Pate offers hints into sound stockmanship |

Pate offers hints into sound stockmanship

Curt Pate shows stockmen the proper place to stand to connect with his horse. The horse has to be able to see its handler to be comfortable with him, he said.
Photo by Teresa Clark |

As the horse and rider connect, the cattle move easily toward a holding pen. Using some simple moves, the rider sorts off some of the steers into a separate pen. In this cattle demonstration, there is no yelling, no running or jumping at the cattle, and no biting dogs. It is just simple stockmanship between a man and his horse moving some cattle where he wants them to go.

Stockmanship and stewardship master, Curt Pate, was on hand at the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory Open House recently to teach ranchers how to better handle their cattle. “Ever since the old days, the ranchers have taken care of their livestock and their grass,” Pate told a crowd of nearly 300 people. “Stockmanship has worked for thousands of years. Stewardship is what has changed.”

Pate considers stewardship a combination of animal husbandry and science. Pate questioned how stress on the animal impacts scientific research. “Everything I will talk about today is cowboy science,” he said. “I have found that everything my grandfather told me way back when is being proven today by science.”

“Stockmanship is a progression and mindset,” Pate said. “Everyone has a different idea of what is good stockmanship. My style is getting it done, which I call effective stockmanship for the job you are doing. My goal is to leave things after I have finished better than when I started.”

He also sees stockmanship as progressive. He believes to become a good stockman, he and his horse have to improve everyday. “This year, I have been working on getting animals more comfortable with me,” he said. “I want my horse to understand that when I take the pressure off, it can be comfortable with me. I try and find ways to draw the horse to me, mentally. I think you could do the same thing with cattle. Pressure is a good thing if it is done in a positive way. That’s what differentiates good stockmanship,” he said.

When working with the horse or cattle, Pate said its crucial to end the day on a positive note. “You want to see results, and a little improvement everyday,” he said. “By learning to be a good horseman, you will also become a better stockman.”


Demonstrating with the horse, Pate shows the crowd how his movements affect the horse. “The horse likes to be able to see you,” he said. “Where you stand by the horse makes a difference if the horse is comfortable. It is different in the human world. We are used to following behind each other. We feel pressure from people following behind us, like when we are riding in a car and the person driving behind us is late for work.”

“Our world says get behind each other and follow each other up, but it is different for animals,” he said. “You can create a whole lot of problems with your horse just based on where you position yourself. In the animal world, if we put pressure on our horse, he will move away from us,” Pate said.

Pate has read a lot of books about stockmanship, and finds many of them recommend working cattle slowly. “I don’t necessarily agree with that statement,” he said. “I think it’s more likely that the only way to work cattle quickly is slowly. You have to change the amount of pressure you are putting on the cattle to fit them. A lot of times we think they can change the pressure to fit us,” he said.

Branding can be one of the most stressful times for cattle, but Pate believes it’s the sorting and not the actual branding that is the most stressful. “I try to sort the cattle before my help actually shows up,” he said. “Or, I will take the bottom out of the panels so the calves can get through.”

Pate finds range cows and rancher cattle don’t know how to stop, and farmer cattle don’t know how to go. “You need to find someplace in the middle,” he said. “If you get out in front of the cow, it will slow them down. Then you have to get them to turn around. Finding their balance point is the No. 1 thing in stockmanship.”

Everything is always changing in stockmanship, so the producer needs to constantly be on the rebound. “Wild cattle want to be way out in front of you. If you get out of line with gentle cattle, they want to stop. I like to be beside cattle, where they can see you. You can put pressure forward from right behind the ear to where you give a shot,” he said.


Small moves make the biggest results. “All of our western horsemanship came from working cattle,” he said. “But when people started competitions, putting time and money on something changes it. I am not sure it does much for good stockmanship. The better our skills are, the better chance we have at winning in the pasture or at a ranch rodeo. But now competition determines what type of horses we ride, and those may not necessarily be the best ones for stockmanship.”

Pate finds that if stockmen can get their horse’s mind in sync with their mind, they can do a better job working cattle than the guy on foot. “It’s not always that way, but most of the time it is,” he said. “Try to read the horse and the cattle. It is important to get a horse to walk straight and stop straight. The main thing that is important is to have a horse that will settle and relax. Work on mental balance and responsiveness.”

With cattle, how they are approached is important. “The flatter the angle when you approach them, the less pressure you put on,” he said. “Don’t go directly at the cattle at first. Hook the cattle on to you by getting them to look at you.”

-Teresa Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at

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