Learning cowboy arts on the range
Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:05 p.m.
GREENHEAD — Jay and Susan Warnock like to say their 32-acre ranch began with "a few vinyl letters on a flat-bed truck and faith."
The aptly named Hope Ranch lies at the end of a long, unpaved road, the kind that rattles motorists' teeth and keeps car mechanics in business. Cattle dot the rolling, green pastureland that flanks the couple's gray stucco house. Horses graze contentedly near the arena where a "cow working" clinic was held.
Though only 20 minutes away from the closest city, traffic and urban sprawl do not exist here. The Warnocks ranch for a living. Until their Limousin and Parthenais beef cattle herd grows large enough to pay the bills, they board, breed, break, sell and transport horses. They also offer rides in their white, horse-drawn carriage for weddings and special events, invite autistic students to learn life lessons from horses and stage training clinics.
Teaching the clinic was Ty Heth, a genuine cowboy from Bitteroot Valley, Mont. Heth, a rakishly handsome man with a thick, black mustache, cuts quite a figure in his jaunty red and white polka dot neck scarf and long-sleeved white shirt. He sports a matching buckskin leather vest and fringed chaps and red leather boots. A low-crowned, Spanish-style straw hat shields his eyes from the sun.
Astride a quarter horse the same color as his chaps and vest, Heth stood out from his students: the Warnocks, Laurie Hood of Freeport and Nicki Cain of Panama City, who also were on horseback.
In the arena with the group were 10 bulls of various sizes and colors. It was the last day of a three-day clinic on cow working, which means using horses to cut cows from a herd and for herding cattle.
After swatting his horse with a braided leather strap, Heth trotted up to the edgy herd of cows and demonstrated how the horse can control their movements. His horse's demeanor changed. Its ears laid back, and his face took on a "don't try it" expression.
"Step up to the cow you want and block," Heth instructed, angling his horse perpendicular to the herd. "Cut the cow from the herd. Now, our job is to keep this cow in and the others out."
Years of practice at working ranches and competing in competitions allow Heth to make the maneuver look easy.
"OK, Laurie. Go after cow No. 77," Heth said, referring to the yellow tag on the ear of a shaggy red cow in the middle of the herd.
Heth said he is teaching his class the old California "vaquero style" of cow working.
"Its a little classier. They were into finesse, not timing and speed," Heth said. "They dedicated their lives to cow-handling skills. We're going about everything pretty slow, how to get a position on cows, how to drive them in a quiet, slow manner."
Hood honed in on No. 77 and cut him out of the herd, but the cattle were skittish and started to scatter. Heth, Cain and the Warnocks rolled in on their horses and blocked the runaways.
"Good work!" Heth hollered. "When horses find out they can dominate cows, that's fun for them. It takes the focus off the training and keeps the horses happy and enjoying what they're doing. Pretty soon, you can focus on one cow and your horse will know what to do."
The exercises build confidence in timid horses, trains them in teamwork and helps horse and rider bond, he said.
"Thats why I'm here," Hood said. "I've been into natural horsemanship for a few years now. It's based on the movie 'The Horse Whisperer.' It's a better way to deal with horses."
Susan Warnock, who specializes in starting colts, agreed.
"You have to have good horsemanship to work with cattle," she stressed. "If you and your horse aren't working efficiently together as a team, you won't be able to complete a job."
Jay Warnock explained that he's riding a client's horse that was trained in dressage, which is based on obedience and precision of movement.
"He got nasty and started biting, rearing and kicking," Warnock said, patting the horses head. "We gave him a chance and he's turned into a nice horse. We're all learning a lot and our horses are progressing.
"We go to clinics anywhere we can go. We learn from others and share with our clients," Warnock said. "It's a journey with these horses."
Suddenly, during a break in training, the cattle mutinied and careened off in several directions.
Heth whirled around and confronted Cain.
"Did you turn your back on the cattle?" he asked.
She nodded sheepishly.
"Let's talk about that."
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