Working Cow Horse


Howdy watching and learning

I went to my first Iowa Ranch Horse show in May because I wanted to learn about it so that I could maybe show in Ranch Horse at the Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky in October. I had no idea what a fun journey it would be.

At the first ranch horse show in May I was impressed by how friendly the people were (even though I arrived late, had a 17h thoroughbred which is like bringing a semi to a NASCAR race, was wearing a helmet, and begged them to let me show in the boxing (beginning cutting) class which is solely for amateurs because even though I’m a pro in eventing, I certainly don’t know anything about ranch horse work and Howdy had not formally met a cow before that day.) They were sweet and let me do it and all cheered when Howdy “showed some cow” and I didn’t completely mess it up. I love these ranch horse people. They are patient and kind. They care about each other. They care about their horses. They are fair to the cattle. At the first show, at two different times a calf got confused and ran into the fence a little hard. Both riders immediately raised their hands to signify they were stopping, and just walked away from their entry fee and the points. Hella classy.

I watched other people also do it right for the rest of the day, asked a bunch of questions and was impressed at the level of training of their horses. (Those horses stand, by god; they canter from a halt no problem; they stop; they get along with other horses: their trots are real, not a jog; they tie at the trailer, and for many of them, flying lead changes come standard! Huzzah.) After the show I audited a bit of a Clinton Anderson clinic at the invitation of my friend Mary Hanson, stalked ranch horse videos on youtube and practiced a whole bunch.


“Standing nicely is what we ranch horses do.”

Howdy, my Thoroughbred Makeover horse, is level-headed, willing and clever, so we made pretty good progress. At the second ranch horse show, this weekend in Leon, we stepped it up a bit and entered real cutting (and sort of made a mess of it, mostly we quietly scattered the herd, um twice, but eventually did cut our steer from the herd and influenced it a bit). We entered ranch cutting, too, where you have to get the steer to go in the pen down yonder. In that attempt there was more stealthy herd scattering by Camie and Howdy (“stealthy” because upsetting the cattle is a “Bad dog, no cookies” move), but I did get my steer cut and was very psyched when it pretty much volunteered to go in the pen down yonder, with Howdy and I only nearby and suggesting. We are a little slow to get in position, but we got ‘er done and almost got a ribbon. Missed 8th by half a point. So close.


Waiting to enter working cow horse with the big dawgs of Ranch Horse.  We are fully aware we are posers, but he is playing it off and standing quietly like a boss.  Rock star.

Then there was Working Cow Horse. In this class you have to do a pattern and then work a cow. The pattern has “large fast circles,” “slow small circles,” sliding stops (ours were simply, um, stops), lead changes, spins (methodical turns on the haunches for Camie and Howdy) and backing “at least ten feet.” That last one we do pretty well, so I might have done 15 for good measure. After you “hesitate to complete the pattern,” they release your calf and you have to “box” him (which means influence him to turn in both directions so that you demonstrate control over the steer), then move him down the fence line and get him past the center marker and turn him back, then run down to get ahead of him to turn him again before he gets back to the original fence line (and the herd, where they want to be), then make him do a circle in both directions in the the middle of the ring – not using the fences to turn the calf. In three minutes. I had no fantasy that I was going to get that done if I had been given the whole afternoon and a leash-broke calf, but I was there for the party. I was last to go, thank the Universe, because I learned stuff I probably should have known before entering the class by watching the three ringers before me.
The announcer privately told me I was “brave” to enter the class, which made me laugh because I surmised in that moment that “brave” was probably Ranch Horse code for “greenhorn out of her element, but good luck, cowgirl.” She was very sweet about it, and made me feel good for trying.

The class was not a complete disaster and Howdy and I had a really good time. I get why people love this sport! Thank you Jay, for waiting around in the hot sun for half the day, and for videotaping. And now, for something completely different, I present our first Open Working Cow Horse class:

A few steps back


Howdy getting a treat from the cute son of our rescuers when our truck said the air filter was too dirty!  As breakdowns go, it was pretty easy.  Coasted to a Kum and Go, waited in the shade.

