I spent a weekend at a cow clinic with Dave and Gwynn (Turnbull) Weaver. OMG - what fun! They are great clinicians and their clinic style is really good - since both of them are teaching, one will work with the group and the other will take aside anyone who wants/needs individual attention.
Yesterday we started with some basic lateral exercises and in my 1/1 with Dave I had some a-ha moments about bending and turning and moving the ribcage over without being too heavy in the hand and changing legs to change bend and direction. Of course that is how one is supposed to ride, right? But as with most people I go for hand before leg, or more hand than leg, and it was a really interesting and fun exercise that I'll have to add to my toolbox.
We did a little flag work before working an actual cow, and Mac didn't really think that it was a good idea to get too close to the flag. When we got to the actual cows, though, he was great! Gwynn and Dave have a "formula" for working with the cows (there was a herd of about 10 cows - yearlings maybe? - and we had to separate one from the group). Go into the herd and separate a cow (actually, I can't really describe how to do this, as we just did it without much trouble but other people got the whole herd scattered - I think it is because we picked one off of the end and others went straight into the middle), then "pitch it out" and get it away from the herd. Here's where I can start to mention the formula.
Ok, so once you've got your cow, you move with your horse being at a 45-degree angle to the cow and your horse shaped like a banana, "cupping" the cow in that hollow space. If/when the cow stops, you stop. Then when the cow starts to move again, you back up and draw the cow and load your horse's haunches, then you do a TOH to change direction (I got stuck here a couple times - you back and turn in one move but I was backing and then hesitating and then turning), and then you change the banana bend so that you are again cupping the cow. Lather, rinse, repeat. Of course it is such a dynamic exercise that it isn't that formulaic IRL, but they did stress getting down the backing and turning over working the cow. If you lose the cow, it is okay because sticking to the plan in order to learn/master it is the priority.
Yesterday we were second-to-last to go, which - despite his fussiness because he had to pee - was really good. We got to watch everyone else go first and because of where we were positioned in the rodear, we actually got to "help" the others with the cows by keeping them from running out and facing up with them and moving them forward a bit, or drawing them back if the main rider needed a little more space. It is amazing how the correct positioning of the horse keeps the cow drawn to you or allows you to keep it separated vs if you bend the other way it allows the cow to run right by you. Really cool stuff.
When it was our turn, Mac was SO GOOD!!!! He marched up to the cows like a champ, we actually separated one with little effort and were able to hold it and head it off in one direction. One direction was harder, which was not surprising given his preferred direction/typical unevenness, so we have something else to work on. Of all the things I've done in my horsey career, this is one of the most fun! Mac was really confident with the cows, not scared at all, and I think that considering it was both of our first times, we read the cows pretty well even if we couldn't perfectly execute the maneuvers.
Today I picked up on something that Dave was doing when he was demonstrating turns, so when we went off for the warm-up exercise Gwynn gave us, I asked Dave about the turns. What I observed in him was that he got a horse to turn by using the outside leg back at the haunches, not up by the elbow. When I asked him about it he said that it is because the haunches is the engine and the engine initiates movement and everything else follows. It was kind of a head-scratcher for me based on other things I've been learning, but I thought I'd give it a try and lo-and-behold! Mac had much cleaner TOH-type turns! I practiced that a few times and when I got some good turns, finished on a good note and then it was time to get to the cow work for the day.
I again positioned myself in the same spot, but it meant that again I was one of the last to go...and we didn't break for lunch...so we waited probably 3-4 hours for our turn at the cows! My knees are killing me from spending 5-7 hours in the saddle each day and between yesterday and today I lowered my stirrups, switched from my full chaps to my friend's chinks so it was a little better.
Mac was even better at the cows today than yesterday, and yesterday I was really happy with how he did. We got a cow right away, moved it appropriately away from the herd (if you move them too far away, or allow them to pull you too far away, they've suckered you into moving far enough out that you lose control), got our "draws" much improved on our turns from yesterday thanks to what I learned from Dave in the morning, and Mac really seemed to be happy to have a job to do and to work the cows. We got to finish one and let it go, have a short rest and good-boy pats, then got another one (different, squirrley, tricky little red cow!) and worked it. We got it to a point where it stopped and we could "defend the herd" and I asked if I was done and Gwynn said to do just a little more so we did and it was great fun! Mac was so amazingly good! Gwynn seemed very pleased with our work and commented that mustangs aren't particularly athletic, but if you ride them right you can do good work (paraphrasing).
It was interesting to watch the other participants, too. There were some people who had horses that were either bred for cutting or who had a history of cutting and while the "formula" was the same, you had to approach the work a little bit differently because of what the horse knows. And there were some people who had high energy who wanted to chase the cows and people who had quiet energy who got the work done slowly and methodically. I'm a visual learner, so it was great to watch all different approaches.
Now for shopping - I have new stirrups coming (should be here in a couple weeks), I'm going to buy some chinks (maybe purchase at the Buck Brannaman clinic) because full chaps in the saddle for so long makes my knees hurt, new cowboy hat (of course I do ride with my helmet on) just for the heck of it, new boots (wore them today - they are so pretty!), oh what fun!!! But you won't see me with a rope on my saddle. I just can't do that, as I don't rope and I don't want to be a poser.
If anyone has a chance to do a clinic with Dave and Gwynn, I'd recommend it highly. Their clinic schedule is on their website: http://www.thecalifornios.com/clinics.php. They are excellent horsepeople, great teachers, they are kind and patient and everyone gets lots of attention.
Someone was taking pictures yesterday - I hope I can track some of them down!