First Big Horse Adventure of 2009, March 21
Last night I was on the phone with my back to the window when Bill hollered, “Drop the phone, the horses are out!” Thinking they were our horses, I indeed dropped the phone as I turned around to look out the window, to see our neighbor’s horses making their first great escape of the year. Happens every year and we are usually the first responders. The people managing the livery across the road currently have seven horses of their own and had just brought in seven more to get ready for the season.
Bill had grabbed a halter and headed out the door. He had them turned around in the street and headed back into their own yard, when the livery’s kitchen door opened and one of their dogs charged into the yard, right into the pack of horses. So much for going back into their corral; all 14 turned tail for the trail to the National Forest and the chase was on. By that time, Pat (the Livery manager) had a halter and Bill came back for walkie-talkies. We hopped in the car and drove to the trailhead, where Bill caught up with Pat. Now it’s 7:00 pm and we know there’s not a lot of light left before nightfall. I took the car back away from the trailhead and waited. Soon I could see horses coming back down the switchbacks toward the highway. It was Pat’s personal horses; the two herds had split and his were ready for dinner. At this time of night there should have been no traffic on the road, so of course here come cars from both directions. By the time five cars had passed, the horses had turned around and headed over the hill again, not on the trail this time, and it was now dark. No use hunting them with flashlights; these guys have not been trained to night lights, so the decision was made to just leave them alone for the night and gather them in the morning. It was national forest with plenty of graze and water so they would be safe enough.
It’s 6:15 am, Sat. morning, and we hear Pat’s truck start and drive away. We hit the shower and by 6:45 we each have a halter and a can of grain and are across the street offering any assistance. Pat’s wife, Vickie, says they’ve been up since 4:30, searching with flashlights. Just then we heard horses on the trail and saw Pat and Justin leading two of his horses. When he got to the yard, he explained about finding nine of them back at the old mine building, grazing. They got halters on two of them and headed back with the rest following, feeling like the Pied Piper; however, part way back some of the loose ones got frisky in the cool morning air and raced up the trail ahead, then took off again. They walked the two they had down and Bill joined them to head back up the trail. I realized we had forgotten the walkie-talkies, so I ran into the lodge and retrieved our set, giving one to Vickie so she and I could keep in touch. I drove to the trailhead and noticed a group of horses coming down a hillside away from the guys. By the time I parked the car on the edge of the road, seven horses had met the pavement and headed toward Wild Basin, away from everyone looking for them. I hopped back in the car to cut them off but another car came along and actually herded them on down the road. A neighbor pulled up behind me and said he and his wife would go head off that bunch; for me to go back to the trail to the livery and head them back in.
I waited a few minutes at the business loop turnoff and sure enough, here came the horses, being herded back by the wife in their truck. Looking good, and then the last little bugger, Gizmo, herded them back across the road and up the hill from whence they came! That was enough! I followed them up the hill and we started the “walking down” thing. Finally, at the top, they stopped for a breather and I was able to call to a couple I knew and shake my grain can. A lot of patience later they decided to check me out. I spread some of my grain on the ground then walked up to the biggest one, Dakota, and put my halter on him. I talk to him a lot when I go to feed our horses, so he was fine with me, although my halter barely fit his head. I led him back down the hill until we intersected with the trail and we followed that on down, with the rest coming meekly along. Once, Gizmo tried to take a couple back, but I just kept talking to them and told him to get away by himself. Next thing I know he is poking along behind. One of the 3 yr olds tried to get past us on the trail, but by then Dakota was enjoying being “boss”, so he laid his ears back at her when I told her to whoa and get back. That settled that. I got to play the Pied Piper and brought in seven, alone!
Vickie and I put them in the corral. I gathered up my grain can and headed back up the trail to look for the guys. They had the hardest ones to find and I had no way of knowing where they were, so I decided to play tactical and go the other direction, looking for tracks. I felt good thinking I was at least finding where they weren’t. We were closing the circle. Then, going cross country to avoid large snow drifts, I spotted large tracks; one of the horses was a draft-cross, so I knew it was the right set of tracks, not the ones left from yesterday’s ride that went out. I reported to Vickie that I was following tracks and headed for the meadow. No horses, but more tracks. I continued on to Fox Creek, which was still frozen. I could see where the horses had crossed and followed them, partly on trail and partly cross country, up a steep hill towards a pond. Before I got to the pond I noticed a lot of changing up of the tracks, some up and some down. When our two mustangs had been turned loose 10 yrs. ago, we had found them on Olive Ridge, right where theses tracks were leading, so I followed that road and suddenly realized I was being watched. A lone horse was standing in the middle of the fire route road. I stopped and we talked for a while; she didn’t know me and was unsure, but not wanting to move much. That’s when I noticed she was hurt, so I slowly moved up to her, offered her some grain and watched the relief in her eyes as I put the halter on her. I then realized the tracks I had seen were the other horses trying to get her to follow, until they just gave up on her.
After checking the mare for injuries, she and I started back towards home. She had a scrape on her right hind leg, probably from barb wire, and it was quite swollen, but she was able to walk slowly. As soon as we started walking, she kept staring towards the pond, so I assumed the rest had gone that way, so we walked that way also. Saw lots of fresh tracks, but no horses. After I got back in range of the radios, I talked to Vickie and told her I was coming back with one horse. She was very relieved and said the guys had just called, and they had the other four. All horses accounted for! The next call came from Bill. They had just gotten back with the horses and he said he would walk out to meet me. It would be nice to have company walking back. Such a nice hubby!
It turns out Bill had found the other horses and had a halter on one of them and was feeding them grain while waiting for the other guys to meet up with him. Then they all walked them out. He had actually found them a short ways from the pond, in a favorite picnic spot of ours, and taken them out just ahead of me. He wondered how we hadn’t run across each other, but there are lots of trails intersecting that region and we just happened to be on different ones, with a hill between us. End of story 3 1/2 hours later (and final count): Pat and Justin, 2 horses; Bill, 4 horses; Juanita, 8 horses!