It occurred to me that Howdy is missing several steps in his training process, as evidenced by his tension in all gaits.  So we are taking a step back and going for relaxation first.  I am riding him a lot more often, but for 30 minutes at a time, always ending on a good note.  We do a lot of figures.  We sing along with the radio, we breathe, we chill.  He is coming along well and we are still headed for the Ranch Horse show in Leon on Saturday.

Meanwhile, he had an ophthalmic follow-up at ISU today and he has a “minor ERU flare” in that left eye.  We had all hoped it would be completely clear, but this is still not terrible news, as it is minor.  We are going to treat it with a month of doxycycline and hope we get him completely clear.

This list below came across my computer screen today and it seems especially fitting for the remedial work I am doing with all the tbs in the barn at the moment.  Bravado and Otto are here too and a little bit ahead of Howdy in their training, but still we are laying the foundations.  Chop wood, carry water.  Not a bad way to pass the time.  Thanks to Curtis and Dana for videotaping.

Bravado yesterday:

Otto recently:

Training tips from the U. S. Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship, 1936, and still holds true today: 

1. Be systematic. Before beginning work, fix in the mind a definite program of exercises for the day. Be sure that the exercises for the day are in proper relations to the work of previous days.

2. Be patient. Do not destroy the tranquility of horses by demanding a performance that is too difficult, or by demanding it too early in training.

3. Be tactful and resourceful. Take advantage of the most favorable conditions for teaching a horse a new lesson. Never try to train a fresh horse. Undertake nothing new when the horse is excited or frightened. Do not try train the horse when his attention is distracted. Do not give a new lesson to a resisting horse. Do not send the horse to the stable in the midst of resistances or with a lesson incomplete. Finish the lesson first and then send the horse away calm and tractable.

4. Be moderate. Begin with the simplest movements and exercises. These understood, proceed to the next, less simple. In the early training introduce nothing complex or difficult. Use continuously the same means to bring about the same results, thus aiding the horse’s memory. Ask little but ask it it often; it is by repetition that a horse progresses. Nevertheless, do not let a horse continuously execute a movement incorrectly or in a dull, lifeless manner. Demand attention, correctness and a carriage and action gradually increasing in style and manner, then allow a few moments of complete relaxation. Never strain the attention or tax the strength of the horse. Require no position, attitude or movement which in itself causes the horse apprehension, discomfort or pain.

5. Be observant. Do not attribute every resistance of failure of the horse to inattention or stubbornness. These are often due to ill fitting bits or saddlery, to a poor rider, to lack of condition or approaching unsoundness, to noises, unaccustomed surroundings, or even to the weather.

6. Be exacting. Do not be content with the simple tracing of the riding-hall exercises and figures. Every such exercise or riding-hall figure has for its object to teach the horse the aids and to know how to handle himself in doing so. Accordingly, before taking the first step of a movement, the horse should be placed in a position which favors the simple and natural execution of the movement. The movement will then be executed more easily and correctly.

7. Be logical. Do not confuse the means by which an end is obtained with the end itself. Practically all of the exercises and riding-hall figures are the means for which the horse is rendered easy to manage during ordinary riding. Accordingly do not use riding-hall exercises as a proof of training or routine drill movements as a means of training. The first are the means by which the horse is trained. The second constitute the test and the proof of training.

8. Be liberal. Permit the riders to ride the greater part of the time at will, or, if on the track, without regard to the distances. They then have a greater opportunity to really control and to correct the attitudes, positions and movements of their horses. It also permits the horses to assume their individual natural gaits and avoids irritation by forcing them too soon to take regulation gaits.

9. Be tenacious. Never provoke a struggle which can properly be avoided.

10. Summation. In the horses’ training, great attention should be paid, first, to their conditioning; second, to their tranquility; third, to their training, properly speaking. ANY SYSTEM OF TRAINING THAT NEGLECTS THE CONDITIONING OR WHICH DESTROYS THE TRANQUILITY OF HORSES, IS DEFECTIVE.

