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Did You Know That Bovines are Magic?

written by

Carole Soule

posted on

June 30, 2024

Finn and Topper are my oxen team.  Training cattle is my idea of fun.


Coach Carole's Words of Wisdom:
We're not what we know, but what we're willing to learn

Topper galloped to the fence, his short legs pumping as he ran down the narrow cow path cut into the hillside. Finn lumbered along behind. Topper stopped at the wire fence where his bovine eyes peered at me from beneath his black bangs.

"No treats today, old friend. We have work to do," I said.

I opened the gate, and a 2,000-pound Topper walked through. When I called out "Halt," he stopped and waited while I hooked the plastic handle in its loop to secure the gate behind him.

Topper followed me to the truck, where I put a halter on him, tied him to the truck bed, and collected his partner, Finn. Both stood quietly while I slid the yoke over their shoulders, secured the bows under their necks, and removed their halters. It was time to work.

Mom as Teacher

There are so many things a bovine can do, but the one that most amazes me is their willingness to obey. Topper's learning started the day he was born, May 2012. His mom, Maya, taught him that there were leaders and followers in the herd, and until he got bigger, she was his leader. He learned to follow her; he knew he'd be safe if he stayed by her; she'd protect and feed him. At six months, after he was weaned, he sniffed my head when I leaned over and eventually took grain from my hand. I had become his new "mom."

That was 12 years ago when I didn't know how to train cattle. I'd trained horses but knew nothing about training cattle. At the Hopkinton Fair, I watched 4H kids work their oxen using only voice commands as the oxen pulled "sleds" with stones around an obstacle course. The 4H teamster didn't use a lead line or to get their beasts to obey. They used a stick and voice to direct their oxen left, right, forward, and back. How was it possible?

With patient help from various teamsters, some decades younger than me, I got my first pair, Topper and Flash, to follow voice commands in the show ring and at home, but away in parades and outside the show ring, I never gave up on the lead rope.

False Confidence

The lead rope gave me confidence; if my voice commands didn't work, I had the rope in my hand to stop them if they tried to run off. But even then, I knew the lead rope was not the answer to control. My team wanted to be with me; they found me interesting and trusted me to protect them from perceived threats like a running child or a barking dog. That was my control, not the lead rope.

Today, Topper follows my voice commands and will come when called. His new partner, Finn, is just as obedient, and I no longer use a lead rope with them. It was hard for me to give it up. The lead line in my hand was like a baby blanket that comforted me, giving me the illusion of control.

Without a lead rope, it seems like pure magic that my oxen accept me as their leader and want to be with me. That's the kind of magic we could all use.

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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, where she raises and sells beef, pork, eggs, and other local products. She can be reached at carole@soulecoaching.com. Carole is also now a certified Life Coach who helps humans achieve the impossible a little at a time.

Training Oxen

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