"Starlight is my horse. She’s one of two that I ride. When I first came here, I had barely been on a horse except for the odd trail ride when we were teenagers. Jim was afraid that I’d fall off or hurt myself or something so for the first couple of years I rode Foreman. Foreman is bombproof. He’s an old horse who is now more of a danger because he stumbles a lot, but he’s slow. He doesn’t get excited about anything. He has a very slow first gear and then ten different speeds of trot. He rarely canters.
But yesterday I was riding Starlight. Starlight has bad steering. She pulls to the left but has more accurate gears. She has a fast walk, a decent paced trot and will canter if she needs to go faster. Unfortunately sometimes the accelerator sticks and you can start cantering relatively slowly but end up out of control in no time if you don’t apply a little break now and then.
Mustering isn’t an exact science. Cattle, like any other animal, can be conditioned but you’ll always get a few that want to think for themselves. Even the good ones can have a bad day, be feeling sick or have simply not had enough to eat and want to do in a different direction to the one you are steering towards. When they’re feeling well, they are worse. This is especially true for young cattle.
We were mustering the weaners yesterday for a couple of reasons. The conditioning/training process needed to be started, but we also hadn’t had them in the yards for a couple of weeks and Jim wanted to count them so that we knew if any had gotten out of their allocated paddock.
Me on Starlight and Jim on Spinna (an appropriate name as it turns out), we set out from the yards heading towards the back corner of the Cow Paddock. We had all six of our dogs. The five working dogs all followed Jim and I had my loyal house dog, Jedda. Jedda is a Border Collie cross Blue Healer, a true Aussie cattle dog. Unfortunately she spent the first nine years of her life in the city and has proved completely useless in the paddock. She likes to come for the walk though.
The cattle were not all in one clump so we gathered up a few then I followed them along a fence line and Jim did some creative sweeps through the trees to collect some more. It went better than expected. The cattle that I had were happy enough to follow the fence and I had to do little to keep them there.
When Jim and I met up again we crossed a creek with our little group and followed the back fence. The idea here was to follow the fences around until we were back at the yards. Normally at this point, Jim would go and sweep the paddock again and I would follow the cattle with the creek on one side and the fence on the other, but these were weaners. If any of them decided to cross the creek again, I would not be able to get around them to push them back onto the fence. So Jim stayed with me and followed on the other side of the creek, gathering weaners that were in his words “close-handy”. As it turned out, this worked well because my little mob split in two and I couldn’t follow both.
We mustered the paddock like this twice and got most of the cattle in. I even managed to convince our oldest Kelpie dog to come with me for a short time and help keep the cattle on the fence.
Jim doesn’t use commands much when instructing his dogs. They tend to know what he wants by the tone of his voice. He has a whistle to get the dogs to the front of the herd to slow them down or “pull them up”. This I can replicate but his other commands such as “Over” which instructs the dog to push the cattle in from the sides, is more of a low gutteral growl in the back of his throat. The dogs don’t recognise when I say “over” what it is that I’m asking for. Then there is the command to stop. This is anything from a half heated “Kick your arse” to a very loud and scary “FORFUCKSAKEGETOUTOFTHEREYOUFUCKINGCUNTZORILLFUCKINGKILLYA” I can’t seem to replicate this command either for some reason. It was nice of Smoko to come with me but he didn’t really know what I wanted him to do. He kept looking back at me to say “is that okay?” Good dog.
It’s probably best that I don’t have my own dogs yet. It’s hard enough trying to get the horse to do what I want. But I’m getting better. As Jim keeps telling me, I don’t need lessons, I just need “Miles”."