where they TEND to go if they wander off - and they WILL wander! And, if you are REALLY smart, you will ask if there are any cows who are especially savvy to the ways of the roundup. Even the most naïve person can guess why THAT criterion is included. Ahem.

Well, I got a general description of the plan for the day and got to see the corral where we would put the herd. We rode out across some big fields on a gorgeous sunny day and finally found some cows at … but of course … the farthest corner of the farthest pasture. We brought them up, at a walk, to a smaller pasture that was adjacent to the area where the corral pen sits.

There's a creek and some trees and, come to find out, my friend/host/teacher was fond of posting himself at a special corner of this area. It seems it's particularly helpful in the pre-penning phase. Me? I don't know this at the time and I am worried about the cows on the left striding off up the hill … and, now, oh no! … the cows on the right wandering behind some run-down storage building.

(Note opportunity to use “turn on the haunches” while waffling back and forth to keep an eye on every … single … cow!)

“Boss” says to push them through the gate. I look and look. I stand on my toes in the saddle. I search the barbed wire. I don't see no stinkin' gate! In the ten seconds it took me to wander my eyes around the area, those cows found their own way through and … more through and … just continued right on. PAST that corral, of course. And … out into the big wide world of the rest of the farm. (I think it was at this point that I got that backhanded compliment thing.)

Fortunately, we were not on a rushed timetable and, like I said, it's a sunny day so my “boss” isn't too upset with me. How bad can it be? We get to ride out and come in behind them again. We're riding along the shore of the river and … it's awfully nice. I could do this, I'm thinking, I could do this a lot!

And then, we get back to the creek and corral area and we start again. Deep breath, wiggle deeper into the saddle. I'm determined to “do the right thing” and redeem myself in some way.

So, this time, I get those heifers and calves into that little corner of the creekbed and I'm holdin' them good. (Note that this is no time to feel smug.) Remember that item I mentioned about how helpful it would be to ask if there are any “roundup savvy” bovines? Uh huh. Well, it seems that horses may not be the only critters put here to keep us humble. There were two smartypants that smirked at me. (I SAW them do it!). They calmly ambled around the back of the barn that is attached to (you guessed it) that corral. Free again, free again. Sigh.

By this time, we have about two-thirds of our intended herd in the corral and I am full up with questions that finally get addressed. Let me share a few more hints with you:

  • Get the ones you can, go back for the others later;
  • Don't focus on just one cow when they are bunched up, look at them as a group and move them as a group;
  • Just like with horses, you ain't got nuthin' if they ain't movin' their feet so, keep them going;
  • If they're eatin' grass, they ain't listenin' to you!
Now, other than knowing the herd and using that to your advantage, your biggest tool is your horse so let me say a few words about that. Anyone who thinks they have a soft and responsive horse … a horse that is tuned in to their cues and thoughts … a horse that really knows how to get on his hindend … who can make smooth transitions … well, I invite you … (English, Western, performance, trail, whatever) … I challenge you … I encourage you to go on a round up and see just what it is you have … or don't have … with your equine companion! Ha. You'll be singin' my song with me! How does that go?

Hindquarters, hindquarters
Where do you be?
Horsey, horsey,
What do you see?
Gone, gone,
my hind is now my fore;
I flit, I float,
I see YOU no more!

Rounding up cows brings a LOT of stimulus for both you AND your horse. That's important to remember. Not for an excuse, but it helps with patience and perspective while you repeatedly bring your horse back to you, back to you, back to you. And, lemme tell ya, within one hour you will clearly know the following: if you are, in fact, sitting correctly in your saddle … if your horse is crooked … and, if your horse really knows how to lead, follow a feel, and be “with you”.

In spite of all my “help”, I consider the whole day a success. I had a good time, my friend is still talking to me, neither of us fell off or got hurt in any way, and the cows did eventually get into that corral. I even managed … once or twice on purpose … and a few times by accident … to actually be of real help.

Hindquarters, hindquarters where do you be? Horsey, horsey, what do you see? Gone, gone, my hind is now my fore; I flit, I float, I see YOU no more.

Linda Bertani -- 2003