Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Horse Races


At any given time, we have at least six or eight horses 'in'. This does not mean they are lounging around neat paddocks behind white railed fences. It means they are out in the coulee but close enough that with a bucket of grain and that funky whistle only my dad can do, you probably won't have to hike more than a quarter of mile to find them, then persuade them to follow you back to the barn. Unless it's rainy, or snowy. Then they'll be waiting at the back door because it's dry inside the barn, and because when it's rainy or snowy you probably aren't going to ride them anyway.

Technically, all of the horses around here belong to my dad, except one. That would be Roo. He belongs to me. It says so on his registration papers, so I have to claim him. The rest are pretty much up for grabs. (Actually, so is Roo, but if he were a car I'm pretty sure I could leave him parked in a ghetto with the keys in the ignition and even if someone did take him, they'd go about six blocks, turn around and bring him right back.)

So today is the day we gather the big herd, for whatever reason. It's going to take every family member of useful age to accomplish the task. When I was in high school that meant all six of us. To help you put yourself more firmly in our boots, imagine the horses are bicycles and you and your parents and your brother and sisters are going out for a long ride. Out in the garage there are six bikes.

One is ancient and rusty and you have to work your butt off just to keep it moving. The instant you stop pedaling it stops dead and reaches for a bite of grass. No matter how hard you yank on the reins and kick, it ain't moving until it darn well feels like it. (Yeah, yeah, a bike doesn't eat grass. Work with me here, folks.)

Two are high performance racing bikes that are awesome when you're competing, but this ride is all about smooth and easy and they're stuck in high gear and you know you're going to spend the entire day reefing on the brakes and skidding sideways down the hills and bouncing through the holes and over the rocks at a rate of speed that makes those mountain bike racers look like wussy boys. And girls. (Had to add that or Sue would kick my butt.)

One is a brand new model. They forgot to put the instructions in the box and you're still figuring out how to get it adjusted right. The steering is a little loose so it has a tendency to wander rather than track in a straight line. The brakes don't always work. And if something unexpected were to happen, (Say, a rabbit leaps up out of the brush. Or a grouse. Or a fly.) you are fairly certain it will come completely unglued and parts of both of you will end up flying through the air.

One is last year's model. The gears all work. The steering is pretty well adjusted and the brakes are reliable. Inexplicably, though, the designer neglected to include shock absorbers. In low gear you lurch and roll down the trail like a robot with one leg sawed off above the ankle. In high gear, it's like being aboard a deer as it bounds stiff-legged through the brush. By the end of the day you'll have decided you really need a new career. Something that isn't quite so hard on your body. Like maybe a punching bag.

And there, over in the corner, is the last bike. You salivate at the very thought of riding that bike. It glides along so easy you barely have to move your feet. Turns before you touch the handlebars, anticipating your every desire. Stops when you want to stop and stays motionless until you want to go. You don't even have to engage the parking brake. It is the perfect bike.

Forget that bike. That's your mother's bike and even you are not foolish enough to throw a leg over it. You're going to have to scrap it out with your siblings for the rest of the bikes.

So now you get the general idea. Back to my family. Dad announces it's time for the big gather and everybody has to help. I'm assuming quite a few of you have kids. Or were kids. Or are kids. (If you don't fall into any of those categories, I'm curious. How are cattle prices this year in your galaxy?) It's not easy to get kids moving, especially if there's work involved. So you would be astonished at the speed at which we all dashed to the porch, donned our riding gear and sprinted to the barn.

Last one there gets the old rusty bike.



PS to Cyndi: This is sorrel.


 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kari,
In addition to beating all of you to the barn for the best horse, the contest was also on for the best tack such as saddle (especially one with all parts included) and the bridle with the bit that your horse liked.
Lola

~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...

Kari-

I love your description of the herd. And your analogy is just priceless! We don't have that problem here, as we have about 20 head of the nicest riding horses around. Now some of them may be colts, but we don't have anything that rides like a jackhammer (but God I've been there and it ain't fun!)and even the colts try to handle like sports-cars when stopping and turning. I figure we're among the fortunate-maybe I can chalk it up to the nearly 50 year old breeding program here?

We do have horses that think being in the barn when it's cold or wet is the best place to be, however! They got that part totally figured out!

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Actually, we've got more really nice riding horses right now than we've ever had. When I was growing up we never really had horses that were pure 'pasture horses'. Everything was in some phase of training either as a rope horse or a barrel horse or both. We've always figured the best thing for rodeo horses is to go out and work, but the more time they spend in the arena the more they tend to be geared on the high end, which can make them pretty miserable to gather cows on. Generally the best riding horses of the bunch were the ones that were broke but just getting started roping, so we hadn't started asking them to be real aggressive yet.

Breeding is definitely a big component. It's been our experience that most 'nice' horses don't have the killer instinct and confidence it takes to be top notch calf roping horses. That's why we had so many Roan Hancocks. *grin*

Bill Kirton said...

What a great blog, Kari. An unknown world as far as a townie like me's concerned but you convey it so vividly - the hard work but (to me at least) the romance of an America I've only ever read about. Thanks.

Indigo said...

(Chuckling)I have a working dog for the deaf that works just like the brand new model. She's reliable and knows her job, but she's still young and shy enough you never know what to expect. I've had moments of being yanked out of whatever reverie I was as the big 65lb. baby jumped around to avoid a small fly.

In any case she's mine and I wouldn't trade her. Out of curiousity, which one did you end up with in the end? (Hugs)Indigo

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Indigo: It varied, but it usually my dad was on the new model, aka half broke colt. The high speed models were generally the barrel horses so my sisters and I were on those, keeping them in shape/taking the edge off and getting some work done at the same time. The rough one always seems to be a calf roping horse. Tommy was the worst, although the tan colored horse in the picture above(Nico) is pretty bad when he's fresh. It was a toss up whether you went for the rough one or the out of control one.

The old slow horse is usually reserved for the youngest kids and the dudes. Doc fills that bill right now, (although he's neither old or slow, just lazy) and if there isn't either a kid or dude going along on the ride, Doc doesn't either.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Lola: These days the battle is for a tie-down. We own approximately twenty three of the things, but only two have no broken parts.

Anita said...

Great analogies!

As a new rider, I sometimes wonder about falls, something that I can do without. :)