Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Almost Afoot

            The first hint of trouble had come in May - the day after branding: Buddy was very lame.

            We were all stiff and sore and moving slowly after the work of branding, but this special horse was painful to watch as he bobbed his head trying to take the weight off his sore legs.  He was eighteen years old this year – middle aged for a horse.  We hadn’t used him enough that spring to really toughen him up, and Ted had good reason to work him hard that day.  But we felt sick inside to see this great horse in such sad shape.

            Buddy was a little horse.  No, he wasn’t little – just short.  No, not short – just built close to the ground.  He was thick, he was solid; and he was determined. 

            I’d first bought him as a kids horse for a “gentleman rancher”.  He impressed me with his eagerness, willingness, drive, and personality the first time I rode him - that’s why I named him Buddy.  But he bucked off the girl I had bought him for, so I took him up to the West Boulder.
            His stature officially qualified him as a “pony”.  But height doesn’t measure heart.  Buddy had a wide, deep girth – which contained a tremendous set of lungs, and a heart.  It was almost as if he had set out to prove the world wrong about whether he was a kid’s pony or a “by God”            HORSE. 
 My Kentucky Colt is on the left, and Buddy on the right.

            And he did prove himself over the next several years as both a cutting horse and as a cover-the-country working cowhorse.  He came to be Ted’s main mount.
            A couple of years back - when I bought the Buckskin Mare from my son-in-law - Ted and I swapped off – alternating between one of us riding our top horse and the other riding the Buckskin.  That way the Buckskin got plenty of riding, while the other of us was mounted on a well-broke horse – to get the job done no matter what.
            She had turned out to be a good solid horse, with longer legs than Buddy.  We liked her, and had ridden her regularly.  We’d been neglecting Buddy some, and he hadn’t been used enough to be in top shape.  Now when we needed him, Buddy was aging – and a little soft.  We had used him too hard too soon, and he’d lamed up on us.

            It took a couple of months for him to heal up – and even then he wasn’t back to 100%.  Every time we had cattle-work to do he walked right up and put his head into the halter – but we were afraid to take him over north on a long ride, for fear he’d lame up again.  I had the Kentucky Colt, and Ted had the Buckskin Mare.  We didn’t need Buddy.

            But then the “Kentucky Colt” came up lame.  He’d apparently got a foot hung in some barb-wire somewhere, and cut deeply into a heel.  He’d been my #1 horse for some 5 years, and now he was down.  Buddy was still on the disabled list also.  We had fall work to do, and only one horse between us.

            And a cowboy ain’t a cowboy when he’s afoot. 

            The first big job we had that fall was working the calves.  We had to ride to the far north end of the ranch to gather the cows into the corrals on top of the mountain where we cut off the cows and gave the calves their first round of shots in preparation for shipping.
            Ted was in the same shape as our two best horses:  he was still recovering from his impalement on the balewagon.  But Ben and Darin came up to help, as well as Sasha.  Ted drove the pickup to the top of the mountain and trailered Buddy.  Both of them could stand a little riding, and they would be a help in the sorting. 
            I rode the buckskin for that affair.  She was a fine horse for the gathering, but still hadn’t made a sure ‘nough sorting horse.  She did well for me, though, as we took each sort from Darin and Ben, and turned the calves into the catch-pen or the cows out the gate.

            When the time came to bring the cows down off the mountain, Ted was able to borrow a horse for the trip.  He didn’t need a good horse for that job.
            A week later we had a few strays to gather.  Ted took the Buckskin one way and I rode the borrowed horse the other.  Again, it doesn’t take much horse to gather or trail cows.
            And Ben was there on his horse to help gather the cows and sort off the replacement heifer pairs.  I rode along on a four-wheeler to open the gates while Ben and Ted handled the cattle.
            But I needed a real horse to sort off those heifer pairs, and Buddy was traveling good again.  I saddled him up.
            It was a short afternoon’s work to cut off 25 pairs – and Buddy did his share!  Of course he’d have done the job if he was missing one leg – but he was having fun and didn’t seem to be hurting.
            The next day we shipped calves.  It was a short gather from the field across from the shipping corrals.  Ben helped Ted with the gather.
            The main job was to sort off the cows from the calves, and my two sons did most of the work.  I used Buddy only to turn the cut coming from them – either a group of cows or a group of calves – out the appropriate gate.  He handled the job well, and we finished the job a half hour before the semi arrived.
            A few hours later he was up to going after an old cow that was destined for the auction.  In fact, when she blew past both horses he put me up for a throw and he handled the rope until we got her into the corral.  But the next day he acted just plain tired when we did the last bit of sorting.
            Ninety-nine percent of the time a rancher has too many horses.  The other one percent he doesn’t have enough.
            One horse is enough for a modern cowboy – most of the time.  But no one horse can do everything well: covering the country, pasture sorting, roping, corral sorting.  It is best to have a couple of different horses for different jobs.
            And every horse gets over-used or goes lame sometime in his life.  As Harry Yeager told me years ago: “You can’t keep camping on the same horse.  You never know when you’ll need another horse.  You always have to keep another horse hard.”

            The following weekend, Ted went to a horse auction where he bought three new horses.  Because:
            A cowboy ain’t a cowboy when he’s afoot. 

1 comment:

  1. I love that saying "A cowboy ain't a cowboy when he's a foot".