A Wild Bucking Horse Gather
- April 24, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
In mid April we were preparing to receive our summer cattle on several big grazing leases. A great deal of fence fixing was involved, but one of the biggest problems we had was that there were around 75 head or more of bucking horses running on that 25,000 plus acres of country with the gates wide open between the pastures. The reputation of this bunch of horses had preceded them, so we knew they were not going to gather willingly, nor were they our responsibility, necessarily.
A crew had tried to gather those horses when the gumbo was still soft and nearly killed their saddle horses with no success in gathering any of the bucking string. We had no intention of running them horseback so watched our chance. While going around fences, we caught them all out of the east end of that range, so shut the gates to keep them out. That left them about 18,000 acres to run in. The pens to load them out were in a long, narrow pasture that ran down the middle of the range. There were three gates into it from the biggest pasture on the west. We also closed the gates on a smaller pasture on the south side. But, those horses were far from captured.
The gumbo firmed up and we’d figured out where we could and couldn’t cross the creeks and draws while fencing with a pickup. So, we chose a day to try to push them out of the west pasture and into the strip. My husband was in the long box, 4 x 4 pickup and I was in a short box half ton, two wheel drive pickup. Our son, three years, was riding in a car seat with his Dad in the 4 x 4. The pasture was rough and rocky, so it was no leisure drive around it. Bill started the horses and drove them slow and easy down the south fence line toward the first gate into the Strip. They trotted along peacefully until just west of that gate. They had an inkling that we were going to try to trap them, so they took off at a run and headed northeast with Bill in pursuit. He had to cross some deep draws, and rocky patches, but he kept up as best he could. Those horses ran past the middle gate, then veered off to the west when approaching the third and last gate into the Strip. That’s where I picked them up and fell in behind them with my hot little half ton. It “loped” across the prairie a lot easier than the other pickup and I fogged those horses right along, giving them a hard run for avoiding the gates. I only had to slow down a little to go around a bad draw or two, so kept them at a hard lope for several miles, then we were headed back toward the Strip. When I got close to the southeast corner, I let up on them a little to let them think about that gate and getting away from me by going through it. They were all sweated up and were getting a workout in that spongy ground. They started into that corner, then Sasquatch, a big black bareback horse with feathered feet, decided to lead them north again. Not a horse went near the gate.
Bill picked them up on the north side of a draw and he pushed them north toward the next gate. He went wide out around them to try to wing them in but Sasquatch and another big gray horse split the bunch and ran on both sides of him and ran north. Bill fell in behind them again and trailed them at a lope to the far gate. Again, they refused and headed west again, where I picked them up. I ran them hard all the way around again, and we tried to wing them into the southeast gate into the Strip. They refused and
headed north, with Bill following them.
The chase had been fun for a little while for the small son, but soon the rough ride in the big pickup was making his seat straps really work him over, so Bill flagged me down and we quickly transferred boy and carseat into my easier moving vehicle. The horses were still loping when we did and I quickly caught up to them. By this time, I’m sure a majority of the horses were ready to say Uncle, but being part of the herd, just wouldn’t break away and go through the gates.
I really pushed them on the north fence and down the west fence. They ran into the corner and milled. I pulled up to give them time to get out of the corner and a good looking, red dun former saddle horse, came trotting out to me and put his nose on the hood. He was done and was begging to be caught and maybe even return to his career as a saddle horse. I couldn’t let him stay behind so turned him away and started the bunch moving again. I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t do a thing about it.
In the vernacular of people who run bunches of horses, horses are often called “shitters”, if you’ll excuse the term. Well, following these horses on these laps, I could sure understand it. They were off loading all the new grass they’d been grazing, trying to lighten the load they were carrying. As they got tired, they didn’t lift their tails to do so. Consequently, it went in the air with each stride. My pickup and windshield was wearing a little horse manure as a result.
As we loped along the south fence for maybe the sixth time, these horses were getting totally used up. Many were heavy made horses with some draft blood, so their big feet were making deep tracks in the gumbo with each step. The path they’d made along the fence looked like a disk had been pulled through the grass. The mud balls in their long, thick tails would wrap around their hind legs and nearly jerk them down.
Bill and I kept them moving toward that southeast gate, but again, they veered left and headed north. We pressed them hard and Bill crossed the draw and kept them going, moving out to put some pressure on them to turn through the middle gate. Sasquatch, the big gray, and about eight others grabbed a gear and headed on past, but this time, the rest of them turned through the gate and were in the Strip, running along the inside fence headed north. I poured the coal to my pickup and tried to be in place to turn the little bunch of outlaws through the north gate, but Sasquatch ducked around me and they headed west. Bill
hollered that he’d shut that north gate so the bunch in the Strip would stop on that end.
I poured it on as I was fed up with Sasquatch and his outlaw cronies. We flew down that north fence, down the south, and were about halfway across the south fence when I hit a badger hole and about jarred Colin and I’s teeth out. My pickup kept roaring across the flat, but in about a half mile, steam was rolling out from under the hood. I kept it coasting along and finally came up to Bill. He stopped and we quickly transferred small boy, carseat and me to his pickup and caught up with the horses. Sasquatch once again veered away from that gate, but he was losing steam. His followers were staggering when they’d stub a toe, and slowed to a trot, so when they had to cross a bad spot, I stepped out with a sorting stick and followed them while Bill went around to try to wing them into the middle gate.
With me on foot, they slowed down to a walk along the fence. To say they had a case of the thumps was an understatement. I could walk along next to them and touch them with that sorting stick without them so much as switching their tails. Their sides were going like bellows, lather was running down their legs and they were green grass manure from the hips back with their tails hanging in nasty cords. As we walked toward that gate, the gray spotted the horses in the Strip, as they had drifted south at a walk and were over along the creek. Those exhausted horses turned through that gate at last. We had won.
We shut the gate and the one on the south end before returning to my pickup. Upon examination, it had only busted a hose clamp and that had caused the steam. It had cooled off enough that we got it put back on and added some water from the jug in the pickup, and we headed home.
The next day we were stiff and sore from the beatings we’d taken in our pickups, but I know we were in better shape than that bunch of spoiled, hard to handle bucking horses. They were still stiff and tired enough a day or so later that they didn’t give the owners any trouble when they came out to gather them out of the strip and load them on their trucks. We were glad to have them gone. At the time we had a rough figure of how far they had run us during our gather, and as I recall this 30 years later, we figured it had to be well over 50 miles at a pretty hard lope.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....