Me and Scout

Me and Scout

21 February 2013

The Story of a Young Horse

The day before July 4th last year, we were out looking around and discovered that Ol’ Mama Horse had had another gray foal.  Now, what to call him?  We obviously can’t have another Silver.  Traveler is too revered and Shadowfax is too fancy.  So, since he was born close to Independence Day we are calling him Patriot.  Because he was of Mama Horse’s brood, he has a tendency to be gentle, but he was still shy enough to where we couldn’t get our hands on him when we were feeding Mama.  After we pulled Silver off to start working with, another fledgling stud that we call Amigo came up and he and Mama Horse and Silver made a kind of family.  Around October, Dad and I were coming back from the hay field and we noticed that Patriot was all by himself in the Tallow Flat.  The next night we went to check again and he was almost in the exact same spot.  No Amigo, no Mama Horse.  I started looking around and then I caught a whiff of death nearby.  Mama Horse had gone on.  We were not too surprised.  She had never looked good and had of late been possessed of a skin ailment.  So, her loss was felt, but not too keenly.  We had talked of bringing Patriot up, but shortly afterwards he began to hang with Amigo.  We kind of quit worrying about him.
A couple of months went by and Amigo started wandering off and we would find Patriot by himself, often in the Old Field.  The weather started to turn colder and we kept talking about getting him up, but we never could make it happen.  One day, it had been a while since we had seen him and Anna and I came across the bones of a smallish horse in the Old Field.  I feared the worst.  Then I found a telltale patch of white hair.  I have to confess that I did not handle it well.  I was furious at God for allowing this to happen.  I was furious for letting Him grieve my wife so.  I did not handle it well and had to ask forgiveness on my knees later.  I am still ashamed.
Life goes on.  We adjusted.  We knew we didn’t have to worry about Patriot anymore.  I regularly asked God for forgiveness for not trusting Him.  I dealt with my feeling of rejection.  We moved on.  The rains eased up and the roads began to dry so we could start checking out the pasture again.  About ten days or so after we discovered the bones and the white patch of hair we drove the Gator out to the Mineral Box Field.  We could not believe our eyes, but there he was!  Anna was uncontrollably emotional.  It takes a bit of control to keep myself from being moved now, but I must since I am at work.  At the time, I was just stunned.  What we had seen was Mama Horse.  Even after months of being dead, the coyotes finally discovered her tiny carcass and drug her out into the Old Field.  It was her bones and hair that we had found.  I felt even more foolish for my outburst at God.  After all the hours of watching NCIS, we still failed to properly deduce what happened at the crime scene.  I Gibb-smack myself on the back of the head.
It still took a week or so after that, but we regularly went out there and fed him.  Amigo had gone on to bigger and better things, but Patriot was getting more and more accustomed to eating out of a bucket.  He has been trying to move into the bachelor herd.  Sometimes he was around, but most of the time not.  Finally, we found a time when the other horses were not around and we led him all the way from the Mineral Box Field to the Pens.  We started feeding him twice a day and only recently did we go to once a day feedings.

We hated for him to be alone so we decided to move Sarge into the pasture with him.  This was the first use of our new horse pasture.  We finally got to move the saddle horses back up to the front, so we gave Patriot the run of the New Horse Pasture.  We are calling it that because the pasture itself is new, but also because we will use it largely for gentling down new horses.  Of course, we are open to suggestions on the name.
Also, we have decided to turn Sarge out.  The horse is just not getting over his skittishness.  However, one of his good traits is that whenever we had a new horse in with the saddle horses, he was the first to adopt him.  This was true with Leroy (a reenactor’s horse that we kept for awhile) and also with Silver.  The goal would be to split a ration of food between Sarge and Patriot.  This is all Patriot needs and it would wean Sarge off a full ration before turning him out to the main pasture.  Out there, Sarge might be able to train other horses to come to food.
It has been difficult getting Sarge to break away mentally from his old herd in the front.  He has spent lots of time hanging around the new fence, pining away for his old companions.  It has been a little tough to watch, but when I think about the trouble he has caused it makes it a little easier.  Ultimately, he will be happier in the wild.  It is where his nature fits in.  He has begun to adopt Patriot like we hoped.  Now, we drive the Gator over to the pens and the two of them start to wander over together, like a herd.
Patriot is really coming along.  We fed him for several days before even trying to halter him.  Every time we fed, we would rub him down as much as we could.  Eventually, he got more and more used to it.  It got to where we could rub all over his neck and ears whenever he put his head down.  This was the final step.  After hazing around his head while he was eating, putting the halter on was easy.  Now, he didn’t take it quite as well when he hit the end of the lead rope for the first time.  His natural reaction was to continue backing, so I just went with him, keeping the slack out of the rope, but not pulling on it.  He backed up to the gate and had to stop.  I let him catch his breath, then gently took the slack out.  He fought a bit, but we kept at that process a couple of times.  Finally, he took a step toward me, taking the slack out.  This is the key, of course.  The whole idea is to get him to respond to pressure.  By just taking out the slack in the rope instead of actually pulling on it, the horse is instantly rewarded when he takes a step.  The slack automatically comes out.  The lighter the touch, the more responsive to pressure he will be.
Since then, we have haltered him a couple of times and he is a really quick study.  He is leading around pretty good, but still needs to do this a lot so that it is just habit.  I have also gotten Anna and even her sister to do a little of this.  Hopefully, Anna can start working with him without the benefit of my presence.  My goal is to keep him up for another several weeks.  We will go through as much of the training process as possible.  That way, when it is time to ride he will have already had a saddle on, know the bit, and trust people implicitly.
As far as Patriot knows, he was never dead.  The most dramatic thing that has happened to him was his mama dying.  He doesn’t know that we thought him lost.  He doesn’t know that, even though we know better, we feel like he has been resurrected from the dead.  He just continues on in his little horse life.  He eats, he sleeps, he follows the feed bucket, and now, he responds to pressure.

