Sunday, May 03, 2009
The Pocket-sized Cow Horse
I may have mentioned that we’ve had a little snow lately. Just an average April snow shower, with enough accumulation to bury a short elephant, if one were ever foolish enough to wander into northern Montana in the spring. The snow is melting now, leaving behind fields covered in water and slush and mud. The footing is treacherous. Badger holes lurk under harmless-looking patches of leftover snow. But there is still work to be done, and not all of it in a pickup. My husband broached the subject at lunch on Sunday. “I need you to go up on the hill and bring in the heifer that lost her calf.” The sun was shining, the temperature above forty degrees for the first time in a week. I agreed. There are three horses in my personal herd at the moment. Ember is the prima donna, the first string rope horse, and good enough at it that her cute little nose would be seriously out of joint if someone expected her to go out and play ranch horse. Plus, she’s obnoxious to ride in the pasture. Roo was raised in a part of eastern Oregon that gets slightly less rain per year than Tucson, Arizona. He balks at oversized puddles. Forget splattering across a submerged field, through chest deep snow banks, and across a draw swollen with runoff. That left Pocket. Pocket is my cow horse. Her name is a direct reference to her size. Small enough to get on in full winter attire, agile enough to outmaneuver any cow. Her greatest claim to fame is a grandfather who won a few horse races. Thoroughbred aficionados might recognize the name. They called him Secretariat. Having spent a lifetime on this ranch, Pocket can navigate a minefield of badger holes with nary a stumble. She doesn’t trip over rocks or her own feet, and rarely slips, even on the most greasy ground. And she will go anywhere. Swamp, near vertical coulee descent, snow bank, creek. Point the way and she will go. Mostly, this is a good thing. But it does lay the burden of decision-making on the rider. A more cautious steed will pause, look back, give you that ‘Are you sure?’ look before venturing into a horse-swallowing bog. I’m not sure Pocket would hesitate if I asked her to stroll off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Sunday, though, was a good day to have the fearless Pocket as my partner. The cow was not interested in being herded from a sunny, rapidly greening pasture into the barn. We urged her forward. She went left, through a foot deep pool of slush, into a bog. Pocket followed. The cow went back to the right, across the muddy road and into a snow bank clear up to her belly. Pocket followed. Just shy of the gate, the cow made a break down the fence, across a stretch of slippery, wet grass, through more snow, and down into the water-logged draw. Pocket followed. At that point, the cow threw up her hooves and surrendered. We pushed her through the gate--guarded by a snowdrift ten yards across and a good three feet deep--and into the waiting pen. Mission accomplished. We headed for the barn and a well-earned bucket of oats. And of course, Pocket followed. Pocket, still in her winter clothes.