Horse Vs. ATV


The horse.

The ATV.

Someone recently bought a large cattle ranch in our area. “Large” as in several thousand acres. The new owner (about whom I know absolutely nothing with the exception of what I’m writing here) has publicly stated that he does not want horses on the place. He apparently feels ATVs/4-wheelers/quads are better than horses. I don’t know how the ranch hands feel about it and I don’t know why he would hold this opinion. However, I think it’s short-sighted, for several reasons.
For those of you who don’t know much about ranching, let me give you a thumbnail sketch. A typical cattle ranch has cows, calves and bulls. Around here, calves are primarily born in late winter and very early spring. While some ranchers keep them close in smaller pastures during calving season, many run their cows on winter pastures that are hundreds if not thousands of acres. Older calves must be gathered and brought to corrals to be branded or tattooed and vaccinated. Ranch hands place ear tags to promote easy identification and castrate bull calves. In the fall, most of these calves are gathered and shipped to market. The rancher may keep some replacement heifers to raise succeeding generations. In some cases, ranchers will also ship their animals to the high mountain pastures for summer grazing. Ranch hands spend a fair amount of time checking on, doctoring, midwifing, gathering and moving cattle of various ages.

Smart girls – a good stock dog is worth its weight in gold.

Historically, all of these activities involved the use of horses. Many ranchers also use cattle dogs. With the advent of the ATV, it has become common for ranch hands to tool around on these small 4-wheel drive vehicles. An ATV has some advantages over a horse:

  • You go out and fire it up immediately – no need to groom, saddle, etc. Same thing when you get home – just park it.
  • Almost anyone can learn to ride an ATV in two or three lessons. Becoming a competent equestrian takes a minimum of a year.
  • An ATV doesn’t have to be trained. Horses require proper training, which also takes a minimum of a year.
  • As long as you keep it fueled, an ATV will keep right on going without getting tired. Horses, like people, become exhausted.
  • You can carry more supplies and tools on an ATV than a horse.
  • An ATV is more useful for daily feeding chores when hauling hay bales.

    Horses need quite a bit of gear.

    However, horses have some significant advantages over an ATV:

  • First and most important, you don’t have to drive a horse. A well-trained stock horse will respond to slight shifts in weight and knee pressure. This allows you to keep your eyes on the cows and surroundings. It also allows you to use stock dogs more effectively because you can watch them as well. And in an area with predators such as cougars or wolves, the horse can alert you to their presence.
  • Second, an experienced cow horse knows at least as much as you do about how to separate cattle. A good horse can slip into a herd and bring out that cow who needs doctoring with minimal cues from the rider.
  • Third, it’s impossible to rope a cow from an ATV.
  • Fourth, horses can go places an ATV can’t. Horses will watch their footing. An ATV will take you right over a cliff or into a ditch if you don’t pay attention.
  • Fifth, horses can reproduce themselves.
  • Sixth, you can raise the animals’ food on the ranch. As fossil fuels become more expensive and more scarce, this is an important consideration.
  • Seventh, a good stock horse gets better as it gets older – ATVs break down instead.
  • You can raise your own.

    In the long run, I think the best answer is to use both. If I’m irrigating, running down on an ATV is quick and easy. I can pop the shovel on the front and get around easily in the pasture. But for gathering cattle, especially in large areas full of rocks, gullies, dense brush and steep climbs, horses win hooves down.

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    2 Responses to Horse Vs. ATV

    1. HorseWeb says:

      I generally think comparing a horse and an ATV is a bit wrong, if only in terms of the mode of transportation. After all, as a hereditary owner of a horse ranch in Texas, I can say that riding a horse is not only about being able to move from point A to point B, but also about interaction, a certain connection and an emotional component.

      • Bee says:

        Agreed! I grew up with horses and we raised Quarter Horses for years (the old buckskin stallion in the picture was one of them – he’s 35 this year; that’s his son and last colt behind him). I’d much rather go out and play with the horses. To me an ATV is just a tool to go irrigating.

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