3. Horseback

IMAG1814The horses here run as a pack. The old and retired along with the working horses, those in training and those who have yet to start. Every morning they have to be located, visually and then, depending on the tasks for the day, left to amble back to the yard or rounded up and herded back if needed. Unfortunately we have no wranglers so a bucket of grain and a tooting truck have to do the job. The dogs are of no use, in fact, probably a hindrance. Even those with some border collie in them do not seem to understand the goal, just enjoying the run as well.

IMAG1774The yard has a reasonable pull as it is the location of the water trough and grain store. Also but more particularly relevant in summer, it contains the smudge, a totally new concept and use of the word to us. It is a smouldering fire which is maintained in the centre of the yard, fed with dirty hay and burnable house rubbish. The horses stand down wind of this to deter flies and it is extremely effective. The fire department know about these piles so that when they do their reconnaissance flights to lookout for wildfires they are aware it is just the Meeds’ smudge. You live and learn.

We were lucky enough to go on 2 trailrides around the property on the first 2 days and on our third we rode to the summer pasture to check on the cattle. This made the whole experience much more satisfying as if all the previous times in the saddle were just aimed at becoming more confident and competent in order to do a job on horseback. The ‘journey’ took about an hour, initially along the wide and sunken grass verge of the highway which may not sound too great but there is minimal traffic although what there is, is usually a 2 part fully-laden logging truck. We turned off and headed up a widish track, one of the old paths between the quarter sections which seems to divide all the land. This had obviously carried agricultural vehicles at a push but the trees and bushes were intent on overgrowing into the lane.

This cattle check is carried out every few days to ensure that they and their pasture are all okay. Approaching the gate we were met with 2 cows and 2 calves in the undergrowth on the outside of the fence, not a good sign but illustrated what was required. In a team effort we got the gate open and their escape route blocked. Eileen, a very experienced Dutch girl headed into the bushes to herd them out but needed help. Sara, my mount, is a cattle horse so she was proposed to go and help her! My experience a) on horseback is still limited (although much better than it was), b) herding sheep is not inconsiderable but cattle, none and combining the 2 is absolute zero. However, one does what one can and we managed to get the animals back into the field reasonably quickly.

IMAG1811IMAG1813The next task was to check the welfare of the other animals and find the hole in the fence. Roger and I set off around the perimeter looking for the escape hatch. Just as we set off a shout went up, combined with a groan. Shadow, one of the dogs who is a cross between a St Bernard and something equally sizeable, turned up. He’d followed our scent and managed to cross the highway long after we’d left. A previous dog had managed to get itself run over doing exactly the same thing so there was cause for concern. North, one of the little dogs, had followed us initially and had been returned to a lockup to prevent exactly this occurrence. There was little we could do about it now so he stayed and had a great time ambling around, checking out all the smells.

We rode the long side of the pasture where the cows had been found but with no success so turned to follow the far fence when another shout went up. There was one of the yearlings on the outside looking very forlornly back at the herd from the wrong side of the fence. A bit more rounding up and he came back in via the top gate. We followed the top fence as far as the marsh but still couldn’t find a gap. We conceded defeat at this point although subsequently, Marilyn said that this was probably where they had got out because it isn’t too wet under hoof for them at present and the fence posts rot quicker. Anyway, all present and correct by the end.

IMAG1820My relationship with Sara is improving each time we ride. We are getting more used to each other but also she hadn’t been ridden much prior to this week so is settling down as well. She was a little (big) whatnot what I was taking off her tack the previous day so hadn’t received a treat – horse biscuits. She had been much better the third time so I had some in my pocket for when I released her from the halter however she couldn’t wait to set off and join the herd, unlike the previous day when she rooted for the absent treat. She disappeared over the rise to join the pack but after a few minutes she and some of the others wandered back. I went over to her to give her the biscuits as she approached nice and calmly. I didn’t have a halter in my hand as she certainly isn’t calm then. Just as she was taking the biscuits from my hand I noticed that this wasn’t her! Lucky Cruise. Roger has ridden a variety of trusty steeds, Bandit, April and Lilly and has suffered the ignominy of being the only person to fall off this week! No harm done though, only to his pride.

Today, Saturday, Marilyn took us and Silvana, a German girl, over to her friend’s ranch where she was taking some people on a trail ride. We rolled up with the trailer containing Sara, Journey and Windy. Roger met Lily when we arrived although she is one of Marilyn’s horses. In the end, fourteen of us set off on a different landscape than we were used to. The horses were pretty good although ours seemed to feel some frustration at the slow pace. As we were suffering a little from riding four days in succession for not insignificant periods we declined the option to go on the longer ride as we arrived at a dividing point. We would return with Marilyn and a family plus a few other people who I didn’t know leaving the others to continue for a further 2-3 hours.

Our route took us along the side of a lake on a rather narrow path beside the boggy edge. We were nose to tail and suddenly in front of us Journey jumped over a wet area. Sara promptly sunk in to it up to her knees and panicked slightly as neither of us had seen it coming. Moving sideways into the trees to regain her footing I became entwined with all the branches, her personal space doesn’t extend to the rider! It transpired to be a muskrat run.

Further on we were climbing a steep bank when the ride came to a stop ahead. The little boy, about 5-6 had gone off the path and become caught in the undergrowth. He was declining to follow the instructions of his parents and eventually just jumped off so his pony trotted off. Dad dismounted, gave his reigns to Mum and set off after the horse. Mum, meanwhile was trying keep both horses under control in a very confined space whilst also trying to comfort the boy. Marilyn was stuck at the back, unable to see what was happening or get past. She jumped off (not bad for 69!) and gave me Windy’s reigns and managed to wade through to take the Dad’s horse so Mum could sort out the son.

Up ahead was a ‘bridge’ across a particularly boggy area. This comprised a series of uneven cross planks covered with torn roofing felt. It didn’t look great but horses are used to it. Dad and son were sorted and Marilyn had taken back Windy as I passed her and headed towards the bridge. Silvana was waiting on Journey for the Mum to go across the bridge but she had managed to get both her reigns on one side as it was a single rope tied in a specific and very advanced manner but apparently beyond her capability. She had her horse pirouetting 3 or 4 times on the entry to the bridge as she tried to untangle her reign but this just resulted in spooking Journey. Silvana ended up having to dismount and walk across when she could finally advance. I had no idea how Sara would be having witnessed all this from our elevated position after she’d been anxious in the mud. I gave her her head and a little forward encouragement and she crossed it without a falter and took me back safely.

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