A Russian Adventure

Host: BMC Consulting
Written by Blythe Calnan – Consultant, BMC Consulting.


In April this year I had the opportunity to accompany a team to Russia to undertake cattle handling and horsemanship schools for a company with multiple farms. With the Russia/Ukraine situation simmering and the notoriously unpredictable scheduling of live export we gathered in NSW to prepare the team for the adventure ahead.

The team comprised of Boyd Holden of Livestock Behaviours Systems, veterinarian David Thompson, horseman Aaron Houlden, master saddler Jason Simmons, stockman Chris Whittaker, and myself. We spent four days going through the theoretical program for Russia and the practical exercises we would undertake with cattle and horses. All had a connection with Boyd but were meeting each other for the first time.

The group would be working in two teams of three, undertaking a six day training program on four different farms each with a days travel in between. The program comprised of two days cattle handling theory and practical, two days horsemanship theory and practical, two days working cattle in paddock and mustering situations as well as assessment of competency.

3.1A Russian farm team saddled up for Training.

Australia has a had a few hundred years of figuring out how to best manage our pastoral cattle industry, Russia has not traditionally had large scale beef industry and so there are many skills which their workers will take time to develop. The black Angus cows, heifers, and bulls have come from the USA and Australia graze in quality improved pastures in the summer and then come into a winter pen system for the colder months. The company uses horses, mostly imported from the USA for monitoring and managing the cattle and has some American stockmen based at the farms to aid management.

For the theory session in particular it was invaluable having translators with us to explain what we were on about, most staff were initially wary and skeptical of the processes but we tended to wheel them in the practical when they saw the value working.

 3.2Working with translators before horsemanship schooling commenced.  

The horse work was where we really won them over, most of the horses are big roping style horses trained in the US, and most of these guys had had very little to do with any other horse than the village plough beast. All of a sudden they had a 16hh Quarter Horse, a western saddle, and a job to do without much guidance.

Watching the sparkle in their eye as we taught them the steps to ‘join up’ with a horse who then followed them around the yard like a puppy dog, to see them smile at the simple pleasure of achieving reinback and sidepass through pressure and release and to take away some of the fear associated with these horses was priceless.

3.3Working on skills such as float loading were valuable for the teams. 

Working with the cattle in the paddocks was at times interesting, heifers that had been cooped up in the winter pens feeding on quality silage were feeling pretty good about getting moving and out to summer pasture! Coupled with inexperienced riders with limited control it could take sometime to get the mob underhand and people in position to open the gates and walk the cattle down highways, through villages, and to their fresh pasture.

 3.4Doing exercises in the yards is important to gain confidence in concepts. 

The improvement seen throughout the week was impressive, and we left each farm feeling appreciated and that our time was worthwhile spent. It was one of the toughest gigs I’ve taken on, the hours were long, the days were sometimes below freezing, and changing horses and equipment regularly is an unnerving experience. That said the rewards and experience were well worth the trials. Watching a team of three successfully guide a 15 head of cattle around an obstacle course where timing is everything, seeing a man bridling a horse with ease when at the start of the week it took three men standing on a hay roll to achieve, and watching a group of Russian Cowboys walk 400 head of cattle across a green pasture with balance and purpose made the cold hurt a little less and my swearing at my piggish pony a little more playful.

 3.5Working as a team to walk cattle out to pasture through villages and other obstacles. 

Once again the world amazed me, the people who I expected to be cold and hard, proved to have warm hearts and great senses of humour. We didn’t go without experiencing some good old fashioned Russian hospitality, its all true what they say about the vodka, but is somehow seems appropriate when cooking pork chunks on an open fire next to a lake. Getting whacked with birch branches in a sauna is probably an experience I can cope with once and watching wild Russian translators cut loose on the dance floor is right up there also. I guess sometimes we need to remove the people from the politics, Russia has ambitious plans for their beef industry and huge potential and their people are very much like you and I.

3.6New Russian Friends.