After several hard day’s work at the ranch horse clinic last weekend, we gave the horses a couple days off. Rich is riding in a cutting this weekend here at the Chaffee County Fair, so Tuesday afternoon, I asked Melissa to bring the cows in from the pasture so he could work some cows that evening after work. She scoured the pasture with two different horses, combing the trees where the cows like to hide from the bugs and sun, to no avail. Four of our five heifers were gone.
We found the weak spot in the fence where they had escaped and followed their tracks for a while. I spent three hours on the four wheeler combing the property to the south where the tracks were but gave up right before dark and was chased inside by a scary thunderstorm. Not knowing how long they had been out made it tough to predict where we should look for them and darkness defeated further search; it was even too late to make phone calls.
The next morning I called our brand inspector bright and early, figuring that someone had probably spotted them, turned them into a pen and called the brand inspector. Sure enough, they were in a big center-pivot hay field about a half mile north from us. I met the farmer out on the road and he pointed out the gates and corral set up for gathering cattle, but the cows were nowhere in sight. They were hidden up in the trees, relaxing and chewing cud after enjoying the all-night, all-u-can-eat alfalfa buffet.
I headed back home to get the stock trailer and a horse. I had planned to take Dodger instead of Dually. Dodger, with more than a decade of hunting cows on a huge Texas ranch, is much better at bashing timber and thrashing through the brush hunting for cows. Dually prefers to think of himself as a show horse—leave the bugs and stumps and rocks to his hardier blue-collar cousins—the real ranch horses. But, as luck would have it, Dodger had just been turned out to belly deep pasture for his periodic opportunity to gorge himself and I didn’t want to take the time to wade through the irrigated pasture to catch him. So Dually it was!
Saddled and loaded up in the trailer, we headed for the hay field. I positioned the truck strategically to help me herd the cows in the pen, should I be so lucky as to find them and be able to drive them across the field. As luck would have it, the cows were just wandering out of the trees and into the hay field. Now that they were found, all that remained was to get them into the pen and loaded into the trailer for the quick trip home.
I hopped on Dually and turned toward the four cows, who were several hundred yards away. They took one look at Dually and me and put their heads up and high-tailed it in the other direction—to the farthest end of the narrow 80 acre field. Taking a very wide berth, I rode toward the trees where they headed and finally caught up with them, pressed up against the far fence. But as I went to gather them up and start pushing them back to the pen, I saw that one of the heifers had gone through the fence and was on the other side in another pasture. Great.
With no way to enter that pasture from where I was, the only way I could think to get her back was to drive the other cows away so she would jump it. Conveniently, that worked and before I knew it, I had all four cows headed down the fence line, marching away from me in order. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep them on the fence without ending up back in the trees, where they are much harder to line out, so we headed out across the hay field in a straight line toward the pen.
Dually shined at being a real ranch horse and kept those cows marching perfectly straight. In no time at all, we had all four cows in the pen and with Dually guarding the open gate to keep the cows in, I backed the trailer up to the alley. With Dually’s help, we coaxed, pushed and prodded the cows into the trailer and in less than an hour from saddling, we were headed home, with the escaped convicts in tow.
It’s amazing how cow horses figure out exactly what you are trying to accomplish with the cows and then take responsibility for it. Although I think Dually still prefers fluffed up arena footing over timber bashing, he was proud of himself for a job well done, and so was I. Taking a great ride and working cows was not on my agenda that morning, but I sure am glad I had the excuse to do it. And I am thankful it was a beautiful cool summer morning and not a raging blizzard—that might not have been as much fun.
Enjoy the ride!
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