- January 1, 2018
- Jan Swan Wood
Idle horses. I remember as a kid that my Dad would get so mad at horses that couldn’t mind their own business. We’d be moving a bunch of cows, maybe putting them down the wings into the corrals, when here would come the loose horses from the pasture. Down through the middle of the bunch they’d go, bucking and playing, scattering cows and calves everywhere. My Dad would come uncorked and cuss those “idle horses”. I do mean cuss, too. My Dad had a vast vocabulary of swear words that were never dirty and always got the message across. Due to his very short fuse, we all heard them often too.
Of course, as a child, it absolutely broke my heart to hear the horses sworn at. I loved every single one of them no matter who they were, and hated to hear them yelled at for anything. I had no concept of lost time or lost pounds of beef.
As I got older, I started to appreciate my Dad’s exasperation at those horses. I remember times when I myself wanted to shoot them. One instance is when a gate got opened, probably by a nimble lipped “idle horse” and the springers, loose saddle bunch, and later calving cows all were mixed on the big meadow pasture. The April mud was deep, I was riding a colt of course, since Dad viewed it a sacrilege to have a broke horse up for calving and nearly anything else. I ran horses and sorted cows until the only thing not covered in gumbo were my eyeballs. My colt was plumb used up and my voice was gone from yelling at those “idle horses” but I got them back where they belonged.
A horse that isn’t tired and hasn’t been working is much like a kid goat. Curious, friendly, mischievous and a big pain in the backside in most instances. I’ve noted over the years that horses that are ridden down hard, hair bleached from sweat, and a little tired, couldn’t care less what you are doing out in their pasture. They just hope you won’t notice them and put them back into the rotation for a few days. Usually they’ll even slip out of sight to ensure that.
I’m middle aged now and have a very small appreciation for the antics of a bunch of idle horses. It could even be said that my sense of humor is somewhat lacking in that area. If there’s something that’s going to find a gate that’s open for just a moment or a bucket of feed left unsupervised for a nanosecond, it will be an idle horse.
My little grandsons witnessed one of my “idle horse” meltdowns recently when I was caking cows and was discovered by the unemployed horses in the same pasture. I’d been getting by with having them together due to the size of the pasture and how rough it is. The horses hadn’t been aware that the cows were getting caked, so they hadn’t bothered me. I knew it couldn’t last. The gentle genius in the lead of this bunch is my very own pet saddle horse, plus one grandson’s pet horse was in the bunch too. The little boys eyes were pretty big when they heard the horses described in many of the glowing terms my Dad had always used. They, like me as a child, were wise enough to keep quiet until I cooled off though.
It all comes full circle, I guess. In my youth I couldn’t understand what my Dad found so irritating about “idle horses”, but now I sure can. In scripture it says that “idle hands are the devil’s instruments” and I believe it could be said that “idle hooves” are too.
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....