- October 8, 2021
- Jan Swan Wood
It had been a wet fall and the country was saturated. We were day working and staying very busy in spite of the mud. One outfit we did all the riding for had postponed getting their yearling heifers out of a remote pasture several times due to the gravel road nearest to it being impassable. We had finally gotten the call that the road was hopefully safe for the trucks to get to the corrals to load out so we were there at daylight to gather the heifers and trail them several miles across to the pens. Thankfully, the pens were right by the county road and there was gravel for the trucks to back up to the chute, so we were sure hopeful that we could get their heifers home before winter.
The country we had to gather was gumbo. I mean, textbook, picture in the Dictionary, you-ain’t-never-seen-nothing-like-it, hundred proof, gumbo. I grew up on what I thought was the worst gumbo on the planet and I had to revise my thinking when I had to gather this chunk of country after a wet spell.
Horses would sink to above their fetlock joints, and then their feet would pop when they pulled free. The draws were usually nearly hock deep. If it was a tiny bit drier than that, it clumped on their feet until they were soccer ball sized. Cattle traveled like they were hobbled and left big globs of the stuff when it finally came off their feet. It was awful.
The nice folks we were working for were a husband/wife team. He didn’t like riding, but she did. Heidi never claimed to be a cowboy but was always willing to do whatever was asked and was fun to work with. She rode a really gentle, chunky halter bred gelding named Jack. Jack was kind of spoiled and hadn’t much hustle, plus he was always fat and soft, but she adored him. He was a mite shy of 15 hands tall.
My then husband and I were riding Holly and Lily. His Holly was a big, rawboned Thoroughbred mare, my Lily was a big, beautiful race bred Quarter Horse mare who was about 31/32 Thoroughbred by blood. They were both 16 hands or so, and had long legs and long strides, deep through the heart, plus were legged up and fit to take us to the backside of anything and back again. They were so well matched for stride that they’d have made a dandy buggy team.
Heidi had brought Jack and wanted to gather with us, so we started off at a fast walk to warm our horses up. As they warmed up, our big mares really got to walking, then shifted into a trot that was easier to go through the mud in. We were standing up in our stirrups, just letting them roll at the speed they were comfortable in, a long trot that was really gathering up the ground. Pretty soon, Jack was way behind. He was trotting as fast as a fat, short legged horse could trot, but he couldn’t stay within shouting distance. We slowed down, but she told us to keep going, she’d catch up at the gate.
After a couple of miles, we got to the gate. One of us opened it and waited for Heidi and Jack. And waited. Our mares had taken a couple of big breaths and were standing relaxed. When she and the wheezing Jack finally got through the gate, he was dripping with sweat and she was even breathing hard. The gate shut, we turned to start to the backside and start gathering.
Heidi put up her hand, still breathing hard, and stopped us. She said, “You guys go on. Jack and I are going to catch our breath and then we’ll go west and push the heifers out of that corner. We can’t travel with you.” We agreed and headed southeast to the far side, our mares striding out in their long trot. I looked back at Heidi and shouted “Got Thoroughbred?” She replied with a gesture.
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....