A tale of two weekends

Last weekend we went to the Maffitt Lake Equestrian center show and did a combined test.  Dressage was hilarious because he almost jumped out of the ring at C because the ring fence was about as high as the jumps we had been schooling earlier that morning.  There is no video of the test, which is probably a blessing to us all because there was a lot of tension, and some struggle for right lead, but we managed to get it done and it really wasn’t that bad.  So yay.

Here was my jumping warm up, in which Howdy was apparently quite impressed with the colors of the jumps because he had been jumping a bit bigger at home.

By the end of the day he had jumped four cross rail courses with only one rail.  Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but if we get him believing he is the king of jumping and that he can jump whatever is in his sights, then then there are good things ahead.

Today’s adventure was the ranch horse show in Afton, IA.  The whole point of the day was to see if Howdy would play with cows.  We spent the morning standing in the ring watching other people do cutting, which was great for him.  He stood with all the other horses and learned from them that cows are nothing to be afraid of.


This is my new friend Megan Pigott.  She’s really good at this ranch horse stuff and was really helpful and funny.  He pattern was stellar.  We thought our horses were mutt and Jeff, but I loved her horse too!  That spaceship-looking thing in the background is the Afton water tower.

Then it was our time to play!  Our pattern was a little tense, but we got it done.  Then the Universe blessed us with about the most cooperative steer of the day!

That was a pretty exciting start for us!  The people at the Ranch Horse show were super nice and they clearly all loved their horses.  Not one person scoffed at me wearing a helmet and everybody was very kind.  It was a long day, though, and Jay was a saint and I am grateful to him for his friendship and help.

Next  up is XC schooling at Catalpa Corner on this Monday, then a ranch show on June 10th.

The Way Forward


Howdy getting his check up, sans sedation.  He was such a good man it was not necessary.  Side note, do not take a picture with your camera accidently in auto flash mode in a room darkened for ophthalmic exam.  You will instantly become “that owner.”  When it was firing up to flash I was like, “Noooooooo!’  An immediate mea culpa and a promise not to do it again and I was forgiven.  Thank you good people.

Howdy’s ophthalmic exam yesterday, a follow up to his ERU diagnosis, yielded excellent results.  Everything is stable and there is no inflammation in either eye.  This is really, really good.  However, it could just be the time between bouts of uveitis.  It is too early since diagnosis to say.  But there may be some reason to believe that the gentamicin and the enrofloxacin are doing their work.

There is much to consider.
Yes, I do think about doing the cyclosporin implants, but when I first read about them, they seemed to me to not be addressing the problem, but rather the symptoms.  I thought this because the research I had read indicated that ERU is an autoimmune(AI) disease which stems from the gut.  With that in mind, the cyclosporin implants seemed to be stopping the intruders at the bedroom door rather than meeting them at the end of the driveway.  In the case of it being a systemic AI response, getting the gut stabilized would be meeting trouble at the end of the driveway.
Through further learning, it is clear to me that researchers are not in agreement regarding whether the AI response is systemic (the gut) and travels to the eye or has its genesis in the eye.  There is good research on both sides of the theory, and it may be that there are several kinds of ERU (or maybe even separate diseases that present like ERU, but that we haven’t discerned as separate yet) that have different disease courses.  If in the eye, then the cyclosporin implants would be the way to go.  If in the gut, then pre- and probiotics would seem to be indicated, as a change in the gut flora has shown to be palliative or curative in some human AI diseases.  And the problem could be in both places, of course.
I learned yesterday that Howdy’s lepto titer in his eye fluid was still discernible at a dilution of 1:1600, which implies a very high titer indeed.  He had no lepto titer in his blood serum.  This was interpreted as good news by optho vet yesterday.  I need to talk to her to find out if they are testing for the presence of the organism or the response to the organism.  My nightmare scenario would be that treating with the antibiotics does not stop the disease process because the disease is an AI over-reaction to an organism that no longer exists in the eye.  BUT, Howdy’s eyes were much improved at his exam yesterday, which may be a result of the gentamicin eye injection or, when I consider it brutally honestly, could just be a space between uveitis attacks.  This is a realistic thought, but not one that I allow to set up camp and invite its friends over to party in the center of my thought process.  “Yes, I heard you, now run along.”  There is no need to baste myself in fear.
I do not always know which way to go, but I am going forward in confidence that if I keep moving, a way will be shown to me through both science and the prayers I send up in faith and joy.
For the moment, we are going to proceed with the enrofloxacin protocol which takes a month.  During that time, I will be giving him periodic pre- and pro- biotics to support his immune system and to replace any beneficial microbial populations that may be experiencing collateral damage from the systemic antibiotic enrofloxacin (and also continue riding him and showing him cows, LOL).
It is a little unusual, but I would like to have another intra-vitreal fluid draw when he goes in for a check up in a month to see what his eye titer is at that time.  That procedure carries some risk and most people don’t do it, but I think the risk is worth the value in knowing what is going on.  We shall see what the ophthalmologists think of that plan.  Then, the best decision in how to proceed can be made at that time.
Meanwhile, his eye looks great this morning and he is out eating grass like a boss.

