Monday, July 20, 2009

I may have lost my cool...

This weekend, Farmer and I headed for the mountains to help a friend of his round up some cattle. These are the kinds of things that I've dreamed of doing with a significant other, so I was very excited to be invited along... even though I really haven't done anything like this. My experience with cows has been limited to sorting and team penning in an arena. This was gathering cattle off of hundreds of acres through rough territory, rousting them out from deep brush and off of steep hillsides. It was completely outside my realm of knowledge, but I was excited to get out there and see how I stacked up.

I debated quite a bit about what horse to take. Flash is my favorite. I've had him since he was a baby and I have used him in many different activities. However, he is not a very good cow horse... in fact, he's terrified of them. So, he was out.

Elmo is a horse that I've had for around 4 years. He was a problem child... had a nasty habit of rearing and bucking whenever you got on his back. I worked him through that, and along the way also got him over his herd-bound issue. I rode him quite a bit alone, so he could get used to the idea. After a few months, he got pretty good at it. That first year I used him in posse... I did competitive drill and gaming on him. That really had him going well. Then, he got sick. I ended up having to lay him off all last year. This year I haven't really had the opportunity to ride him that much... after all, he was training to be a packhorse for the long ride. So that was his focus. However, I had used him for sorting and penning and he seemed to like it, so he was a maybe.

My third horse, Aspen, is pretty green still. I've had her working cows, but she is pretty hesitant and hasn't had a lot of experience in tough terrain. Also, she gets bonkers when left behind. I hadn't had the opportunity to really work with her on that, so she was out.

And that left Elmo. Not my first choice... but all I had. So we packed up the horses and headed for the mountains.

The first day we were up and saddled at 5am. I hopped on Elmo and headed off. His reaction to the hour? He tried to buck me off. Not a great start thus far but I managed to ride it out and he seemed fine after that. So we headed out to look for cattle.

At first, he was fine. We were riding in a group and he was doing OK. Then we spotted cattle and everyone headed out in different directions to roust them out of the brush and push them up the hill. As soon as the other horses were out of sight, he totally lost it. He was screaming for the other horses and prancing all over the place. As we topped the hill, we caught site of the other horses and he seemed to settle down.

Then Farmer and I were asked to go gather out of another pasture. We headed along the fence-line and saw a couple of cows in the corner. We gathered those up and started them along the path back to the gate. Farmer told me to take those 3 and follow the path to the water trough and he would meet me there. As we headed down the steep path, I found a few more cows that were rooted in the brush down the hillside. At this point, once Farmer and Moonshine were out of sight, Elmo seemed to be doing fine. We were in some seriously steep terrain moving through some very stiff brush and trees and he was getting those cows out of there and up the hillside. At one point they had started heading back the other direction so we had to side-hill around them and get ahead of them to turn them around.

At this point, Elmo and I had made it a fair way down the trail with still no sign of a water trough or of Farmer. I bunched the 12 or so head I had gathered along the fence and then rode back the way we had come to see if I could find Farmer. After a few minutes, I spotted Farmer coming up the hill pushing a few more head. We met up and started pushing them down the path again.

A little while on, Farmer decided that we needed to get them off the fence-line and wanted to push them down the hill. The only problem was that this is where all the brush was that I had just roosted all of my cows out of. As soon as they left the trail it turned into a big mess. We had cows everywhere.

Worst of all, Farmer and Moonshine were all over the damn hillside with no communication as to what we were trying to accomplish. I tried to keep up the best I could. It would have been helpful had Farmer let me know what exactly he was trying to do. I mean, I knew the general direction he was trying to go, but I (for the life of me) could not figure out how he was trying to accomplish this.

To make matters worse, with Farmer and Moonshine running this way and that, Elmo completely came unglued. Up until that point, he was doing pretty well.

So, in order to keep him occupied I headed down and around trying to get ahead of the cows that were, by this time, headed in the wrong direction again. On the steep hillside, Elmo tossed his head and reared up on me. I jerked him back down again, got around the cows and to somewhere relatively flat and had it out with Elmo. I let him, in no uncertain terms, that THAT was NOT OK. At this point, I spotted Farmer and he asked me if I was OK. I said that I was fine and that I was just having a discussion with Elmo. His response? Gathering the cows was more important...

Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Cows are more important than my safety? Are you fucking kidding me? I was where I could head off any cows headed in the wrong direction. I wasn't holding anyone or anything up... what was the big deal? I know there was a job to do. My point... it was getting done. I was in a good spot to turn cattle if need be. Isn't that getting the job done? Needless to say, I was pissed. And he realized it pretty quick.

And he apologized. But there was some serious discussion on our way back up the hill. I don't know if he was just that single-minded about what we were trying to do, or what... but it was a very tense ride back to the trailer. I don't mind someone who wants to do a job well... but there are definitely limits. And I think we got that part ironed out. We finished the day at the cattle pens and headed to the next destination for the next round-up the following day.

So, day 2 and we're headed out at around 6am to gather the next herd. Elmo did OK the day before, not great, so I was hoping for a much better day. We split up the first time and Farmer and I head down the low trail to see if there are any cattle. About 1/2 way up, Farmer decided to head up to the ridge to make sure none are there. I keep Elmo on the low trail and keep going. As Farmer heads out of sight, Elmo completely explodes.

So, I decide to give him something to do. On the steep hillside to my left are about 5 head. I start to take Elmo up this hillside to push the cows up to Farmer. About 1/2 way up to the cows, Elmo rears again and almost goes over the top on me. As soon as his front feet his the ground, I was out of the saddle... and lunging him on the hillside not caring if he broke his damn leg or not. If he was going to act like that, he was going to work for it. So, I worked him back down the hill and to the opposite side where I there was some open space. Every time Elmo so much as opened his mouth, his feet were moving. I have never seen him that worked up before. He was being a complete and utter idiot. At about this time, the other pair we were riding with showed up. I thought about just walking Elmo out so I wouldn't completely foul everything up with Elmo acting like such an ass. They were pretty patient and suggested that I just ride along with them, which I did.

At about this time, Farmer came down off the ridge and I let him know what I was thinking about doing (which was just walking him out). Farmer was totally and completely against this. His point, that they needed me to get the job done... but at that point I was just feeling like we were a wrench in the gear. But Farmer talked me into riding him out and making him do the job at hand. It was a miserable push back to the barn. Elmo was prancing, snorting and screaming the whole way back (even though the other horses were right there). I just tried to ignore it... and probably failed miserably.

Once back at the barn, some of the crew offered me another horse to ride so I wouldn't have to deal with him. I was grateful for the offer, but seriously embarrassed at the same time. I couldn't believe how bad he was behaving. I felt like a complete failure... and now I have no idea where to go with him. I have no idea how you train for something like that. Was it just too much stimulus? I know I probably hadn't been on him enough... so that was definitely my fault.

I don't know... tough to say. But after that, I was ready to sell him. Today, I'm trying to figure out what to do with him. Farmer has offered me one of his "cow" horses to try out. She hasn't been ridden in a while either... but it shouldn't be too much trouble to leg PeeWee up. I guess we'll see how that goes. If we get along, then I'll start riding her regularly as well.

My plan for now... since Farmer is getting up so early due to the heat, I'm going to use those early starts and get some riding in on all my horses every morning. And I guess that's all I can do for now...


  1. Sounds like Elmo reverted to his old issues (bucking, rearing, buddy sour) I don't think the cattle had anything to do with it. Being out in the real wide open seems to have been part of the problem. I do believe a beating is deserved for the bucking, rearing and probably a rein jerk for the whinnying, but I don't know if I always agree with working a hot/nervous horse as punishment for bad behavior. Sounds like Elmo got pretty hot, and moving him around didn't seem to wear him out, it might have made him more nervous. I don't know the correct answer to his problems, but I might think about giving him something to calm him down so everyone can have a good experience.

    I will say, that to me rearing (anything with both feet more than 12in off the ground)is the most dangerous bad habit a riding horse can have.

    It was big of Farmer to apologize. I know when I've helped move cattle nobody would care if I die. The cows being more important is kind of a universal ranch motto.

  2. Yeah... that Ranch mentality is tough to deal with. We discussed it further last night and I think came to a good understanding of one another. His point is that the comment was a 5 second window... it meant nothing after that 5 seconds was up. Tough to remember, but I do see his point.

    I did take Elmo out for a solo ride today. He was perfect. Didn't say a word even though other horses were screaming at him. So.... I think it was a "perfect storm" kind of situation. Hopefully next time I can redirect the energy in a better fashion rather than jacking him up worse.