Horses are Good Ice Breakers

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life


I was a newly married 21 year old when we moved to Nebraska. The ranch we went to work for was in mostly ranch country, with some farming. We were responsible for yearling breeding heifers, a stud and mare band, some center pivots and putting up the hay. Naturally, we arrived with some saddle horses and a dog.
We didn’t know anything about the guy we went to work for or the area. It was odd that absolutely no one ever waved when we met them on the road, nor spoke when I went to the grocery store. But, we figured it would either work itself out or not.
One evening our phone rang and it was a neighbor to the north. He asked us if we actually had horses and whether we could rope. I assured them we did and could. He asked if we could meet him at the pasture that bordered us in the morning and rope a big bull calf he had that he needed to take home. We told him we sure could and set a time to meet.
Next morning while it was still cool, we hit a trot north and met our new neighbor, an older gentleman, at a windmill where most of his cows were gathered around. He had a little trailer on his pickup to haul the calf in and after introductions, he pointed the calf out. We both cinched up a little and pulled our ropes down. I got the first shot at the fat calf and stuck a loop on him. My husband heeled him and we had him stretched out in just a few minutes. Our neighbor drove over close and he and my husband got the calf pointed in the right direction while I kept him on my rope and we quickly had him loaded in the trailer. The neighbor was all smiles about how slick it went. He got his wallet out and tried to pay us but we declined. We explained we were just being neighborly. He thanked us profusely and we all went on our way.
We were invited for Sunday dinner that weekend and that was the start to a beautiful friendship. Another week or so later I was invited to join a ladies coffee group at my new friend’s house and met some more of the neighbor ladies. One of those ladies was married to the brother of the man we worked for. She was quick to point out that her husband Dick was nothing like his brother. I didn’t know quite what she meant and just smiled and nodded. She then asked me if it was true we had horses and why we had them when everyone knew that three wheelers were way better. I just said that we liked doing things
horseback and didn’t have three wheelers. She snorted and fluffed her feathers a little at that.
Not many days after that, I was doing breakfast dishes when the phone rang. It was this lady’s husband Dick. He said that his wife told him that we had horses. I assured him it was true. Then he hemmed and hawed a bit before asking me if I could gather a bull for him that was in the pasture to the east of us. I told him I could do that for him right away if he’d set the gates to his corrals. He said he would.
I caught Kelly and saddled up. It didn’t matter what the bull chose to do as Kelly was the right horse for the job every time. I hit a long trot and soon arrived in the pasture and spotted the big Red Angus bull. Dick hadn’t mentioned that this bull had been gathered “at” already. He was green from the hips back, his head was high and he had slobbers running out of his mouth. He was unhappy to see me. Kelly and I eased him off in the general direction of the corrals. It was about a half mile to them when the bull made a beeline for a windmill with a big, dirt bottomed tank next to it. It was about two feet deep
at the rim and half full of water. We played ring-around-the-water tank for a bit, me not really putting much pressure on him. He turned and blew slobbers at us a few times but really didn’t seem to know what to think of a horse.
Laps around the tank while the June temperature climbed was growing tiresome. I tried to cut him off at which he hopped in the tank. He stood in the middle, sure that he was safe from us. He didn’t know Kelly. Kelly hopped into the tank with him, and out the other side we all went. That seemed to end the bull’s determination to be difficult. He lined out for the corrals, finally easing down to a steady walk by the time we came in sight of the gate.
I closed the gate behind us as Dick appeared from where he’d been staying out of sight. He was grinning ear to ear as I stepped off of Kelly and loosened my cinch. He shook my hand and said how happy he was to meet me. He explained that his son, who was in his 30s, had been trying to pen that bull for several days and each time he got on the fight and hit his three wheeler. He’d tipped it over on his son and that’s when Dick called me.
Again, this new neighbor tried to pay me, but I declined, explaining I was just being neighborly. He said he wasn’t used to having a good neighbor over on the place where we lived. He added that he hadn’t spoken to his brother in over a decade and couldn’t stand him. He decided then and there that we were okay though and he wouldn’t hold who we worked for against us. We became good friends with both he and his wife and enjoyed many fine meals at their house.
It turns out that every neighbor intensely disliked our boss, and we soon found out why. He’d cheat anyone in a business deal, beat his sweet wife regularly, and treated us like wharf rats. The only positives about the job were our fine neighbors who became friends, and a beautiful ranch. But, being associated with the man we worked for was going to sully our reputations, plus we weren’t being paid what we’d agreed on when we took the job, so we moved on in about a year.
It always struck me funny that it was our horses and our ability to use them that broke the ice in that community. Soon I knew everyone in the grocery store and became friends with one gal who still is, even after almost 40 years. Good horses are good icebreakers.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

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....

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