Point your horse towards cattle and they move away--the fundamental principle of herding.
I've been slowly chipping away at War & Peace for a few months now. It's slow going, especially when you're so tired at the end of the day that you can only read a few pages before falling asleep. But this week I made it to the part describing the Battle of Borodino between the Napoleonic and Russian armies, and I must say, I was struck by some of the similarities between Tolstoy's characterization of battle and what we do when we move a herd of cattle.
On average, we move cattle two or three times a week, and it can take anywhere from just a few hours to an entire day, depending on the size of the pasture we are gathering, how many people are riding, and above all else, whether the cows want to move or not.
We enter the pasture with a general battle plan. We know the lay of the land and have some vague ideas about where the majority of the herd might be hanging out (ie. around a water tank), so everyone is assigned a position accordingly. Each rider is then responsible for a specific channel of land and will pick up all the cattle in that swath as we sweep from one end of the pasture to the other and push them through a gate in the fence into another pasture. Being herd animals, the cows tend to gather together and move as a unit once you begin to put some pressure on them, so the goal is generally to collect disparate groups and gradually mass them together into a single herd.
Tom, one of the apprentices, giving instructions at one of our pre-move meetings. He draws a map of the pasture in the dirt, shows us where the gates, water tanks and relevant geographical features are, and lays out a general trajectory of everyone's positions.
But of course, no one really, truly knows what's going to happen until we get moving and begin the engagement. It's impossible to foresee the exact position of the enemy encampments or what their fighting spirit will be like on a particular day. Perhaps they have no problem being herded, in which case we might just have a fairly leisurely ride, but if they're not willing and want to resist, our job becomes infinitely more difficult. (The whole operation hinges on the cattle's herd mentality. If they didn't want to stay together and weren't skittish of humans and horses, we wouldn't be able to move them at all. If only they knew what they were really capable of...) So, just as in true warfare, you have to be ready to adjust your commander's plan depending on what you encounter, and it can get quite chaotic as a result, with people yelling, cantering all over the place, trying to coordinate the manipulation of an enormous herd of animals into doing what you want them to.
Just like working with horses, working with cattle is a matter of energy. Their energy will mirror you and your horse's energy, so to get them moving and to build some momentum in the desired direction of travel, you have to expend a lot of energy. This includes both motion (trotting or loping towards them) and sound (yelling, slapping your leg, generally just making loud noises). I wind up with huge bruises on my thighs from just slapping myself...
Duke Sr. says he doesn't carry a gun when he rides a move because he would wind up killing half the herd... For my part, I can tell you that I do feel like pummeling some of the cows when they're being uncooperative, even though I have no hard feelings towards them on a normal day. I actually quite like them. The battle environment makes would-be friends into bitter enemies. And while I can't remember ever having really yelled at a human (I think most of you would agree that I'm generally a pretty calm, easygoing person), I have no problem letting loose on those cows in a way that surprises even myself. You all would be embarrassed to hear the language that comes out of my mouth...
But sometimes the animals do come out on top. This week I experienced my first failed move, in which we had to abandon our mission objective because the sun was setting and we weren't making any headway. The cattle won that battle and got to stay put, for the time being... This attempted move was particularly difficult because we were understaffed this week, so three of us were trying to do a job better suited for six. By the end my horse Jake was so tired that I couldn't get him to take one more step (for good reason--he had worked as hard as could have been expected of him). He didn't care how hard I was digging my spurs into him, he could tell our attempts were becoming futile and was as fed up with the stubborn cattle as I was. That was the closest I've come to crying as a result of this job. Pure frustration.
But at the end of a move, as we're trailing the very last cattle through the gate after a difficult move, I end up laughing. Partly in relief, I think, partly at the absurdity of how a bunch of cows can get me so emotional and riled up by doing, essentially, nothing... Once the heat of the battle has subsided, the ridiculousness of what just happened can be incredibly amusing (assuming no one in either army was actually physically harmed). I mean, calling a cow an asshole--how silly. But at the time I really, really meant it. They don't do anything inherently blameworthy--we just get upset because they don't conform to some expectation we impose upon them. Reflecting on this, it occurs to me that these experiences are an enormous opportunity to work on cultivating patience and perseverance.
And that's what makes a move different from a real battle: ideally, no one dies, and at the end it's just a bunch of fun if you take the time to appreciate it. Those moments when you and your horse get to lope off across the prairie through the fresh brisk air chasing after a rogue cow are entirely priceless. You should all come out here to try it ;)