Kelly, the Workaholic Horse
- July 20, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
It had been a long summer with lots of doctoring of yearlings. One bunch had a viral pinkeye and another had footrot. It just didn’t let up. The footrots I doctored where I found them, but the pinkeyes were driven to a little portable pen and taken back to the place where I could doctor them in the chute and repeat that several times, as per the owner’s wishes. I had a little pasture they could run in between doctoring sessions, but, after a couple of rounds of doctoring, they got a little harder to gather each time.
Over Labor Day, a guy asked me about a buckskin horse he saw me riding. He’d driven by on the county road and seen me doctoring something. I was confused, as I didn’t have a buckskin horse I was riding. I had a bay roan, palomino, a Paint and my top horse, Kelly, who was a black roan. He told me where he’d seen me and I would have been the only one out there with a horse, that’s for sure. He described the horse as being a sooty buckskin color with white feet and a bald face. Oh boy. Kelly had a
bald face and four white feet. But he was black from a distance. However, by the beginning of September, he was sweated and bleached out to a dull, dirty brown that might have been mistaken for a buckskin.
When I got home, I looked at Kelly, really looked at him. He was as hard fit as a race horse, and bright eyed, but, I realized that he needed a break. The hair was short over his loin, where the latigos went and under the breast collar. No sores, just worn off short. He’d gone every time his turn came up and often more than that, as he was the rock solid go-to horse that I could fix wrecks on, doctor anything on, and drag big things around with. He had absolutely no quit in him.
Ashamed of myself for overusing a willing partner, I turned him out. He stayed in the corral and wouldn’t go out, as he was the equine equivalent of a workaholic. I had to lock him out of the corrals so he’d have to go to water and graze in the pasture where the hospital cattle were running.
Already short of horses, as I had some that were lame and had sent some outside horses home that had had enough. I borrowed a gelding from my Dad, a horse I’d used a lot over the years, but had never cared for, as he was kind of a dink. He was gentle, which was his saving grace, but he woke up in a new world every day and had no great skills at anything. But, he’d keep my feet out of the dirt, so I put him to work. His name was Fox.
I needed to gather my hospital bunch and re-treat some and haul some back to grass, so I rode Fox out into the pasture and found my little bunch of cattle, probably a dozen head or so, in the southwest corner with a big reservoir. Kelly was grazing near the reservoir, the grass being lush below the dam. He looked up and watched me ride by then resumed grazing. When I had my little bunch gathered, the only way around the reservoir was to cross the dam itself unless one wanted to brave the boggy, seep below the dam. This bunch of yearlings had gotten a little wiley and split at the corner of the dam. One group went west, the other went around the dam. These cattle handled kind of weird at best, due to all of them having a patch on one eye. I fought to get the bunch back together, and was having a heck of a time with them playing ring around the rosie at the dam.
I’d ridden by Kelly several times at a high lope, and decided that if I didn’t win the fight soon, I’d stop and change horses. I was bullheaded though and was determined that the knot head Fox was going to get the job done eventually. I finally had the cattle back together and was trying to get them to the west fence so we could follow it around and then turn toward the corrals and avoid the reservoir. They fought me hard though, and were determined to each be their own bunch. Fox was blowing pretty hard and I knew he didn’t have a lot left in the tank, so this was going to be about the last dance with these cattle on him.
I might have cussed the heritage of the various yearlings in this bunch, and probably pretty loud. Anyone within shouting distance would have heard me. It was clear I was running out of patience. Just as I saw the latest break begin, out of the corner of my eye I saw another horse arrive. It was Kelly! He turned them back, over and over, until finally that side decided to head to the fence. Me on Fox and Kelly on his own got them settled in the fence corner, then proceeded to the east and finally out on top of the flat, away from the reservoir and boggy draw. Kelly was working like he had a rider, doing the job he knew so well, and helped me get started down that fence line. The cattle were tired, and settled down, their escape attempt thwarted. Kelly kept helping until we were nearly back to the corrals and he decided that Fox and I could handle it, as he stopped and resumed grazing. He was within sight of the gate, though, so I suppose if the cattle would have blown up again, he’d have come and helped me. He didn’t need to though, as the yearlings trailed on in for me.
I’ve never seen another horse do anything like that. I’ve seen old horses with tiny riders push the drag on a bunch with no guidance, but never one that left his freedom and vacation on lush grass to lend a hand, or four hooves, as the case was. But then, I never had another one that was such a work oriented horse like Kelly, who had to be locked out of the corral to go rest and recuperate. He was certainly one of a kind!
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....