Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Why Plow-Rein?


            Anyone who aspires to neckrein his horse – be he a Western rider or a polo player – and who starts the horse’s training using the plow-rein, has never asked himself “Why”?



            Plow-reining – or “direct reining”, as it is called by clinicians – is the method of pulling on the left rein when you want the horse to go left – just as you do with a plow-horse.  Neck-reining is the pushing of the neck toward the direction you wish to go - guiding him with one hand just as handling the joy-stick of a video game.

            Imagine your partner standing behind you, and she wants you to look to the left.  Would you wish her to hook her finger in your cheek and pull to the left?  Or would you prefer that she gently touch you on the right cheek to turn you head?



            Like most people, I once started my young horses in a snaffle bit, using a plow rein, and slowly transitioned them to a neckrein.  It is the same principle as teaching a kid to steer a bulldozer before introducing him to a car.

            But one day, my 10-year-old daughter said “Why, Daddy”?  I’ve never plow-reined a horse since.

            After that I was able to guarantee a green horse to ‘neckrein in a halter bareback’ in 30 days of training.  Since then I have started countless horses, and have a 35-year string of especially light-mouthed and responsive ranch horses.  Every time I see someone using two hands on the reins, I ask “Why”?

            Many of the horses I was starting at the time of my daughter’s question were range horses straight off the reservation.  Some had to be roped for a day or two until I could gain their trust.  All of them left with a light mouth and an easy neckrein – as I had started them neck-reining on the first ride, and eliminated the confusion of a long transition period.



            The first time I am on top of a horse I ask him to back.  Then I lay a rein across his neck and ask him to flex.  If he fails to flex his neck, I “check” him with the reins, and ask again.  In seconds, he is responding.

            From that time on, he is neck-reining.  Any time he fails to flex I check him, then ask again. 

My horses ride for miles on a slack rein, and turn at any speed with only the most subtle change in the position of my wrist. I prefer the feel of a pair of reins in my hand, and I need room for the coils of my rope in one hand and the loop in the other.  But my horses will cut cattle just as well with only a halter and lead-rope.



            If you’re ever in Montana and want to ride a real “reining” horse, stop by!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Eagle, the Crow, and the Magpie


            Out my office window this morning, I enjoyed the drama playing out on the ridge above the house.

            The cows were fed, and yesterday’s rain left it too wet for farming, so it was time to pay bills - I was back at my computer.



            Magpies are common in Montana.  They are big, they are smart, and they are omnivorous.  They like dog food, and they like to play with the dogs.



            A magpie will swoop down to the dog-bowl and steal some of his food, then fly to the top of a nearby tree to gloat.  The dog will chase him and bark, until the bird swoops down again, and leads the dog to another, higher tree.  If the dog becomes bored with his barking, the magpie will swoop down again, and lead the dog to another tree.

            As I looked out this morning, there were a magpie and a bald eagle sitting in a tree some 300 yards away.  By the time I got my camera, of course, the birds had taken flight.  When I again spotted the now-airborne eagle, he was accompanied by a crow.  I tried to read the story.

            Had the eagle found the crow’s nest?  Was the crow trying to divert the eagle away? 

            Crows, like magpies, are known to be intelligent.  Was this crow just playing with the eagle as the magpie was playing with the dog?

            I watched for a while, trying to understand the nature of the drama playing out above me.  The eagle circled higher and higher – the crow always nearby.  I was reminded of a bomber being harassed by a fighter-plane. 

            The eagle seemed rather bored by the whole affair, and eventually floated off up the West Boulder River and out of sight – the crow still in pursuit.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bull-Trip


            It’s not uncommon for a ranch family to plan a trip in conjunction with a livestock show or a bull sale.  That really wasn’t my intention – but our scheduled winter trip to Mexico had to be postponed, and I found myself on the beach in Puerta Vallarta the day of an important bull sale.

            I had already bought two bulls in person at the Feddes sale this spring - only an hour and a half from the ranch - but I still needed a third.  The sale at Becton Red Angus out of Sheridan, Wyoming, was broadcast over the internet.
            This internet auction scenario wouldn’t be a new experience for me, and I’ve described it all before in the post  Bull Sale.  What was different for me this day was that I was on the internet in Mexico, and the sale was in Wyoming.  I wasn’t sure if the connection would be quick enough to show up in time in a very fast-paced auction.

