Gumbo, Horses and Water
- August 11, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
Growing up on and living on gumbo country most of my life, I have a very real fear of getting a horse bogged and maybe crippled in a creek or dam. I’ve had it happen, and as a result, had from early on, schooled my son on the risks of gumbo creeks and dams.
I’m still not plumb clear on what actually happened before this happened, and I honestly don’t think Colin, my son, is either. He was about 13 I suppose, and was riding a nicely started, big three year old filly I had called Bess. She’d had a solid 30 rides put on her by a good hand, and Colin was doing a good job keeping her progressing. He had taken her up to the other place and gathered them from out in the pasture and brought them to the corral as I recall. On the way through the trap by the corrals was a dam, which was quite full. Instead of going on by, the cattle waded out into the shallow side of it and he needed to get them out. He didn’t have a dog along who could do it, so, despite his Mom’s warnings, he rode into the water to push the cattle out. Of course, it was gumbo and pretty boggy.
He didn’t know whether Bess got hung up in something, stepped in a hole or decided to lay down, it all happened pretty fast, but suddenly, they were down in the water and he was mashed into the mud by her weight and the saddle. Bess struggled to regain her feet, mashing him deeper into the mud and finally thrashing around until she had rolled completely over him before finally being able to stand up. Colin wasn’t hurt, but was gasping for air when he surfaced and got himself pulled up out of the mud. After assessing himself and Bess and finding they were okay, just plastered with nasty black slime and gumbo, he got back on her on solid ground and finished his job with the cattle, who had spooked out of the water by the splashing of Bess.
I was outside in the yard when he came riding in. There was not an inch of either Colin or Bess that was clean. They both were absolutely plastered with mud, as was his saddle, and I couldn’t tell what color either one of them was. He got off and led her to the back yard and was telling me what had happened as I put the pressure nozzle on to hose him and Bess off. We pulled the saddle off of Bess and slung it over a saw horse for more scrubbing. He stripped down to his underwear and socks, and I continued hosing them both off. His boots were packed with mud inside clear to the toes. The saddle gullet was packed, and it went clear down the center of the underside, between the skirts, and under the fenders. His rope and cinches were plastered too.I honestly don’t think more mud could have been put on the rig with a putty knife.
With Bess clean and turned loose in the corral, I finished hosing Colin off and he went in to take a shower to finish the job. I hung his clothes on the line and hosed them off. His boots were washed out and upeneded on some posts to drain. When he came back out, showered and dressed again, we started in on his saddle. It got a scrubbing like it had never had. Gumbo mud will dry leather out something awful and this saddle’s life was at stake. We scrubbed, scraped, and wiped until it was clean. It got a thorough oiling when it was dry and never was any worse for the experience, thankfully.
Of course, lecturing my kid after the fact, was pretty pointless, but I’m sure I scolded him. Scared Moms do that. I asked him if he’d learned anything and he assured me he had. I pointed out the possible outcomes of what had happened, and he sure enough could see how that could have killed him. It was a miracle that neither he nor Bess were hurt.
I’ve never seen him ride out into a dam or not carefully cross a creek in the years since, though admittedly, he’s ridden a lot of miles I haven’t witnessed. But, I have a hunch that one near death gumbo dam experience is going to serve him all of his life and he’ll lecture his own kids and maybe someday, grandkids, about the dangers of gumbo, horses and water.
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....