Western saddle, English saddle, Baytril

howdy western

So this happened.  If Howdy looks confused, he is not the only one.  Yes, we are preparing for the RRP and we intend to do eventing as our main competition, but, looking for a little experiment in the unknown, we are also entered to do Working Ranch.  Yes, with the cows and the simple reining pattern (small slow circle, big fast circle, halt from canter, back up 10 steps, rollback, yeehaw!).  And we get to “box” a cow, which means basically that you keep them on this side or that side of the arena and then move them where you want.  All of this is assuming Howdy is “cowy” which we will find out when we see some cows at the Iowa Ranch Horse Show in Afton on Saturday May 13.  We’ve already got a small group committed to go, including three with horses, and if you are in for a little adventure, join us!  Show bill:

2017_May_Afton_showbill-1.64160753Nope, I have no clue what a lot of these classes are either.  Ha!  I’m hoping they will let me be an amateur or ride HC, because I sure as heck do not want to ride with the Open riders and really draw attention to the greenster I am!

Thanks to my friend Wayne for the saddle loan.  She’s a beaut, too.  He’s a died-in-the-wool rodeo guy and asked me twice if I was sure Howdy was a TB.  He shook his head and said, “He stands awful good.”  Ha!  That’s my friend Kristen looking with a mystified expression at the breast collar.  I did the same thing.  LOL

howdy wayne kristen

Meanwhile there was this proud moment when I spotted him dozing in the barnyard doing this with his lower lip.  If he started reciting shrimp recipes, I was going to be outta there.

But when he’s not zoned out in a spring grass stupor (see expanse of green behind him that he had been munching on for hours), he looks fairly normal:


Meanwhile, the ERU saga continues.  His eye looked improved after the gentamicin eye injection (I’m still all yikes about the idea of that, but whatever, I guess that’s why I am not a vet.).  We got the results back from the eye fluid sample taken at the same time and he does indeed have leptospirosis in that eye, and maybe the other one too.  That’s bad news, but also sort of good news.  Bad news: it is there, and probably the cause of the inflammation.  Good news: It can be treated and the treatment should really help.  They warned me that the antibiotic was going to be expensive and I was thinking in the thousands of dollars for some exotic thing from Berlin or something, but it turned out to be $74 with apple flavoring and shipping, delivered to my door.  Ok, $74 is $74, but if it does what it is supposed to do, it is the best $74 I’ve spent in a long time.  Better than that, he is eating it top dressed on his feed!  I am so grateful and I intend for him to continue to eat it and for it to do its job.  He is being treated with enrofloxacin (Baytril) and it should be reaching levels in his eye today (the third day of treatment) that will kill the leptospirosis.  Send good energy for it to be so, if you would.

Other item of interest is that on Saturday we took a lesson with Vera Barisone who is a Grand Prix dressage instructor who is muy bueno at teaching riders at all levels.  She teaches at the level the rider is at in their riding in an encouraging and inspiring manner.  And she’s pretty funny with her Dutch/New Jersey accent.  (I kid you not.)  Absolutely inimitable.  In our lesson we did a lot of trot work with some good success, but it took a lot of work to get me to ride right and for Howdy to let go of some tension.  We had decent work finally in trot, and then moved on to canter.  When he cantered she was surprised at how well it went and how the connection is so easy for him and what a nice canter he has.  How lovely to hear!  And then she said, “And your homework is spelled T-R-O-T.”  Ha!