The Final Calf

Well, I think it is about time that we sold the last calf from 2012.  As you know, we have had issues with our ability to actually pen cows.  This is a frustrating experience for me since that is one of the reasons that I wanted to move.  Some of my fondest memories are of getting saddled up, loosing the dogs and going on long cow hunts with my Dad, Grandfather, and sometimes cousins.  Back when I was a boy we had thousands of thicket acres leased.  We’d go pen cows and it could take most of the day.  I started doing this when I was 6.  At times, we would be riding for so long, that I would doze off in the saddle until we heard the telltale baying of the cur dogs, calling us to the cows they had found.  We’d make a run to where they were and try to drive them all back.  As a boy, I rode drag, keeping them bunched up.  As I got older, Dad put me on a flank, where a crazy cow might make a break for the thick woods and I would chase it down, get ahead of it and turn it back to the herd.  This took a good woods horse that would keep your knees clear of trees and, of course you had to be careful not to let a mess of briars drag you off or not to get caught up in some vines.  A good horse could tell whether you were tugging on the reins or if it was random branches and vines.  Punching cows in the thicket, I lost many a hat, got cut many a time, and tore up many a shirt.

I won’t say we got the cows all the time, but it was better than even money that we would.  It’s a type of cowboying that you won’t see in the movies, and frankly, we were pretty good at it.  Flash forward to today.  The cows are close up to the house.  If we drive out into the pasture and shake a feed sack at them they will come a running.  And yet, only about half the time can we pen them, if even that.  With only one good horse and one dog, who despite good instincts doesn’t know what to do, we have to trap them in a small pasture and drive them in like that.  I don’t think life will be like this forever, but the cows have really gotten weird.  They just don’t seem to want to bunch up.  Cows are herd animals and will normally bunch up for protection.  This is why dogs are so important.  They get in, bark around the cows and they automatically get in a herd.  In fact, we used to just sit there and let them bark awhile, letting the glue dry on the herd before starting back to the house.  Poor Dixie doesn’t know all this.  She will bark in the middle of them half the time, scattering them.  Dad or I can get around them easily on horseback, but without that herd consciousness, they just blow on by.

So, until we can get another good horse and one or more well-trained dogs, we are relegated to using the trap.

Heretofore this has involved feeding or watering the cows in the Lane or in the Calf Patch.  There is a gate in the Northeast Corner of the Calf Patch that we could shut and then easily drive the cows into the Pens.  There is an opening in the fence behind Tank 3 (Old Field Tank) that they use to get into the Lane.  The problem recently has been sneaking past them down the Camp Road in order to get behind them.  So, Anna suggested that we cut a gap in the Southwest corner of the Between the Tanks into the Lane and make a path through the old fence line behind Tank 2.  This way, we can leave from the house, go to the West edge of the pasture and move south all the way to the lane.  We have not yet made this path passable by Gator, but I can get through on a horse.  On the 8th, we executed our plan.  Anna went down the road with a bag of cubes, and led most of the cows into the calf patch.  Ironically, this was the tough part.  It is not easy carrying a 50 pound sack of cubes through a mud hole with hungry cows on your heels.  I, however, got the fun part.  Anna texted me when she was in place, and I did my end run around the northern and western edge of the Horse Pasture, through the Western Gap of the New Fence, behind Tank 2 (Horse Tank), and through our new gap into the Lane.  The cows had no idea that I was there, until some of the spookier ones turned off the cubes that Anna was putting out and came down toward me.

