Category Archives: Natural Horsemanship

Making Memories in ‘God’s Country’…

Every summer for the past four years, my favorite cowgirl/chef and I have taken our horses north to the Nebraska Sandhills for a long weekend of riding.  I laugh that those few days allow me to search for peace and quiet amidst the relative chaos of my everyday life…

There exists a quiet beauty in the Nebraska Sandhills that soothes my soul...

There exists a quiet beauty in the Nebraska Sandhills that soothes my soul…

Megan was 8 years old when we visited the first time, and our annual trip has become something that she looks forward to each year.  We travel up to the Lake Calamus area located near Burwell, Nebraska and stay with Sherry Jarvis at Heart In Your Hand Horsemanship.  I met Sherry about six years ago and find her to be a woman of tremendous natural horse savvy.

Sherry has become a great mentor to Megan...

Sherry is a great mentor to Megan…

I would like to share my favorite pictures from our three days in the SandHills.  Hopefully they will provide a visual picture of our great weekend!

My little cowgirl loves her horse--they make great partners!

My little cowgirl loves her horse–they make great partners!

Megan also has a very special friend who (along with her grandma) meets us for our days of riding...

Megan also has a very special friend who (along with her grandma) meets us for our days of riding…

I love to watch her develop great communication and feel with her horse.  This builds confidence and focus that will help her all throughout her life...

I love to watch Meg develop great communication and feel with her horse. This builds confidence and focus that will help her all throughout her life…

The beauty that

The beauty that they find together on those hills teaches her to respect the land and work hard to care for it…

My favorite quarter horse and I cooling off with a swim in the lake...

Cooling off in the lake…I had never ‘swum’ while on horseback before.  Dandy doesn’t quite share my All American Swimmer status but he did a pretty good job…

The wild flowers were just starting to bloom...

The wild flowers were just starting to bloom…

The river was also gorgeous...

The river was also gorgeous…

It's always good to have a cowgirl with just a little bit of attitude :)

It’s always good to have a cowgirl with just a little bit of attitude :), along with—

no apparent need to keep her boots on...

no apparent need to keep her boots on…

I hope that each one of you has something special which soothes your soul and renews your faith. 

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It’s Not About the Trailer…

When I bought my quarter horse (Dandy) from Mike Coffman in the spring of 2005, I realized the childhood dream of being a real horse owner.  While I had a couple of work horses at the feed yard, their care was primarily provided by my cowboy and I only rode them sporadically.

He full-filled a dream…

To have my own horse in my own backyard fulfilled a very special and personal dream.  Dandy was a coming four year old when I bought him from Mike.  Lucky for me, God made him a big, gentle creature and we have spent the last seven years learning from each other.

Dandy taught me a lot about communication, feel and intent.  He taught me to be a strong yet compassionate leader.  He taught me that slow and steady is always true, and to never take anything for granted.

Most importantly, he taught me that “It’s not about the trailer”…

One day, a couple of months after I brought him home from Mike’s ranch, I wanted to load him on my horse trailer and take him down to our grass pasture to ride.  I had trouble that day loading him on the trailer.  I got frustrated with myself, I got frustrated with him, and it was not a good experience for either one of us.

In the months that followed, I learned that the more time and effort that I invested into our relationship—the clearer our communication became and the easier it was to get him to be my partner.  You see, that day early on in our relationship, it wasn’t about the trailer—it was about the lack of trust and lack of good communication that made loading him challenging.

Today, it only takes the pointing of my finger and the lifting of the lead rope for Dandy to happily load into the trailer.  In fact, I move him from pasture to pasture around my house with that same point of the finger.  Sometimes it seems as though he reads my mind and offers what I desire almost before I ask for it.  Conversely, I can also provide what he needs and desires at critical times in our partnership —that is the power of a relationship that is based on trust.

What used to challenge us is now easy because I took the time to lay a good foundation and invest in the relationship…

As a blogger and a beef farmer that believes in transparency, I am often asked by other cattlemen how we can reach out to our customers that live far away from the farm to explain ranching practices or products that are used to raise beef.  There is no simple answer because I believe that it is not about the ranching practice or the animal health product any more than my problems loading my young horse were about the trailer.

I do not have a job without someone who wants to purchase my beef…

It is, quite simply, about the relationship between the farmer/rancher and the customer.  Is this relationship based on trust and truth?  Or is it riddled with distrust and inaccuracies?  In short, it is about whether you trust me to offer good care to my animals and use the resources on my farm in the best way.  Equally important, it is also about whether I trust you and value your questions and concerns regarding the way that your beef is raised.

