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It’s Just Good Horsemanship: Why You Should Take Your Show Horse Cow Sorting (Really)

I have a rare case of split personality disorder when it comes to my equestrian endeavors. Prior to spending two years on the Eastern European jumper circuit, I spent two years managing a 4,500-acre ranch with 200 head of cattle. My friends on the jumper circuit almost can’t recognize me when my saddle sports a horn and my spurs jingle, and my ranching friends get a kick out of seeing me in tall boots and breeches. I can’t deny that they’re two completely different worlds with hardly any overlap, and how I ended up so deep within each separate sphere is a wild fate-bound story that I can get into another day.

Many of my horses ended up having split careers given the nature of being a showjumping cowgirl; either the Holsteiner learned to chase a heifer, or the quarter pony got savvy over fences.

For a period of time, my work on the ranch is what supported my career in the jumper ring. Managing the cattle paid for my entries, and I believe was also the reason my horses were happy to go into the show ring and perform, because, yes, I did check endless miles of fence line and rope calves on my 1.30 jumper. Many of my horses ended up having split careers given the nature of being a showjumping cowgirl; either the Holsteiner learned to chase a heifer or the quarter pony got savvy over fences. We even dabbled in western dressage once (I’ll be honest it wasn’t quite my scene), but It wasn’t uncommon to see me eventing on my quarter horse so aptly named “Where’s my Cow.”

Photo courtesy of Lauren Salas.

Often I see horses getting sour with their jobs or inflexible within their skillset having jumped the same round of eight jumps with generations of riders. Just like us, they burn out. The only difference is they don’t have the option of making a change for some fresh perspective like we do, especially with busy show schedules.

Often I see horses getting sour with their jobs or inflexible within their skillset having jumped the same round of eight jumps with generations of riders

What keeps our horses learning and sharp throughout their life is being presented with new questions. Moving a cow requires an entirely different skill set than jumping, which in turn creates new pathways for you and your horse to communicate. Sometimes issues that I have with a horse entirely disappear when presented with a new and completely foreign task, as it gives them a new channel and different context to understand what you might be asking of them.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Salas.

I encourage all of my students to expand their breadth in the saddle. If you can ride well, it doesn’t matter whether its a 15 hand quarter horse, a small pony, or a 17.2 Oldenburg; riding is entirely about feel, and there is no better way to improve your feel on a horse than by challenging yourself to speak to them in another language. This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to live a dual lifestyle (I’ll admit I’m a very active member on both sides of the English-Western bell curve), but do vary your training; do something completely different. Teach them a party trick. Set up a challenging obstacle course with poles. Hit the trail more often. Take your hunter sorting. You might even make some new friends, because at the end of the day, whether you are using a girth or a cinch to canter or lope, good horsemanship is not categorizable.

Feature photo courtesy of Thom Hill.

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