            Another difference between the two sales was my dress.  The auctioneer was the same one who cried the Feddes sale where I bought two bulls a week previous.  I knew he would be wearing a felt hat and a necktie.  In fact everyone at the sale would be wearing hats and boots – and likely jackets as well.   I, on the other hand, was wearing shorts, golf shirt, and sandals – my exposed legs blindingly pale.
            The snow in the ranch yard would be covered by an acre or two of diesel 4wd pickups pulling gooseneck stock trailers.  The sale would be held in a cow-barn, with lunch provided in the shop.  I was sitting in the shade by the pool – cool ocean breezes in my face, and a cold margarita in my hand. 
 
  
            I logged into the site, listened to all the auction banter, and watched the bulls go by on my screen.  My personal bull choices were laid out on a spreadsheet before me, and I followed along in the full-color bull catalogue.  

            I allowed myself to be outbid on the first bull on my list, and was disappointed when my second choice was pulled out of the sale.  I kept bidding on the third bull, and every time I hit the “BID” button on my laptop, I got a “You’re IN” on my screen, and heard the auctioneer up his price. 
            My competition for this bull could have been in person, on the phone, over the internet, or he might even have submitted a reserve bid prior to the sale.  But when I hit the button on $5500, the bidding stopped, and SOLD showed up on my screen.

            I’ve sent in a check - and my bull will be delivered to the ranch the next time a trailer is headed my way.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Grand and Glorious Life


The cowboy life is a Grand and Glorious life for sure: ahorseback in the foothills of the Absaroka mountains of Montana.  Or so it seemed the other day.



            The last Friday of March found me at the first branding of the year at the ranch of my old partner, Darin.  He raises purebred Angus bulls, and calves in January – so must get them branded before they get too big. 

            It was the typical old-style branding: a bunch of neighbors, horses, and aspiring cowboys.  The cattle were corralled, the cows sorted out the gate, and several ropers began heeling out the calves to the fire. (Read more about branding in my post Branding 2012.)

            The day was windy but reasonably warm, and we were pleased to get the job accomplished in the respite between bouts of foul weather.  None of us foresaw what the morrow would bring.

            By morning there was a good 8” of snow, and the downfall continued for most of the day – to make over 10”.

            A calf can stand an incredible amount of cold – IF he has been licked off by his mother, and he gets a full belly of milk.  But there were three calves born in the early morning that had been overcome by the cold.  Eric threw a couple of them in the back of the side-by-side ATV, and I went out on the four-wheeler to gather horses.

            The “Kentucky Colt” was my pick for the morning.  Our first task was to dally up to the sled to pluck the last calf out of the snow. 

            Eric made a run up to the house to load up the generator, which we connected to the calf-warmer in the calving shed.  This plastic hut has a 220-volt heater that directs warm air up through the floor-grate to quickly stabilize a hypothermic calf.  Then I went back out on my horse to bring the mothers of all three calves into the shed.

            A full belly is essential for a newborn calf.  He has been getting his nourishment for the last nine months through his umbilical cord.  Now he is suddenly thrust out into the cold where he must not only find a new source of sustenance, but also generate his own heat.  We elected to give a tube-feeding to two of these calves to sustain them until they were strong enough to nurse.

            When the cold calves were taken care of, it was time to feed all of the older cattle.  That required two tons of hay for the morning ration.  By afternoon the snow was still coming down, and the temperature was dropping as well.  It was time for a ton of straw to be scattered to give the cattle some protection from the cold.



            Ah, yes.  Ain’t This Romantic!?!

           

           

           

           

Friday, March 16, 2018

Handshake Deal




            I just bought some hay, for many thousands of dollars, from a fellow I’ve never met, in a different state, to be hauled by another fellow I’ve never met, who’ll deliver it tomorrow, and take my check, on a bank he’s never heard of, to take care of a bunch of cows that neither of them will ever see again.  And that’s a handshake deal in the West.



            It’s all my fault.  I’d been working a consulting job out of town all winter, and left the ranch to my hired man. 

            He done just as I taught him to do: give those cows all the hay they will eat. 



            But somewhere along the line I had miscalculated.

            Rather, my spreadsheet had miscalculated.

            Actually, my spreadsheet had calculated correctly – from data I had entered incorrectly.  We were now critically low on hay.



            On my say-so, my regular suppliers had sold all their hay to other customers.  They had none left for me. 

            I cast a wider net.  Hay was sold out all over Montana.



            On a tip from a neighbor in a similar situation, I tried CraigsList Eastern Idaho – and connected with a fellow in Rexburg, Idaho.  He’d lined up a trucker - and tomorrow we’ll have enough hay to feed our cows until green grass.



            I lead a charmed life!