IT WAS FOR a bit of horseplay — and a chance to learn more communication skills for a specific task between horse and rider — that 11 wannabe cowgirls attended this month’s working cow clinic at Freedom Farm in Agnew.
I would have been one of them had I not awakened to snow Sunday morning.
I called instructor Mary Gallagher and told her it was “too cold for me,” asking, “Do you think anyone else will be there?”
She assured me she would still have a full clinic.
Later, I decided to venture down the hill to check it out.
Well, Mary must have thought I was crazy because the weather at Freedom Farm — a mere 15 minutes from my house — was warm and dry.
I spoke to Port Townsend resident Carolyn Griske, who was watching ringside while her niece, Hillary Billings, worked on horseback to separate a cow.
“I almost didn’t come today because I was worried about traveling in the snow, but the weather’s clear here, so I’m glad we came,” said Carolyn.
“This is so much fun,” chimed in Hillary of her first time working cows.
While some riders had prior experience, most, like Hillary, did not. It was interesting to see how well the new horses performed.
Usually, the first time a horse sees or smells a new creature, such as a cow or llama, it tends to be as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
While the students at Sunday’s clinic were all women, it’s open to male and female youths and adults.
The cow-working clinic is one of several ongoing activities offered at Freedom Farm.
Farm owners are the husband-and-wife team of Jerry Schmidt and Gallagher.
They both were there, instructing the group on ways to move and separate the cows through quieter, more relaxing methods than normally used on working ranches.
The result is less stress and commotion, which benefits both horse and cow.
On Sunday, Jerry gave the students the task of separating older calves from their mothers.
Separating calves from mothers
First, all the cows were put in the same pen.
Then, the mothers were slowly separated into an adjoining pen.
From there, each cow was separated from the herd, moved in to the larger arena, and then a chosen student slowly pushed or directed the cow to the opposite end of the arena through a small open gate that led to an open pasture of luscious green grass.
As a cow spun around on his heels in an attempt to go back to the herd, student Darcy Larson cued her horse to pivot right on his hind end to cut the cow off.
When the cow stopped in its tracks, Darcy immediately cued her horse forward to pressure the cow toward the gate.
The cow turned her head to look at the gate but stood firm.
“If the cow has its eye on the open gate, then back off to reward it,” instructed Mary.
“Otherwise, move in slowly to gently push it forward.”
She emphasized learning to be calm and relaxed and to watch for signals from the cattle.
While moving one reluctant mother out to her new pasture, one rider noted, “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Recently, Jerry spent several weeks attending cow-working clinics given by Martin Black and Joe Wolter.
Depending on local interest, Jerry hopes to have Joe, who at one time worked with renowned trainers Ray Hunt and Bill Dorrance, give a clinic at Freedom Farm in August.
I think the monthly cow clinic at Freedom Farm offers good basic skills to learn with your horse.
While professional cow cutting is usually a male-dominated sport, both men and woman are equally active in competitions like team penning and ranch sorting.
Junior rodeo and high school equestrian competitions usually include steer daubing, a less intense sport in which a rider carrying a long stick with a paint or mustard-filled dauber at the end attempts to run up alongside a steer and place a dollop inside a circle that has been drawn on the side of the animal.
For more information, visit the website at www.freedomfarms.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 360-457-4897.
■ 6 p.m. Friday — Back Country Horseman Peninsula Chapter meeting at the Clallam County Courthouse; www.pbchw.org.
■ 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday — Freedom Farm Schooling Show, 493 Spring Road, Agnew.
■ Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday — Freedom Farm Adult Workshop.
■ 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 7 — Freedom Farm Playday Game Challenge.
■ 7 p.m. Friday, April 13 — BCH Buckhorn Range meeting at Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road, Chimacum; www.olympus.net/community/buckhorn-bchw.
■ May 5 — Jefferson Equestrian Association second annual Barn Dance at the American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St. in Port Townsend. For questions or offers to help, contact Kim Hunt at email@example.com or 360-379-0507.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears every other Wednesday.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.