If you have never had the pleasure of riding with Sonny Rice you have missed out. Stories of cutting horses, doctoring screwworms, bird dogs… the tales are endless. Chances are you know of him though if you have followed cutting at all over the years. “Grande” on the other hand you have most certainly never heard of. Yet, the champion cutter and the unknown ranch horse have something in common, a lesson Sonny taught me and one Grande new:
Let the horse make mistakes and build on those mistakes.
The application of this lesson is as endless as Sonny Rice’s stories. Too often as a horseman (one can ponder other areas of life as well) I compensate for the horse. I know how to read the cow and put him in position to win. By my knowledge and experience he looks like he is handling the cow. In reality though, the horse is dependent on me. He is taking his cues from me, not the cow. For him to be a true cow horse he himself must know how to read and handle that cow. Much of that can be learned in allowing him to lose the cow and then have to work to go catch her. This is the reason why so many ranch horses are so “cowy.” In real life on the ranch, this scenario plays out over and over. If the horse loses the cow, it’s a lot of work to get the cow back again.
Years ago, as a “green” kid I was cowboying in Montana. In my string, the worst horse I had was called Grande. One day Grande and I had a cow sorted out and had driven her a ways to a gate. Naturally, when she got there, she promptly decided she had gone far enough. She threw down on old Grande. In the blink of an eye, Grande-the-Plug underwent some miraculous transformation and came back a cow horse. I had never felt a horse move like that. He simply exploded left and right, nearly jarring me loose. Half of this was from my shock at what was going on and the other half was from my inability at the time to sit a horse that was cowing up. Despite me, Grande held that cow and I had a new found respect for him. Grande had been through the school of mistakes Sonny talked about. There was simply no way Grande was going to have to go catch her all over again. Right after I closed the gate, he reverted back to Grande-the-Plug.
Here’s the lesson, let them get beat and have to hustle way back to go get her. The relief is the cow, the work is the catching. Allow them to take responsibility for holding the cow. It seems there is no better teacher than a mistake. Thank you Sonny Rice.