Day 2. We are loaded up and even the horses seem excited to be working another day. Just before leaving the Lodge, Ida called to say Boulder Animal Control had called her, saying some people had reported cows grazing on their septic field. The number of animals and location made it a pretty sure bet it was the missing-in-action cows we were looking for. We met her at the same spot, loaded our horses into her trailer and headed for the mini division they seemed to have found.
Today, it was only Ida, Bill, Elisa and me. The others had gone to a Halloween party the night before and didn’t want anything to do with collecting cattle. I think it made it easier, because we had meshed into a pretty good team and didn’t have to watch out for the non-riders. Also, the horses seemed much more at ease, now knowing what was expected of them. Audubon seemed to like the company, Washoe had calmed down around the cows and the other two just wanted a job to do.
When we got to the little division up behind Jamestown, there was a young girl waiting for us, maybe 10-12 years old. She had been “keeping an eye on the cows” and told Ida exactly how many and what colors they were. Later, Ida laughed in delight at all the information. Obviously the girl felt she had a very important job to do, and left quite happy. Bill and I rode at the edge of a small lake while Elisa and Ida followed the girl’s directions to locate the cows. They drove them back toward us and we soon met up and headed them homeward. Again, we headed right into the thickest part of the forest, as it was the most direct route back to their pasture, which was between us and the trailer. According to Ida, cows don’t like to follow roads and it’s much too difficult keeping them out of the fencing on either side. After the previous day’s experience, we agreed. As we came to fencing between pastures, the cows would just push through any loose area they came to and we would have to find a way to get the horses through. Ranger won’t go anywhere near a fence that looks like wire, so that meant dismantling one completely! We also had to keep a close eye out for rolled wire on the ground, where old fences had been taken down, but the wire was just left lying around. Again, the cattle didn’t care, but horses don’t like getting tangled.
Once we got the cows back to their regular pasture, they seemed to remember their way on back to the trailer loading area, so all we had to do was follow and keep them moving. They were getting pretty tired by this time and wanted to stop a lot. This day went very smoothly and it only took two hours to get the job done. We were almost sad that it was over; it was such a great ride time. It also ended our riding for the season. The following week I had my shoulder X-rayed due to the fall I had taken while on vacation. No fractures, but the doc said stay off the horses until it was healed, as a safety against re-injury. Bummer! What a great way to end the season, though, with a dream come true.
This is like one of our mini-dreams: moving cattle as a real job, not just in a pen or for practice. Ida, the person we get our hay from, and who winters our horses, had called and asked us if we would like to help her move some of their cattle from the summer pasture. She needed to take them to the main ranch to separate the calves from the mom cows, and her helpers were quickly disappearing because it was Halloween weekend. It was only a week after getting back from our Fall riding vacation and our horses were in good shape and now fully rested from all the travel. We JUMPED at the chance! We were to meet her over on one of the county roads bordering their lease pasture off Hwy 72 on Saturday morning.
Day One. The day was promising to be good weather-wise; a little overcast and cool, but no wind and very comfortable with just a light jacket. We pulled up ahead of Ida and spent a little time getting reacquainted with her horses. We had leased them from her 4 years earlier to operate a small livery, and had let our horses run with hers every winter since then, so it was like greeting old friends. When Ida arrived, she had her younger sister and two of her sister’s friends with her. The two guys were from Norway. One of them said he could ride and one had never really been on a horse before, and Ida’s sister was a rider (grown up around horses, but didn’t spend much time with them lately). Since we were not experienced cattle movers, we were feeling sorry for Ida that she had ended up with such slouches for a crew. We knew she could move the cattle by herself, but she had told us it would be easier if she had people to help keep the odd ones from darting off into the trees. As soon as we started to ride we understood what she meant. We were travelling in very thick aspen groves on mountainous terrain, so just the trees themselves would cause barriers to moving cattle in a bunch.
We all got mounted and headed out to look for the cows. Bill was on Ranger, Elisa (from the Ghost Ranch) had Washoe and I was on Jesse. We stayed at the back of the group so our horses could get accustomed to riding with strange riders. Jesse, in particular, likes to be at the back until she “reads” the other horses in a group. Ida had Audubon, a mare she is training for cattle work; her sister was riding Peanut; the inexperienced guy was on Paint - a marvelous moving paint that we had used as a kid’s horse; and the other guy was on Brownie. Brownie likes to really move out and his rider liked to trot all the time, so they were quite a pair, only Paint and rider had problems trying to keep up. Paint’s rider had a death grip on the reins and saddle horn, and poor Paint could only think to stay with his buddy Brownie. We lost sight of them a lot and I wasn’t sure they were going to stay mounted, but they managed.
