Just like you said, a responsive horse. Having a horse that is soft and has the basics, that will make working cattle easier. And there isnt a subsitute to working cattle but you can make sure they are prepered for it :)
Iam no showhorse trainer but with a decent ranch horse for working cattleI really want one to pay attention to my seat and legs. When I sit down I want him to think stop or rate, then back it up with my hands if he dont. I want him to really work off his hind end and his front handy by being able to step across without tripping overhimself and do it quickly. I should not have to drag him through his turns. Being soft will help that.
I like to do fence work. I will lope a couple a couple circles, get him soft, take him down the fence, sit down and turn him back as if I was turning a cow. You don't have to turn the hard and fast and get them wound up. You will be able to feel in your dry, slow work where he might have issues in his cow work or when you add speed.
Lateral work like said, opening gates and such helps...doing anything to ensure you have control of all his body parts and being able to put them where you want. The precursor to that would be being able to pivot both on the front and the back. Being able to move both those on their own makes sidepassing easy.
I worked for a cutting horse trainer that would occasionally use me for a cow if the practice cattle were soured. If you have a volunteer that might help.
There are alot more things to do...when I am not on my phone I will add.
There are others on here that could really offer good advice hopefully they will chime in as well!
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