My horse and I are homebodies, and we're dressage curmudgeons, so we don't really get out much. We trail ride a lot (we're blessed with many on-site trails) and fritter our time away on "the dress-age", but we take opportunities to try new things when we can. It's a much needed mental break, as well as a reminder of how game my horse is to take on new challenges.
I'd been wanting to try team penning for over a year, and I just recently achieved that goal. A local farm hosts regular practices where everyone is welcome. They provide the cows, the arena, a very welcoming and educational atmosphere, and they even feed you once practice is over. I'd been to one of their practices as a tag-along, with some friends of mine, but this was my first chance to take my horse along for the ride. Thanks to a lovely, accommodating friend of mine, we were able to experience team penning for the first time.
We unloaded, and she settled in pretty quickly. Aside from being filthy (she likes to break out in a full anxiety sweat in the trailer, and she always pees and splashes it all over herself for some reason) she looked right at home, at least until I saddled her up with her English tack (oh, the dress-age). She is a small Paint mare, slightly over 14 hands, and she has a big horse body, massive front end, and short little sickle-hocked legs. She is built like a cutting horse, but the dress-age is more therapeutic for her weak hind end than tearing around after cattle would be. Still, I was eager to see how she would take to cows. Would she be nervous? Would she be indifferent? Or would she be crazy into it, so much so that I would go flying right out of my English saddle? I took her over to meet the cows through the fence, and she took a good look but then ate grass and even sniffed noses with one cow.
Being newbies, we were allowed some time to acclimate to the cattle. Sofie was quite happy to follow them around, and I showed her that she could push them and move them around. She seemed to think that was fun, so we waited until our turn came to try it for real.
Sofie, it turned out, loved getting back to her roots. While she was slow as molasses (a by-product of my slowing her down for the dress-age and working on her tendency to rush, and also, she has some old hind end injuries that could flare up if I rode her too hard) she was interested, willing and able to work the cows. She quickly got the idea down, and I could tell she enjoyed being with the other horses and coming into the arena to work. I hogged the lead position, as I like getting physical with the cattle and working to separate the right one from the herd. We had a few minor snafus caused by me trying to be in too many places at once (my horse and I share this tendency to try way too hard and make a big mess in the process), and a few difficulties with a stubborn cow (again, our dress-age was a liability when we needed more gas and didn't have it), but we were learning and having fun. Her maturity, willingness and enthusiasm showed me how much she has grown in the six years I've had her. I know I am a much more confident rider too (case in point: hogging the lead position).
At any rate, we had a blast and can't wait to go back for more.