There is a country western song entitled “Daddy’s Hands”, and it frequently comes to mind while I am handling cattle. The chorus goes like this:
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was right…Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong…Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle, but I’ve come to understand…There was always love in Daddy’s hands.
I am a very structured and “no-nonsense” type of person. I develop priorities and goals, I set rules, and I live my life by them. My children may not always like the decisions that I make and the rules that I set, but they respect them. The boundaries are clearly defined.
I use the same philosophy with my cattle.
As a good leader, I try to make “the right thing the easy thing” when I ask my cattle to do something. This limits stress and increases the value of our communication. This does not mean that I let my cattle do whatever they choose—that would be detrimental to both my safety and the safety of the animals. I need for my cattle to do what I ask them to do.
There is a phrase that is used in Natural Horsemanship which is three simple words: “Ask…Tell…Promise…”
I begin by asking my cattle to do something—depending on the cattle and the refinement of our communication system, sometimes that ask is so light that it takes almost no pressure at all. If the ask does not receive any response, then it becomes a tell which uses more life and pressure to elicit the desired response. There are occasional times when neither the ask nor the tell gains the needed response, and then I must promise my animals that they will respond. A promise takes even more life and pressure. Cattle learn through the release (of pressure), but the pressure gains their attention and causes the movement. A good communication system is marked by consistency. Animals find comfort in good, consistent, and firm leadership (I have found that my children do also!). This allows for learning to occur.
Bill and Tom Dorrance (two of the early natural horsemen) talk about a concept of life in the body and feel in the communication between the leader and the animal. When I ask my animals to move for me, I increase the life or the energy in my own body. The cattle will feed off of this increase in life in my body and respond with an increase in energy and movement in theirs. This feedback of information and energy flowing between the leader and the animal enables a feel and a communication to develop.
This is a concept that I find absolutely fascinating. I have a friend who trains horses (and horse owners) and she named her business “Heart In Your Hand Horsemanship”. When you put your “heart in your hand”, then your leadership is sincere and comes from within. That gives your communication feel and life and makes it effective because it is on a level that a calf or a horse can understand.
It is important to remember that my cattle have the physical advantage over me. They weigh anywhere from 5 to 15 times as much as I do and can run and maneuver more quickly as well. I must be firm and consistent in my leadership— my personal safety and the safety of my animals depend on it.
Sometimes my feel is “soft”…sometimes my feel is “strong”… but it is always firm and consistent. Most importantly, my hands are filled with leadership, love, and respect.