Riding Pens

When horses are part of the job description.

When horses are part of the job description.

I think my mare, Stop Drop And Roll, would have a good time riding pens. My not-a-cowdog, however, should probably stay at home. Chad Hendrix photo.

My niece, who’s 8, and I spent the better part of Saturday at a cattle sale, and we’ve both decided that when we grow up, we want to ride pens at a sale barn.

We watched as men on foot tried to shoo an uncooperative bull down an alleyway, away from his buddies and toward a chute where a veterinarian waited to check him out. It didn’t work.

“I’ll go bring him,” said a woman on a stout gray gelding, trotting into the fray. They had the right combination of assertiveness and common sense (knowing when discretion was the better part of valor), and in just minutes, the bull was in the chute. Going to the next job, the rider took her right foot out of the stirrup and slid halfway down her horse’s left side, reaching for a gate latch that hadn’t been built with horsemen or -women in mind.

Later, we saw another couple of horse people, one sweeping out the back of her trailer while another was getting ready to mount up. We told him of our imagined future careers, and he chuckled. Some days, he says, are better than others. Saturday, an overcast but warm spring day, was a fun one, but wait until July, when it’s 110 degrees.

Tripp Townsend, a top competitor in the versatility ranch horse arena and one of the owner/operators of Sandhill Cattle Co. in Earth, Texas, knows something about that. He and I have talked about how a blizzard can have that same effect on job satisfaction. But snow or shine, the cattle have to be cared for. And, just like at the sale barn, it takes horses to do it.

I’m working on a story with Tripp, talking about how he trains his horses while riding pens at the feedlot. He takes advantage of every opportunity to get his horses more flexible and more responsive. Even those of us who don’t have that opportunity to work cattle in such a setting can still put some of his principles into play. You won’t want to miss his advice in a future issue of America’s Horse, which is an AQHA member benefit.

It’s really neat to see how Tripp and those sale-barn riders use horses as such an essential element of their daily lives. Weather aside, that’s got to ratchet up the workday satisfaction and enjoyment.

Truthfully, I won’t be trading in my writing pen for riding pens anytime soon (I love my job too much, as it puts me in regular contact with horses and horse people, too). But it’s fun to think of the variety of horse-centric careers that are out there. And for that little horse-crazy 8-year-old that was keeping a close eye on the sale-barn horses with me? Here’s hoping she’s able to find one of them.

Happy riding,

Author: holly

Editor, America's Horse magazine

2 thoughts on “Riding Pens”

  1. I am one of those people with the opportunity to get to work with cattle. I rode pens for a feed yard in Nebraska. My 13 yr old quarter horse stud “Dually” was my co-worker. He loves and lives for the work. The weather, yes is a hindrance , but when you love your job you work through it. I went part-time and started driving feed truck. I miss our riding time, but will do it again. Thank you for writing an article about pen riding.

  2. I rode feed lot pens in Central Valley, South California in the early 60’s. Regular 110 degee F temperatures. 4 in the morning often till 8 in the evening 7 days a week. Changing horses 3 times a day. The only injuries I recall were whilest working a new batch of East Texas young stock which had been trucked for 3 days and were poco loco from the ride. The horses were nothing but an extension of your own body. When your mind slipped into neutral(as it did regularly) your horse just went on without you. Can’t say it bothered me much ’cause I was always dog tired. I do remember a Mexican cowboy joker who took great pleasure in off loading one bucker on any one of the the cowboy crew who clearly was sleep walking as the day begun. Hard to see what you’re saddling in the dark you know. A stunning interlude. Oh, I forgot to mention the weekend rodeo. There would have been a W/C claim.

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