We extended our stay in Idaho a couple extra days so that we wouldn’t miss their annual cattle drive where they take their cow and calf herd fifteen miles up into the mountains. It is an all-day event, starting early and ending late, and involves a lot of horseback riding and beautiful scenery. We didn’t want to miss it! All week my sister Karmen and I had been getting horses ready. Karmen put shoes on four horses so that their feet wouldn’t wear out on the rocky trail. I rode Donegal to give her a little refresher so she would be well-adjusted to being ridden again, as my dad was going to ride her on the drive and he is seventy years old and still recuperating from his accident that broke ribs last November. Karmen planned to ride her young mule Garnet, and I was going to take Stormy, the young mare I’d been riding all week.
Branding smoke….a fragrance that isn’t likely to be bottled and marketed by Dior or AirWick anytime soon, but nontheless a smell that evokes strong memories, pulling me into a reminiscent state of mind. I started helping brand calves when I was five years old, back when getting to go along for daily ranch work alongside my dad and siblings was what I lived for. Considering that a normal five year old would probably recoil at the sight of what goes on at a branding, I admit my abnormality of looking forward to branding days when I was a kid.
I’m concocting a grandiose tale in my head about what might have happened last weekend. It goes something like this…Cowboy Dad and I loaded up our horses and trailered out to the South Dakota plains where our cow herd spent the summer. We then rode all day gathering up the herd, enjoying the beautiful western landscape, sorting the cows from the calves, pushing them onto a semi truck trailer, and driving home to Iowa. It would have been a wonderful weekend, with stories to tell of how well our horses worked cattle, and lots of photographs to share of the splendors of the prairie. But alas, it didn’t quite happen that way.
In June we traveled out to Idaho to visit my folks. It’s been almost a year since we’ve seen them, as we didn’t make it out there for Christmas. So we were really looking forward to the making the trip, getting some fresh mountain air, spending time with family, and going on some adventures.
When I was a teenager, this time of year was so exciting. School was ended and we were free to ride horses all day, which was pretty much all that was on my agenda. While Dad finished up the spring planting, we kids would be putting cattle out to pasture and checking on the late-calvers daily. There was so much to do on horseback!
This is Dorothy, our favorite pet cow. Disregarding the fact that I grew up on a ranch where we really didn’t name cattle, as all of the calves were destined for the sale pen and most of the cows were a uniform black color with no distinguishing characteristics…we now have a small enough herd with enough color variations and personalities to be able to tell them apart and call them by name. So we have Dorothy, a glossy red and white Hereford cow. She has a very sweet temperament, is the most laid-back and gentle cow I’ve ever seen, and our affection for her over-rules all common sense, because a smart cattleman would have sold her long ago.
Last weekend we took our cows out west where I grew up. From here, it’s a four hour ride in a car…a six hour ride for a cattle pot and truck and trailer with seven people packed into the crew cab. Saturday was one long hectic day. But it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time, because to me it meant going home.
I’ve been really busy the last three days. Four days ago we lost a calf. One of our herefords’ calves was stillborn, and it’s a real shame because the calf really would have been something—a purebred hereford bull calf. But for some reason or other, he didn’t make it through the birth process. So we went to the cattle auction to try to find a replacement calf to graft onto the cow since her milk was still good. I had seen my dad do this many times, and figured our chances were pretty decent, since this particular cow is Dorothy’s mother, and is very gentle and easy to handle.
It’s calving season! Granted, we aren’t all done with winter yet, but we’ve had such a warm one it’s made us think spring a little early. The cows have been out on cornstalks the last couple of months, and now a few of them have calved, and it’s fun to drive by and watch the little babies trying to get their legs under them and navigate through the corn stubble. It’s just one of the first signs of promise that winter is going away and there are brighter days ahead.
My sister-in-law introduced me to Pinterest a few weeks ago. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s a website where you can “pin” or bookmark websites or photos that inspire you in a neat collection of “boards” for you to come back to and read or use later. For instance, I have a board of horse photos, a board for scrapbooking ideas, a board of photos of things in my favorite color of green, and boards that give do-it-yourself tutorials for making some really neat things. Last night I was creating a board for the style I’d like to have. As I was pinning a beautifully ruffled dress that you could only wear to a wedding party or soiree, the thought hit me, “Who am I kidding? I deal in cow manure!”
Growing up, the horses that my Dad rode were always the best ones we had. They say wet saddle blankets make a good horse, and that was surely the case with Spider. Of Dad’s string of riding horses, Spider was one of the best. He was a big rangy gray gelding with size and strength and beauty being his best qualities.
We scheduled our trip west this spring so that we would time it right to go along on the big cattle drive up Pass Creek to summer grazing in the mountains. This morning began as every morning does on my parents’ ranch: (my husband would interject, “Slowly!” here—ha ha!) with a big breakfast, a Bible devotional, and some long drawn out discussion about which person is to ride which horse, and what other horses might be taken along in the trailer for substitute mounts, and what horses have been shod and which haven’t
I’m thrilled to be starting another year with lots of fresh ideas, helpful horse advice, and some really great horse stories. My excitement stems partially from our just getting back from a good visit to Idaho where my parents live. We had the opportunity to help them move their cattle up to summer pasture in the mountains, and it is an all-day cattle drive, so I have seventeen miles of beautiful photos to share with you, not to mention a bunch of good stories. I love visiting my family out there—the scenery is always beautiful, the air is so fresh and clear, the horses are inspiring, and it just feels good to be around the folks who know me best.
One thing I love about horses is their individual personalities. Just as every person in the world has his own characteristics, every horse is wired differently. And just like every good group of friends has a goofball in it, the horse bunch I grew up with had its own class clown, Gunner.
Spring is right up there on my list of favorite things. There’s nothing more refreshing than new flowers, baby calves, twittering robins, and the earthy smell of overturned dirt. It always gives me a sense of excitement and anticipation of the even better season of summer that’s coming. Spring brings so many reminders of the good things in life.
“I’m so busy I don’t know whether I found a rope or lost my horse.” A co-worker read this quote aloud to me yesterday from a t-shirt catalog she was thumbing through. As I laughed aloud, I thought, “That pretty much sums up how I feel.” Spring hasn’t really even gotten into full swing, and I am feeling left behind and swamped by undone projects.
I have a friend here visiting from Australia for a couple of months, and we went horseback riding yesterday. It’s finally starting to warm up here in the midwest, and with warm breezes beckoning, we put on our riding boots and headed out to the farm.
Every body’s got a tale to tell, and if you’ve been as enthusiastic about outdoor activities as I have, chances are you have some scars as reminders of your experiences. I noticed a scar of mine the other day, which made me start thinking about how I got that scar, which made me wonder just how many scars do I have that are horse-related? I have to say, almost all of my scars have a horse story behind them.
If you haven’t read the first part of this cowgirl story that I wrote last spring, you might want to, in order to gain a full appreciation of the story I am about to tell you. It involves Blacky Lawless, our black angus bull, who holds no respect for human, horse, or handgun. He is […]
When I was a kid, we had a paint horse we called Peppy. He was a half brother to both Kokomo and Apache, but he had inherited much more of the Shetland attitude than the other two. He was a naughty pony.