Working cow horses

Posted on Jan 20, 2015

It was Lou who answered the phone when Tanner Gunn called Heartland to speak to me. Tanner was having problems with his horse, Dingman, and he wanted me to go to his ranch to see if I could figure out what was going on with him.

Honestly, I wasn’t interested.

Ever since working with the wild horses at Pike River I’ve decided to focus my efforts on horses that really need my help. And Tanner Gunn is a weekend cowboy, a rich oil guy who has the money to hire whoever he wants to work with his horse.

But… my plan didn’t factor Lou into the equation. For reasons of her own, Lou encouraged me (well, begged me really) to accept the offer to work with Tanner.

So, I reluctantly agreed to go.

When I got to Big Gunn Ranch, Tanner introduced me to Dingman who competes as a “working cow horse.” At these events, horses skillfully move cows around an arena and are judged on various things, including their accuracy and timing while completing specific moves (like riding into a herd of cattle to "cut" one cow from the herd, for example) to direct a cow in a certain pattern.

But when Tanner approached Dingman, the horse immediately bolted into the open field, clearly intent on running as far away from him as possible. Apparently, this happened regularly. The first order of business was to figure out why.

It was pretty clear from the start that the horse wasn’t the problem. He was a first-rate mover… and he had excellent cow-sense. But Tanner Gunn didn’t. Instead of trusting Dingman to do his job, Tanner tried to control and direct the horse by yanking on his reins and kicking him with spurs. No wonder Dingman ran away from him...

These two needed to build a bond...

It took some time. But eventually, after a successful join up, Tanner and Dingman slowly began to work as a team. Then, the real breakthrough came when Tanner agreed to remove his spurs and focus, instead, on keeping the reins loose and low… acting more like a silent partner… and simply letting Dingman do his job.