Click over to this weeks Ride of the Week for the further adventures of the "Inept Cowboy Gang".
It was a cold and fairly miserable October day, and I had gotten roped into going on a cattle hunt for a ranch that a couple of my friends were working at. "Come on!" said both Ham and Gary. "It'll be fun!" So we rode out into the national forest looking for fifteen or twenty lost head.
Ham and Gary were well mounted on their personal horses, but I was on one of the horses that the "livery" branch of the ranch owned and rented out in their dude string. "Oreo" was a ten or twelve year old black and white pinto, and not a complete waste of hay, but wouldn't have been my first choice of a ride. After four or five hours of cross country riding in the rugged mountains looking for cattle, I was getting pretty tired of my borrowed horse and saddle, and was all too willing to stop when one of the guys suggested a break.
We dismounted and I tied up my mount. Ham and Gary both KNEW that their horses would stand "ground tied", so they just got off and just left their horses to graze on their own.
Now, any of you that have spent much time in the Colorado Rockies may know that the grazing is sparse, at best, in the high country (which is why the cattle were so hard to find) and a little traveling may be necessary to find grass. The two ground tied horses looked at one another and said, "Forget this, there is HAY back at the ranch". While we stood in the freezing wind, we all watched the two horses wheel and head down the trail at a ground eating long trot. Umm, crap.
"See you later, boys!" and I untied my horse and took off in hot pursuit. Okay- maybe not so hot. I was still freezing my pommel off.
The trails in the high country are often old game trails that have been "improved" for use by the public. Their path isn't determined by the views, or the shortest distance to the destination. The trails are placed not so much by where you WANT to go, as where you CAN go. Cliffs, steep hillsides, rock out-croppings, heavy brush and deadfall timber all conspire to keep you on the trail, and keep the trails narrow. Narrow as in "one lane, no passing, you can't get around me, alrighty then let's REALLY RUN home" narrow.
After a few miles of trying to "head 'em off at the pass", I finally got in front of the runaways. They stopped and looked at me like I was some kind of jerk, trying to ruin their day, and I discovered my next problem. As the horses had been standing "ground tied", their reins were left down on the ground, and as they were SO GOOD at standing ground tied, neither were wearing lead ropes or halters. After their aborted bid to make it an an early day, they had about three-fourths of a rein between them, the rest having been pulled out of their bits by their feet (man, that musta hurt).
Leading a horse in heavy woods can be a challenge. Ponying a horse by its mouth rather than a halter can be a challenge. Guiding a horse that is still excited from a bid for freedom can be a challenge. Taking a horse for a walk beside your horse, because your lead is too short to let it walk behind you can be a challenge. Leading a horse AWAY from home, when he has already decided that it was time TO GO home can be a challenge If you add all these together, and multiply it by two horses, it gets really tough. The sky was gray, overcast and snowy, but the air near me was blue. I'm sure that if the horses or any cute little woodland animals nearby could understand English, they would have been thinking "Nope, that's just not anatomically possible." The Ham and Gary heard me coming nearly twenty minutes before I finally got back. They had started a campfire, and were getting prepared to settle in for the night. They seemed glad to see me, certainly happier than the horses were to be back where they started from.
We had found where the cattle had gone down a steep canyon to get down to water just before the great escape, but now were losing daylight fast, and were out of time. I had stopped and picked up the pieces of reins I spotted on my way back, so we cobbled together enough "steering" for the trip home, and called it a day.
I was busy at the lodge, and couldn't make the trip the next day. They found the cattle right where we thought they were, and brought them back without incident. I'm willing to bet they never got off their horses that day.