Next on the Howdy agenda is this Sunday’s MLEC schooling show which has a combined test.  We are doing BN.  Both Howdy and Bravado.  Um, hopefully.


Me, in my dreams

And I may have bought a cheap, fun hat for the Derby party at a friend’s house on Saturday afternoon.  Wheee!  Loves me some Kentucky in  spring.  And speaking of that, even though I love watching Michael Jung ride so dang beautifully, I could not be prouder and more happy for Phillip Dutton’s finish at Rolex this weekend.  You go Phil!

Howdy Goes to Burwell

Howdy camie beagle hunt

We pilgrimage to Burwell, Nebraska twice a year to pay homage at the alters of foxhunting, karaoke, cowboys and rodeo.  A strange combination to be sure, but there it is.  Howdy got to go along so that I could take him beagling on Friday.  Beagling is foxhunting’s much slower little sister.  We use “beagles” (ok, in our case various dogs who are interested in chasing rabbits) and they are easy to keep up with from horseback, so the pace for riders is much slower than foxhunting.  It is a great way to start young horses for eventual foxhunting and is a great introduction for future human foxhunters too.

Howdy got off the trailer, tied well, was polite for mounting and walked around flat-footed before the hunt.  This is not always the case with horses, so, Nice!

And for most of the beagle hunt, he was pretty good.  Managed not to buck, most of the time walked flat-footed when asked, and slowed down politely when asked. These are the hard things for foxhunters – going fast is easy.

Walking late in the hunt.  This is wonderful.  Doesn’t look like much, but it is everything for young foxhunters:

And some random shots of the hunt, including a marriage proposal between two of our hunt members!:

After we settled the horses back at the rodeo grounds, Jay and I went to Dry Creek (the tack store in town, which is nearly bigger than the grocery store) we bought a Guardsman mask for Howdy.  The Guardsman mask has a UPF of 25 which means that it lets in 1 of 25 units of the UV coming in.  That means this mask has 96% UV coverage.  I like its appearance much better than some other high-UV blocking masks too.


The next day I fox hunted with Bravado, who did really well.  In this cool helmet-cam video shot by my friend Kristen Welch, he is the tall bay with the white socks on the left in the beginning.  I dropped out of the video because I got worried about us being to close to the hounds.  I do not like scaring hounds by galloping near them with horses, let alone stepping on them.

When we got back from the hunt, I quickly tacked up Howdy to go for a hack with my friend Holly.  The footing on the sand roads is awesome for horses!


We came back and Howdy and I attempted 20 m circles in the rodeo arena.  As you can tell from our tracks, we have some consistency problems to work out, but he did really well.  We are fairly sure that we are the only ones ever to have attempted dressage in this arena, so we have that going for us.


So, enough with the dressage girl antics – we decided to take a Cowgirl Queen canter around the outside of the arena.  I would have worked on my wave, but I had to hold the camera.  The bobble in the beginning is just operator error.  Howdy was great.

And then it was time to bid a fond farewell to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo grounds!  I’ll miss the October Burwell trip because we will be doing eventing and working ranch at the RRP!


Iowa Horse Fair and Howdy’s People

So, a long time ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa I gave a demo with Fabulouso, aka Elliot, the imported Hanovarian who came into our lives through the benevolence of Susan Brigham.  Elliot is the result of a couple hundred years of German breeding and culling and he’s proof that God is benevolent.  He looks like this:

So, when asked to do a clinic, of course I took him as a demo horse.  He jumps around like the dang rock star he is, does some lead changes and basically grins at everybody like the goofy German he is.  (And as a Stockhausen/Steinke, I can say that with impunity.)  And I thought the clinic went well.


The overwhelming feedback from the crowd to the organizer was, “yeah, we know she can do that, and that’s a pretty horse, but how do we start to do that with our horses that are sweet and lovely, but not 17h warmbloods?”