I’m proud to say that the fence that Dad and I put into the Eastern end of the Tank prevented them from crossing Tank 3 into the Old Field.  However, I just couldn’t keep from going past me on the Tank bank.  These tanks were built back in the oil field days and they have about 3-5 foot banks.  These are covered in trees and thicket and you have to have a man up on the bank as well as down on the flat in order to stop the cows.  So, yes, we did get the calf that we wanted, and yes, the fence that Dad and I put into the tank held and turned the cows, but I couldn’t keep those others from passing me without help.

The next day went pretty smoothly.  We separated the calf and his momma quickly and cut her out in the chute.  I am confident that one day we will pen cows like we did in the old days.  I think finishing off our trap so that it will hold cows for several days will be useful.  Then, if they get by me, we can just go around and try again.  We are working on getting another horse up and ready and I need to try Rebel again to see if his back is better.  I would also like to extend our trap to include the Mineral Box Field.  We have a lane there as well that will feed into the Tank Lane and Calf Patch.  Frequent penning will help them drive better and will help Dixie figure out how to be a cow dog.

The underlying lesson in all this has been to commit all of the work of our hands to God.  So many times in recent memory we have tried penning and couldn’t.  We started praying that God’s purposes for the day would stand.  I think this has helped.  Not just with our actual success in the field, but with our attitudes as well.  When we “fail” in our task it is now God’s responsibility and we do not have to take ownership of it.  We still review what we could have done differently, but we just don’t sweat it as much.

12 February 2013

Silver's First Ride (Kind Of)

Shortly before the kicking incident I had Silver on the lead rope and introducing him to some friends.  I had not intended to work with him at all, but since I was there and he was hooked up, I started leading him around, reminding him of the basics.  In all the time we had not worked together, he still remembered how to longe, start, stop, back up, etc.  He is still not comfortable when throwing a saddle up on his back but he is getting better.

It was recommended in a horse-breaking book that you work the horse from the fence.  He has to get used to things happening above him and behind his head.  This is one of the main things that a new horse objects to when being ridden for the first time.  The other thing is the weight on his back.  So, in any kind of training, it is best to break all the different elements into the tiniest possible pieces, get him used to it, then reassemble them one by one.  That’s why I think fencework is going to be useful.

With all this in mind, I led him over to the fence and started hazing him from above.  That is the ridiculous looking picture you see here.  Of course, the trick is getting him to stay next to the fence at all.  An option here would be to lead him into the chute and work him there.  However, this could cause a wreck if he does get spooked.  Further experimentation is the key, but having a second man on foot to keep him up close should work the best.

So, without the benefit of someone to pen him in, I could only do so much, but I did lean on him from the fence.  Hanging on to the top rung, I just leaned out with my right hand and put a lot of my weight on him, but was still able to pull myself away if I needed to.

The next step is to get the saddle on him good and tight and let him get used to that or to try to buck it off.  I did not want to do this without some experienced help, so the next time Dad was over, we drug the saddle out.  We got it on him without a whole lot of fuss, but he still is not too keen on this process.  Next was lowering the off side stirrup and the cinch.  It’s really nice having help on this one, because when I just drop it down, Silver spooks and starts to back away, losing the saddle.  This could further spook him, or he could step on it, but if nothing else, he learns that he can get away from it when he wants to.  Because of this, getting the saddle screwed down tight needs to be done as gently and fuss free as possible.  Once it’s on tight, he can buck all he wants.  That would be a good lesson.

Unfortunately, the saddle (especially without the blanket) was too big.  Without adding holes it would just be too loose and that would be certain to cause a real wreck if he bucks and it turns or slides.  Not wanting to just let him go, we eased the saddle off, then led him over to do some fencework.  With Dad kind of holding him there, this was a lot easier, but there were also some other horses over the fence that he was keenly interested in, which kind of distracted him.  I waved my hands.  I leaned on him.  Eventually, I held on to the fence with both hands and feet, then squatted down on his back and basically sat on him like he was a chair.  I know it’s not spectacular, but this was his first ride.  It addressed the two main points about riding, being the height and the weight.  Then, without putting nearly as much weight, I hooked my leg over his back.  He never fretted a bit.

So, Silver’s first ride was really not much of a ride, but hopefully, by the time I actually do get on for the first time, it will be just as uneventful.  I really intend to find the best way to break a wild horse without getting broken myself.  I’ll keep y’all posted!