A Day On the Ranch
- October 7, 2015
- Jenn Zeller
On a bright summer day, perched atop my faithful, chestnut steed, Dino, the wind blows warm and steady.
At a trot we head North, down the cow trail; my eyes scanning the beautiful landscape.
To the East, I can see the river, the cow herd, and the broodmares. To the North- Scatter Butte, tall grass, and rolling hills -which we take at a trot. To the West, nothing but the rolling hills – the ever-changing landscape.
A section of the ground turns dark as a cloud rolls overhead. Blue skies with enormous, white, fluffy clouds waft through the sky. Bluer than the turquoise sea, the sky is piercing.
The emerald green prairie turns to an ocean of grass as the wind blows through it. Grass rolls like waves, rustles like tree leaves, and gives off an earthy scent. Wildflowers of purple, pink and sunflower yellow shine against the green.
The meadowlarks, killdeer and sand pipers flit about, calling to one another, and their young.
On and on the prairie rolls.
I find the gate in the bottom that I want to go through. I leave it open. Down to the creek, through sunflowers and tall grass we go.
There are escaped yearlings at the dam in this pasture and you never know about yearlings.
Will they scatter when they see me?
Will they quietly comply?
Will they head off in a suitable direction- or in my case- will they go East and stay South, away from the muddy creek?
I’d prefer East, so down the draw we trot. Then up a hill, down the next, until I can see them below me. I want to come in behind them, stacking the deck in my favor, you see. It’s warm, but not too warm, so they should travel – though, the wind will be to their tails. They’re lazing away on the dam grade, chewing their cud while they fight flies together. There are just over 40 misfits and when I ask them to begin to move off, nine of them dive into the dam for a swim.
Dino and I continue to push them around the dam East – though I’m in no hurry. There’s nothing pressing to do today save for put them back in their pasture.
As we begin to round the dam and head South, another 10 dive in to cool themselves. Muddy gumbo can be tricky, so me bailing in on my horse after them isn’t the ideal thing to do.
The water is murky and brown from being stirred around. Dino asks for a drink, slurps away and begins to paw at the water. Though they’re taking a dip, the girls are still moving through the dam in the correct direction and the nine I had to leave are coming out, one by one.
We turn right out of the water and gallop back around the dam to the left – encouraging the 9 stragglers to get with the group.
Zigzagging our way up the draw, away from the dam, we go right, we go left; the girls munching as they go. Across the muddy draw one way, and then back the other.
I don’t mind as long as they’re going somewhere.
This left and right is a good opportunity to keep my horse soft and gather him up as I come to each side, where I stop quietly, back a step or two, and turn toward the herd to trot across and catch up to the laggard on the other side of the group.
I can see the road fence on my left now, so my eyes scan to the West to find the fence line that has the open gate. I search for the gate at the top of the hill, across the creek, find it, and know I’m getting close.
We arrive at the water tank- a few of the girls have to drink again.
Dino senses we’re close to home and his energy level goes up. We back some circles, and move his feet to help him realize, I’ve got a pretty good idea what we’re doing -rushing home isn’t on the list.
Wrapping up their time at the tank, the girls go to grazing again, so I offer Dino another chance to drink- but this time the water is clear. He snorts at the float refilling the tank. I laugh, rub him and set him on a yearling heifer that’s pretty sure she might challenge us.
We begin to push the few remaining girls off the tank and back to the herd. They can see the broodmares and cows now, to our left and a couple of the more ambitious girls began walking out like they mean to go somewhere.
They’re starting to line out now, so I get a count: there’s 43 of them.
But as yearlings do, they’re really not sure where they’re going.
Now they’re headed for the corner, so this means, my back and forth is now more like, side to end, as we trot up to the front, shape the two leaders toward the gate in the bottom of the quiet draw, and hurry back to push the stragglers that would now rather eat than move on.
Loping to the front, we pick up a right lead, as that’s the direction they should go; shape the two leaders, quietly halt, pick up a left lead and lope toward the end, angling in on the girls that are doing more eating, less walking, and less paying attention.
The gate is closer now. They can see it.
A couple trot over to it, and through it. The rest are dumbfounded.
Hustle on girls, I say as we make some noise and really push on them to get them through the gate.
We lost one. She didn’t make the gate, and headed up the fence toward the corner where the broodmares are across the road.
Not to worry. Laterally, I move my horse away from her so she’ll feel no pressure, and we trot, parallel to her, stopping as I come past her eye. She turns toward me, to the left, and trots down the hill. As she turns, Dino, zeros in on her and is drawn through the turn like a good cow horse should be. Effortlessly he follows just behind her balance point to help her make the gate. As she does, I move him away from her laterally again, keep him soft, let him stop, and back up a few steps.
I step off, rub him for a job well done, and close the gate.
And that, my friends, is another day in my life on the ranch.
About Jenn Zeller
Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...