Not long ago I spoke with a rancher friend up in the Bear Paw Mountains. He admitted that he hadn’t been ahorseback in over two years.
“First you buy a four-wheeler to do the irrigating”, he said, “Then you figure out how well it works to get in the horses.” "One day you realize that you could be there and back on the ATV in less time than it would take you to saddle your horse – and that’s the beginning of the end.”
“When you finally really need a horse, he’s so out of shape and out of tune that you can’t get the job done – and it’s all over.”
This morning I went out to irrigate, and threw some salt and mineral in the side-by-side ATV so I could combine tasks and save some time. After setting some dams, I drove on up the far end of the hayfield and out into the pasture beyond. My plan was to cross that field and fill a salt tub just through the gate and into the next field - where I intended to move the cattle in the next few days. I was surprised to find about 25 pairs that must have broken through the fence at the top of the mountain.
After filling the tub I drove back through the cows, which were already bunched near the gate. This was the only part of the field that is flat, my dog was with me, there were no bulls or yearlings to be cut out, and the task seemed simple. So we drove out around them and Max jumped out – eager to go to work.
The cows headed straight for the gate! It took far less time than going back for a horse! Was this the beginning of the end for me, too?
It was only a few hours later that I redeemed myself, however. Ted had run the horses down from the pasture – with the four-wheeler – to give a ride to some visiting children. He noticed some escaped heifers that were lying on the ridge above the horsebarn.
This heifers had blundered up through the reef that bounded their pasture and couldn’t find their way home. They were close, we knew where they were, and the horses were in the corral. I had planned to finish some maintenance on the baler, but this opportunity trumped that plan – the baler could wait.
Saddling my “Kentucky Colt”, I headed up the ridge after them. The black line shows my initial assent.
But the ridge was too narrow to circle around the heifers – they arose and started up the ridge away from me. So I turned back – following the blue line – and tried to cut through the quaking aspens. But the trees were too dense and I had to follow the blue line back down and circle through the bottom of the trees and then ride clear around the trees to get above the heifers.
Once I got above them, the heifers moved off nicely down the ridge - the yellow line shows their path down off the sidehill on the first lap. They made a foray up into the brush near the fence, and I turned them back. Then they cut back across the creek and into the trees. Max, The Colt, and I circled wide to the left, and I sent Max into the trees to push the heifers out the other side. We had to make a second lap on the blue line around the quakers to cut them off again!
The orange line shows the path of those heifers on the second lap. This time I was able to cut them off quicker, and held them up next to the open gate.
It was some ten minutes more before they finally found the hole – but the rest was easy.
Maybe it isn’t over for my horses yet. The ground was rocky, brushy, and steep – and I was grateful that my horse is shod with hard-surfaced steel shoes. There is no way that any kind of wheeled vehicle could have followed us.
The “Colt” – who is now some ten years old – handled all that up-and-down and back-and-forth without slowing his pace. He still has that feather-light rein – although he reads cows so well that he seldom needs any direction.
No, my horses are safe for a few more years.