A Cattleman’s Best Friends: Cow Dogs and Ranch Horses

Curt Pate

The work of a cattleman takes a certain skill set…A skill set aimed at efficiently completing a day’s work with careful consideration of everyone involved. It’s the perfection of these skills that creates capable horses, competent cow dogs, well-trained cattle, and partnerships stronger than in any other industry.

Curt Pate, of Curt Pate Stockmanship, reminds us that we must be aware of how we handle our cattle, and not just because of how the public perceives us and consumers’ growing desire to know their beef was treated humanely, but because proper handling allows you to complete a day’s work efficiently, safely, and profitably.

Pate’s cattle handling demonstration on Cattlemen’s Day at the California Mid-State Fair 2014 reinforced his philosophy that every move you make impacts your herd. Perfecting your skills, be it sorting, roping, or turning back, will greatly increase your conditions for superior animal welfare and a profitable enterprise. He emphasized that stockmanship takes learning, thought, and practice. It is something that is not mastered overnight.

Additionally, today’s global technology provides an opportunity to seek knowledge from just about anywhere in the world in a relatively short period of time. Take advantage of this opportunity – you never know who you may learn something from. If you need a place to start, turn to your own backyard here in San Luis Obispo County with the likes of Ernest Morris. He passes on a vaquero tradition that to Pate has some of the most honorable cattle handling and horsemanship traditions around, encompassing gentle, low stress, and efficient techniques.

Cow Dogs and Ranch Horses at the California Mid-State Fair 2014

In the spirit of the cattleman, the California Mid-State Fair held Cattlemen’s Day as a way to honor what these fine ranchers do for our community. The Fair also recognized these ranchers don’t work alone.

As a cattleman begins each morning, two of his most reliable employees include his cow dog and his ranch horse. They are often his toughest employees willingly taking on the dirty and the dangerous. The Fair recognized these incredible partnerships by hosting the Cow Dog Trials and Ranch Horse Class. Both events attempted to capitalize on the skills necessary for a stockman to go to work each day and the partnerships he must create in order to successfully accomplish the tasks at hand.

Points earned at both events counted towards the Country Rodeo All-Around.

Tri-County Cow Dog Trials

Cattlemen’s Day started bright and early with the Tri-County Cow Dog Trials – a show of agility, patience, precision, and obedience.

Most of the cow dogs competing rarely see a town road much less enter a show ring, but their handlers brought them to the Fair for a shot at being called a “Champion.” Contestants were required to work with one dog from horseback completing a dog trial pattern that was announced the morning of the event.

The course was judged based on the cow dog’s ability to move the four head of cattle through the course attempting each obstacle before moving to the next stage. Obstacles included fetching the stock, pushing them through two types of chutes, penning them, pushing them through a gate, and loading them into a trailer.

Shannon Wood with cow dog Zeth, a 2.5 year old Border Collie out of Atascadero.

Shannon Wood with cow dog Zeth, a 2.5 year old Border Collie out of Atascadero.

After the initial fetch, handlers were allowed to assist their dogs, but not do the work for them. Points were given for each head of cattle the dog successfully maneuvered through each obstacle as well as additional points for good stock handling. Points were deducted for any unnecessary roughness to the livestock.

23 dogs showed their abilities and five received monies.

The Champion Cow Dog of the day was Gauge, a 3 year old Kelpie from Parkfield, California with handler Laurie Batson. Gauge comes from a long line of California Mid-State Fair winners including a two-time winning great-grandpa, two-time winning grandpa and Reserve Champion dad.

The second place award and special Rookie Cow Dog Award went to Champ, a 1 ½ year old Border Collie with handler TJ Collett.

Third place went to Flip from Paso Robles with handler Seth Scribner. Scribner says Flip also answers to Flippity-Jippity and is approximately 4 years old.

Fourth place went to Sparky, a 4 year old Border Collie cross from Atascadero with handler Robbie Richardson.

Fifth place went to Pepper, a 4 year old Border Collie/McNab cross off the Wasna Ranch with handler Randy Campbell.

Tri-County Ranch Horse Class

Cattlemen’s Day continued with the Ranch Horse Class which demonstrated a combination of horsemanship and cattle working skills that would be present on a working cattle ranch.

Judge Bonnie Johnson evaluated each horse and rider’s ability to complete a reining and horsemanship pattern and exhibit proficient cow work. Horses and riders received points for accomplishing such tasks as opening and closing gates, run downs, stops, turns and backing with precision. The rider had to dismount, drop his horse’s bit, put the bit back on, walk around his horse and remount showing the horse’s ability to be patient and willing to be handled.

Cathie Twisselman riding Zeva who came in 3rd in the Non-Pro.

Cathie Twisselman riding Zeva who came in 3rd in the Non-Pro.

During the cattle working portion, horses and riders were required to box a steer, take him down the fence turning at least once in each direction and then pen the steer. Finally, the steer was released and the rider roped and steer stopped him.

Generally only credits were given to the horse, but penalties were given for any horse that went off course during the rein work or if a rider missed one or both allowed loops during the steer stopping portion of the cow work.

21 competent horses and riders competed in two separate classes. It was possible to qualify for both classes.

The Open Class was won by One Big Time ridden by Rick Machado with a 225 ½.

Second place was awarded to Hightower ridden by Robbie Richardson (221 ½).

Third place went to Sierra ridden by Tom Twisselman (220 ½).

Fourth place went to Leo ridden by Elizabeth Shadle (216).

Fifth place went to Bullet ridden by Cathie Twisselman (215).

The Non-Pro Class was won by Sierra ridden by Tom Twisselman with a 227 ½.

Second place was awarded to Leroy ridden by Rick Machado (226).

Third place went to Zeva ridden by Cathie Twisselman (225).

Fourth place went to High Paddy O’Lena ridden by Mike Estrada (220).

Fifth place went to Starlight Pepto ridden by Gordon Hayes (219 ½).

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I follow my passion for learning something new every day and aim to kindly share my knowledge and experiences in hopes to benefit and inspire the people I touch with my writing.

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