I believe that I offer good care to them, but I need to be open to explaining that care to those that are interested…

It is not about the antibiotic, the growth hormone, the beta agonist, or the feed yard…

It is rather about the quality of our relationship and our ability to have a respectful conversation about all of the things that are listed above.

  •  Can we empathize and have compassion for each other?
  • Can we trust that each one of us can learn from each other and do our own special part to work for the betterment of our country?

    My dream gets better with each day that passes…

I think that we will find that our lives are enriched by the knowledge that we can share with each other, just as my beloved quarter horse has enriched my life and taught me that the best communication skills are the ones that are based on love and respect…

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Becoming a Believer…

I have a quote down at the very bottom of the home page from football player Drew Brees’ book, Coming Back StrongerWhen I read Drew’s book a couple of years ago, it just plain spoke to me.  In fact, I have many pages of notes where I copied down quotes that I loved from the book.  The one below is my favorite…

“Believing—there are several layers to it. There’s the surface-level type of believing, where you acknowledge that something is true. Then there is a deeper kind of belief–the type that gets inside of you and actually changes you. It’s the kind of belief that changes your behavior, your attitude, and your outlook on life, and the people around you can’t help but notice.”

I am a person of very strong beliefs and faith.  I have always been strong-willed, but the confidence that I have attained as an adult stems from the development of personal beliefs and faith.  My life is centered around love, empathy and hard work because I believe that is what allows me to use my talents to achieve greatness.

I work tenaciously as a parent to teach my girls to be believers

Although there are many different people that have served as mentors for me over the years, learning to be a caregiver for animals has inspired in me a deep level of believing that transcends everything else.  Figuring out what an animal needs and then working tenaciously to provide those needs brings me an inner confidence and a sense of peace.

Both of these animals are actively engaged with me and asking me for guidance…

As I watch my cattle thrive and grow, and then trace their performance all of the way to my own dinner plate I become even more of a believer. I am left with a sense of purpose, and inspired to work harder with each day that passes.  My love for animals is diversified and runs deep. I am happiest when I am surrounded by them.

On top of my trusty equine partner and surrounded by cattle…

My daughter, Megan, and I spent a couple of days recently in the Sandhills of Nebraska.  My husband laughs that even when I go on vacation, I take some of my animals with me.  Megan and I joined some friends at “horse camp” riding and learning how to be better communicators with our equine partners.

Megan (right) practicing her “Miss America” wave while sitting side-saddle on her horse.  She is joined by her two friends and their favorite equines…

My favorite part of the trip was watching my daughter in her own journey to becoming a believer.  Our animals not only teach her a sense of personal responsibility as she learns to provide for them and understand them, but living her dream with them also brings a sense of innate self-confidence.

The above picture makes my heart swell.  The absolute joy and personal pride in her expression is priceless to me as a parent.  At the very moment that I took the picture, Megan became a believer.  She realized what it meant to be a partner to her horse and they achieved a unique harmony that only a lucky few will ever feel.

She caught a glimpse of how wonderful it feels to use empathy and feel to successfully and unselfishly communicate.  Going forward, she will view the world differently—with a sense of confidence and understanding that enables her to successfully use the gifts with which she is blessed.

Is there a pivotal moment in your own life that caused you to become a believer?

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Filed under Family, General, Natural Horsemanship

Horses…

Dandy and I have learned a lot from each other over the past six and a half years…

One of the most important things that I have learned from Dandy is that sometimes you just have to:

Stop...

Drop...

and Roll...

Followed by a shake, a lick, a chew, and of course, a short nap...

We all need to find a way to” let it go” and to relax…

Refueling and reinvigorating helps to keep the balance in your life and the spring in your step!

Happy Thursday…



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Focus…Feel…Communication

Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!

 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle-Calf #718, General, Natural Horsemanship

Hands that care…

Between Archie's and my hands there is 80 years of caring for cattle...

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.

One of the most important things that I will teach my girls is to have love and respect in their 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.

Archie will Ask, Tell or Promise these calves to move into the processing area---depending on how the calves respond...

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.

Megan and I taking a break after loping (cantering) our horses in the pasture. Megan is learning how to use her life, focus, and feel to subltly communicate with her horse.

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.

This is one of Calf #718's herdmates and he weighed over 1400# when he was shipped to harvest...

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.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle-Calf #718, General, Natural Horsemanship