Point taken.  The next year I came back with two 3 and 4 year old PMU horses and let them make every mistake in the book in jumping and showed the audience how to help the horses learn and the essential skills for staying in the tack.  The loved it.

So, at the Horse Fair 2017, I decided I was going to bring out the young tbs and teach them to jump live and in-person in the Stock Pavilion.  (Yeah, I’m not that smart, but I can be amusing to watch anyway.)

The first seminar was on Saturday at 11 a.m. and I had texted his breeder and former owner and asked him if he might come and watch.  This is the same guy who, when I told him we were doing the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover and that he could follow my blog about it, he said he didn’t have much interest.  Ok, I accepted that, but I sent the text inviting him to see Howdy at the Horse Fair anyway.  He didn’t respond, so I figured he wasn’t coming.  Ok.

So, I started the demo with Bravado


and I don’t have any pictures of Bravado’s part of the demo, which is probably a good thing.  It started out pretty ragged and that is glossing over a lot.  His heart started pounding when we entered the arena and he was seriously on his toes.  There was head-throwing, there was the occasional idea that he might just leave the arena, there was a back so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, and there was some serious sewing-machine-style trot.  I never thought he was going to buck or rear, but anything else seemed to be on the table as an option for him.  Through the grace of God and some serious cajoling, by the end of our 40 minutes he was jumping 2’6″ and making a pretty good show of it.  So that was very satisfying.  (Especially since about ten of my good foxhuting friends were in the audience ostensibly for support, but it might have been partially for the beer and the potential stories when I swear into the mic or fall of or some other such brilliant thing that could definitely have happened.  God love my friends – fun-loving free-spirits they are! )

My premise throughout the time with Bravado was that as riders, we have to lead the dance.  If the horse is nervous and we follow him and become nervous ourselves, then the horse is leading the dance.  If, however, when the horse is nervous, we purposefully relax our bodies and breathe and stay elastic in our connection, as well as give them a simple job to focus on, we can lead them to more relaxation.  Then we have led the dance.

I should say I am very grateful that the Rawhide and Dusty Show, which was right before us, ended a bit early, so I was able to snag another ten minutes in the arena for my demo, which Bravado definitely needed.

Then it was Howdy’s turn.

IMG_9459My friend Sabrina Wright brought him into the ring and he walked nearly flat-footed in, stood for mounting, let me adjust my stirrups from the tack, and pretty much aced the whole thing.  He was a little tight and very green to jumping, but with the crowd now really rolling into the Pavilion because the Parade of Breeds was next up, I’m stunned he kept it together.  This is video Sabrina kindly shot of Howdy near the end of the demo.  He had not jumped before that day.

Obviously, I was pretty pleased with that. But then an added treat was that his breeder/owner met up with us on the apron outside when we left the arena!  He came to see his ol’ boy Howdy.  Since I didn’t expect him to be there, it actually took me a minute to place him when he walked up, but then he was so obviously proud of Howdy and affectionate to him that it helped ring some bells for me.  We had a nice chat and I was glad to see him out and he was clearly glad to see Howdy do so well and be loved.

The next day a woman I did not know walked right up to me and asked me if I was Camie Stockhausen.  I almost said, “That depends,” but before I could get too funny, she said, “because I used to groom Howdy at the track and my daughters are here and could we see him?’  Well of course!  I opened the stall door and the mom threw her arms around his neck and one of the kids was hugging his leg and Howdy was grinning.


It turns out that Mr. I-don’t-have-that-much-interest  😉  had texted Howdy’s groom and said she had to come out and see him go because he couldn’t be there on Sunday.  So good.  Well, then we go to do the Sunday demo and who shows up but his track trainer too who also got a text!  It was old home week for Howdy and we all loved having them around.  I hope they all will plan to come with us to the Kentucky Horse Park on October 5-8 of this year.

I snapped this picture of his groom and his trainer leading Howdy and Bravado back to the stalls after the Sunday demo.  It was wonderful to meet them and great to have them along for the ride.  What unexpected fun!IMG_9536