As many of you know, I have really wanted to learn how to do ranch sorting, and since I have Melody, cow horse extraordinaire, I have been diligently searching for a place to practice and learn, without having to drive a long ways OR end up being made to feel like loser for my lack of skill.
That was not as easy of a task as it may sound. While I could always take her down to the place I bought her from because they have practice every Wed night, it is over an hour drive, which has me getting home really late, plus uses up an awful lot of fuel if I go regularly. On the up side, they are very patient with me, and know my horse so were able to give good instruction.
I had a place to go in our neighborhood, but the cows were roping cows and very aggressive and the last time we tried that, Melly got bonked in the nose very hard with a sharp horn. Sorting like that teaches both the cows and the horses bad habits. It is counter productive.
There is an arena in Apache Junction which has weekly sorting, the price is fair, but they are also roping cows, and it is run just like a competition. You get your 60 seconds and then you are done, so for a beginner like me, I don't really learn much.
There is a place in Coolidge which has practice every weekday morning. I called and asked which day was best for total novices to come and was basically told that there is not a good day for that. The pros sort there, and really don't want folks like us getting in their way.
Heidi started out as a client of mine. She bought a saddle, returned the saddle because she was told it fit her horse but not her, and then came back and repurchased the same saddle because she decided to trust what her body told her instead of what someone else told her. She loved the saddle and felt very comfortable in it. Then she brought me her old saddle to sell.
In the process of all this, she was looking for a place to board, and while I really wanted to accommodate her, I just didn't have an opening at this time. We talked about sorting and Stock Horse, and Ranch Versatility. All things she wants to get into, but she is a beginner just like me.
She ended up boarding right around the corner from me, and so we have been spending just a little saddle time together and trying desperately to come up with a place to practice and learn at a beginners level. Well Heidi, is much more diligent than I am because she found some folks right in our neighborhood, that I did not even know about, who sort, and they have the cattle, AND best of all are more than willing to allow us novices to come and practice at their place for a small fee.
So last night was our first night.
I rode Melly over, she spooked at everything. The mail boxes, the painted lines on the road, the same dumpster she spooked at on Monday...pretty much everything. Goofy horse.
As we rode up in the yard the gal who owns the property, and who would giving us the benefit of her experience, asked if my horse had ever seen cattle before. I explained that she is a reined cow horse and has seen plenty.
She said, "I think you misunderstood...I asked if she had ever seen a camel before." and indicated to the pens at the right.
"Oh Shit! Nope! I'm pretty sure she never has."
Apparently camels are not near as scary as dumpsters or lines spray painted on the road. She never even gave it a second glance.
I warmed up my horse and then we got down to business. The gal, "L" pulled out one cow and gave us each a chance to see how our horse reacted to the cow. Heidi's horse did very well. Then it was my turn.
I did something I have never done before. I rode my horse in, sat down in my seat, dropped my hand and asked her to do her thing. Without any guidance from me, she held that cow for a good 60 seconds. Back and forth she went, and I just held on and trusted my horse. I tried to keep myself centered to keep her from losing her balance, tried to focus on my riding position, and tried to stay out of her way. She was having a blast and so was I. Then I shut her down, and she stood there quietly, quite proud of herself.
I was pretty proud of her too.
The rest of the night was spent slowly learning how to read a cow, how to split the cows out of the group, how to work with each other, and all the other cool things a person needs to know to be successful at this.
When Heidi's horse got to hot and reared up on her, we slowed down even more, finished the round and then she took some time to lope her horse out and reset her mind. We sorted one more very successful round after that and stopped on a good note.
It was fabulous. I learned so much, and had the best time without the pressure of trying to keep up with people who are far more advanced than me. There was not clock to stress us out, and no one standing out side with the heavy sighs clearly saying, " I wish these novices would get out of our way and quit wearing the cattle down."
Afterwards I rode my horse home in the dark. She was tired enough to not really spook, just to look sideways at things. It was a great night and I cannot WAIT to go back again next week.
Eventually I would like to Trax to see how he does....aaaaaand to show him a camel (that will probably be a blog post in itself!) but for now Princess Mellypalousa is earning her keep again as a sorter. I am learning to trust my horse and keep my hands out of her face, and learning how to read a cow.