Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Trails, Bud

Bud Williams is a household word around here. Now he’s gone, but his impact is steadfast. He was an original. He didn’t care what people thought of him; he cared about animals first, ranchers second.

He could be hard on us cowboys. He said he would take the ranch mechanic over the ranch buckaroo because the mechanic was teachable. Ouch.

Mark and I were both raised on ranches that practiced good stockmanship, but Bud took us further. We first heard him speak 18 years ago and we’ve never handled cattle the same since. He put a name and a visual to the interaction between human and animal. He gave us a framework to talk about and practice with employees, with our kids, and with each other.   

He said that your position in relation to the animal or the herd was what mattered. Not how aggressive you were, not whether you could handle a rope, not how hard you could ride, but how sensitive you were to the animal’s natural instincts. As a woman that gave me much needed confidence. Suddenly a style I was comfortable with, attentive and soft, patient yet persistent, was most effective.

Bud talked about an animal’s flight zone and the nuance of working on the edge of that zone. Too far into the zone meant cattle were stressed and looking for a way out. 

This push-pull that exists between us, the human handlers, and our animals is key - how to apply pressure, when to release it, how to use it to achieve your desired outcome. Pressure has been the topic of many conversations on the Pratt Ranch. Anita, concerned that 3-yr-old Seth was up to no good in the goat pen, asked him if he was chasing the animals. "No grandma," he replied, "I’m just pressuring them a little!”

I think Bud lived in an alternate world, in the minds of cattle and working dogs, in all animals. But ironically, these principles apply to our human world as well. They work with the neighbor, your kids, your spouse. Just because force is often used, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Give them time and room to think. Pay attention and take responsibility for how the relationship is going. Be respectful.

                                                                                                             photo by Anita Pratt


  1. relating this concept to human relationships to conclude the story: genius!

  2. Awesome piece. Passing of a master. RIP.