While sometimes frustrating, I peruse through a lot of articles and videos on stockmanship, not for the education as much as trying to figure out how to describe things I do different. In doing so I came across a statement by one of the better known low stress stockmanship instructors which set off the old light bulb.
"Cattle don’t perceive there is or will be a release of pressure. Or pressure is coming from multiple spots around them at the same time."
We are so busy figuring out when to apply or release pressure that we don't recognize that cattle are continually looking for the release of pressure, and when they don't recognize it, react to us in ways we consider "wrong." To this (and in response to "pressure is coming from multiple spots around them" ) we need to add There are times we are placing pressures on cattle without realizing it.
We seldom acknowledge the fact we are neither solely a predator or solely a prey animal. This becomes a problem when we are working cattle because (no matter how much we try not to) we focus on what reactions cattle should have from the point of a predator, and not a prey animal. As such we don't recognize behaviors such as quitting the herd or refusing to go through a gate as the animal responding to too much pressure and recognizing where the release from pressure is.
Our reaction is that we need to get ahead of them to "get their eye" and put enough pressure on them to turn or stop them. We forget that the general rule of cattle slowing down when we are going in the same direction only works if and when our position isn't in the predatory mode of pursuing prey.
When it comes down to it, humans react much the same way. We react to having too much pressure in a variety of ways. This can vary from being indecisive, to becoming agitated and angry, to freezing up like a deer in the headlights. Just like a cow, our prey instincts kick in and we try to get away from it in various ways. We may freeze like a deer in the headlights, or we may be like a bull on the fight and go on the attack...or we may be like the cow in the gate and just leave.
This tendency to looking for a release from pressure is why stockmanship methods using indirect pressure works so well. For instance, when trying to force a cow out of the feed pen and into the alley, the cow is concentrated on the source of pressure while thinking the release is where you picked it up from. As such it doesn't recognize the gate as the point of release, and keeps fighting to get back to it's safe place. By relieving pressure towards the gate and riding away from it, you have shifted your pressure towards her perceived point of release which shifts her into looking for a new point of release, which just happens to be the gate.
Once you begin to recognize how cattle perceive the your (or your horse's) body angle in relationship to your approach, you will be able to have cattle seeking the place you want them to go as their "point of release." We are able to take this to the degree of rebooting herd instinct, not because we are forcing the issue, but because the relief of stress creates the herd as their point of release.
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