by Laura Crum
As some of you know, I ride several days a week at a local arena where my friends practice team roping. I used to be a roper, but gave it up when I got pregnant at 43, and I’ve never taken it back up again, having decided I prefer trail riding. But I do love moving cattle on horseback, and I enjoy being with my friends, and its also nice to lope circles in a big, well groomed arena once in awhile, so my son and I go ride with the ropers a couple of times a week.
Our favorite chore is gathering the cattle. This is not exactly a real big deal, as the cattle are in a twenty acre pasture. But they can be resistant and the pasture has steep hills and a several acre section of redwood forest, so this can make things interesting. Last time we gathered, we had to do a bit of loping to and fro across the field to deter the leaders from making a break and it was all great fun. Then, when the herd was safely in the catch pen, my friend Wally said, “We’re missing one.”
Sure enough. The dark red brindle steer was missing.
This was not good. Those of you who are cow people know that cattle are herd animals, and they seldom leave the herd unless they are sick or injured.
But another friend, Mark, said, “That steer is an escape artist. He probably got out.”
Oh dear. Because on one side of this pasture are some suburban houses and on the other is several hundred acres of unfenced forest land. Neither scenario was a positive one.
Obviously we had to go look for the steer. Some people rode the fenceline. My son and I rode into the section of the pasture that was forested, to see if the steer was hiding out.
Down the hill we went, riding into a dark gully full of redwood trees, with a steep little creekbed at the bottom. I was not on my steady Sunny horse, but on my friend’s six year old blue roan gelding, Smoky. Smoky is a good, level headed young horse, but he is not Sunny. He jigged a bit and fretted, looking anxiously into the bushes as we crossed back and forth through the dark, hilly forest, trying to find a dark red steer. (So, why couldn’t it have been a white steer, ya know?)
My son, on Henry, was his usual fearless self. “I’m right behind you, Mama,” he said as we slogged up yet another hill to the very top corner of the pasture.
I still didn’t see the steer anywhere. But Smoky was focused very intently on the redwood tree at the top of the hill and his whole body was tense. I’m not going to kid you, I took a good grip on the saddle horn, and felt of my horse’s mouth. “What’s up, Smoky,” I said in a meant to be calm voice, hoping quite strongly that he would not spook and try to take off down this steep hill.
“He sees the cow, Mama,” said my son.
“He does? Where? I don’t see him.” And I didn’t.
“He’s lying down. Right behind the redwood tree,” said my sharp eyed kid. “I see him. So does Smoky.”
I urged Smoky to take a step forward and I looked down. Sure enough, right behind the tree, not ten feet from me, lay the dark red steer, holding perfectly still, looking right at me. Well, damn. Its not many cattle that will purposefully leave the herd and then hide from you like that. This was obviously one wily steer.
“Get ready,” I told my kid. “We’re gonna get him up.” And I stepped Smoky toward the steer and slapped my leg with my hand, yelling, “Here now,” or something equally meaningless.
Smoky was tense but willing. He didn’t spook when the steer hopped up under his nose and he didn’t run off when the animal took off down the mountainside. My son and I followed at a more sedate pace and I yelled to let the others know where we were and that we’d found the missing cow.
Some ten minutes later, with several friends helping, the wily red steer was herded into the catch pen to pay his dues as part of the roping herd. And my son had a grin a mile wide.
“We’re good cowboys, aren’t we Mama?” he said. And, I guess, in a manner of speaking, we are. Though I can tell you, I quite sincerely wished I were riding Sunny a few times while we were trekking through that forest.
So that’s my little adventure for today. Does anybody else out there suffer from nerves when their horse gets tense? Man, all a horse has to do is get on the muscle just a little and I tense up inside. I know better than to get tight with my legs or pull on the horse too much, but inwardly I am just as anxious as can be. I can hide it pretty well, but its still there. And this is why I value Sunny so much. He doesn’t get tense—and so I don’t either. But I am riding Smoky a lot, so I need to work on this. Any suggestions?
PS—I wrote this post on Friday. On Sunday my friend and boarder, Wally, took Smoky to a practice roping—I didn’t go. When Wally came home he had a sad story to tell, and both he and I are puzzled and, I will admit, distressed. Because after three years of absolutely no indication that he’d ever do anything violent, Smoky blew up—shortly after being saddled, while tied to the trailer. Bucking and bouncing off the end of the leadrope. Wally untied him, thinking to spare the horse getting hurt on the trailer, and also thinking he could get his attention and get him under control. Not so. The horse was bucking blind, for what reason we don’t know; he acted like a cinchy horse, but this horse has never shown one indication of cinchiness in his entire life. Whatever the reason, he bucked over the tongue of the trailer and got himself hung up in the safety chains. He ended up on the ground, with half his body under the truck and his leg still in the chains. Wally thought he would simply have to find the quickest way to kill him.
The other ropers gathered around and were able to immobilize the horse. They actually had to jack the trailer up to free his leg and drive the truck off the top of him. To Wally’s amazement, Smoky stood up and walked off sound, though with a nasty cut on his pastern. The vet who came said she thought the cut did not go the joint. The next day Smoky was slightly lame and sore, but not excessively so, for what he had been through.
We’re doctoring him, and healing him up, but both Wally and I are really sad. Because if a horse will do this once, for whatever reason, he’s capable of doing it again. I, for one, am not game to ride him any more. At least not until someone else has ridden him for a good long time, and it has been clearly demonstrated that he’s safe. I don’t think Wally should ride him either. Wally is 77 years old. Neither he nor I have any business messing with a horse who is capable of being violent.
But it makes me very, very sad. Because we put a lot of effort into bringing Smoky along and the horse was doing so well. As evidenced by the first part of my post, I trusted him. I never, ever thought that he would be capable of violent, blind bucking. I never saw one sign that he was the least bit prone to being cinchy. I’ve been wrong before, so that’s no surprise, but seldom have I been this blind-sided by a horse.
Anyway, there’s my horse story for today. Any thoughts?