After leaving the trail, we covered a lot of varied terrain, weaving in and out of brush, crossing ditches and gullies and navigating the deadfall that accumulates in the forest areas. All of the horses handled the terrain well, as good ranch horses will. I kept wondering how our horses would react when we reached the cattle. Jesse was the only one who had any experience at all, and that had been four years earlier when I had taken her to a Mark Rashid clinic as a 3 year-old and we had spent some time learning a little about the etiquette of moving cattle in ranch work. She hadn’t been near cows since. We were also beginning to wonder if we would see cattle. Where were they?
They were supposed to be in a pasture a couple of miles away. Someone forgot to tell the cows that, because they weren’t there. After riding along several trails and through several fences, we came to some really nice high pasture areas…but no cows. We split into two groups: Bill, Elisa and I checked one direction; Ida and crew took the other area, meeting back in the pasture about ½ hour later. More than two hours of riding and still no sign of cows. By this time, the non-riding guy had enough and had tied his horse to a fence and parked his body on some soft grass. (Later he said that being a cowboy was getting crossed off his list of things to do in life.) We took a short rest to discuss options, and split into groups again. Ida sent us along a fence line and they headed through some trees. We were to meet back at one of the roads leading into this area. When we got there we found Ida but the other three had disappeared. Ida had looked for them and decided they had probably headed back to the truck and trailer, tired of riding. Ida had seen some cow tracks going down one of the roads while she was looking for the other riders, so Ida, Bill, Elisa and I kept together, watching for tracks and getting further and further away from the trailer. We finally came across some promising sign and followed it to the river. Sure enough, there were some of the cow-calf pairs, getting their mid-day drink-in some of the thickest brush I’ve seen on the other side of the river.
We crossed the river and had a devil of a time convincing the cows to get out of the deadfall and re-cross the river! Once we got the cows moving, they took off at a run and we had to slide down the river bank to keep up with them. My right stirrup caught a dead aspen and uprooted it, causing the top of the tree to fall right across Jesse and me. Thankfully my cowboy hat took most of the impact, getting knocked off in the process, but my bulldozer of a horse managed to stomp the tree down and I came away with only a bump in the middle of the forehead as a battle wound. Bill graciously retrieved my hat from the river and we were off after cows again. Ida and Elisa had kept them moving along the river. When we caught up, we got them turned toward the road and headed back. After doing a head count, we discovered we had only found about half, but at least we had complete pairs. I guess sometimes that doesn’t happen. The decision was made to get this bunch loaded and headed for home pastures.
We followed the dirt road for quite a ways then had to turn them into the trees and take them back through the pasture where they were supposed to have been, and back through all the aspen groves and deadfall. By this time Jesse and Ranger had figured out their jobs and were thoroughly enjoying themselves, keeping the cows moving. Jesse took to it like an old hand, remembering her lessons, I guess. We were pushing from the back and I hardly had to give her any guidance. When I did, it was feather light, and just enough to weave into spaces big enough for the both of us. I learned that cows will go through anything! I was sure proud of how she worked the cows. Ranger and Bill covered one side, closer to the road since Ranger prefers to not be in such close territory. Ida was covering the other side and Elisa was chasing down anything that went astray, mostly because Washoe was being a goof when he got too close to the cows. He was soooo excited he wasn’t paying attention to his cues. I was sure glad it was Elisa on him instead of me. Audubon was goofy at times, too, mostly because she’s used to working alone and she would sometimes get excited at the other horses and not pay attention to the trees. Audubon is a large horse and poor Ida was getting hit by more branches than the rest of us. Our shorter Mustangs are handy in the mountains when going cross-country!
When we got to one of the roads to cross, we ran into Hal, Ida’s brother, looking for us to tell us the others were back at the truck. Hal had brought up another trailer to help haul the cows back. While we were talking to Hal, some of the cows had pushed through a barb wire fence and were scattering in the trees. We had to take down part of the fence to get the horses through and the idiot cows had just pushed their way through a loose wire, ignoring the barbs. No wonder they get called stupid. We quickly got them bunched back up and got them back to the trailer in short order. Ida and Hal got them loaded like pros and we called it a day. Ida said we would look for the rest the next day. We had spent 4 ½ hours horseback in very rough stuff and we were all tired, but it was a great day.