Little Lunga

Friday, April 30, 2010

forecast:high of 39 with snow showers and flying horses

Yesterday was a good day if I had to sum it up genarically. We woke yesterday morning to 6 inches of snow on the ground and a chill in the air. I know it is still April and we do live in a small corner of Wyoming where it can snow in July, but it is still hard to handle. Add 16 horses coming out of the wild less than 2 months ago, and we have a lot of things than can break the ice in more ways than one. Every day I start with planning our approach to catching horses and working horses for the day. I always think of what can go right and really worry(in a good way)about what can go wrong. Sometimes the things that go wrong turn out to be a forecast of things that will go right.
I have to give a big credit to Little Lunga for her part in Helping us yesterday. The horses are beginning to listen and trust her bell and it really played a part in getting the last of the horses into the paddocks. Most of the horses followed us into the big pen where we needed them but 3 of the older mares stayed out and I actually wanted them that way for a change. I needed one mare in particular to head down the alley way and into the round pen first thing. This mare is a nice mare but I have seen her jump 2 fences with the greatest of ease and with precise calculation. She has talent, but we just have to focus it and manage it, if you know what I mean. We had layed out hay in front of the alley way so Lunga would stand and eat an hopefully the 3 mares would find her and find their way in. Cecilia and I stood out in the trap and let them run a little until they began to pay attention. Before we knew it, Lunga started down the alley, her bell echoing off of the boards and the 3 mares followed her right on down the alley and into the roundpen. We decided to let them settle and then build a plan to sort Lunga, the little chestnut mare(Peluca) and the nine year old black mare(Hatari) out of the round pen and leave the chestnut mare(Javelina)in the pen. This is hard to do!

We decided to let them be and to catch our saddle horses and have them ready for the days work. We tied them up after their morning grain and then saddled them and let them stand in the loafing shed to keep them from the cold and the snow. I was using Pochito again, Tommy was using Butch and Cecilia was to use The Dude. I am really beginning to rely on Chito and trust him very much. He is coming along very nicely and he seems to add a bit of security to each horse roped by me and him. I will explain more on that later.

Moving on. It was time to try and sort the wild bunch in the round pen and the only way we could think to do it was to have someone stand in the center of the round pen and let them mil around and sort themselves out. I would sand at the east gate of the round pen to let our whichever horses came my way. The ground was nice and deep in the pen due to the moisture of the snow and of the milling of the 4 horses so we figured it would not take long for the horses to tire and begin to sort things out. I might have spoken to early. The horses did begin to sort themselves out and I encouraged Cecilia to begin stepping to them and in between them, this might have been a little hasty on my part. Before we knew it, Peluca had jumped and broke the 3 top rails of the round pen and jumped out, Javelina followed with the greatest of ease(4 foot solid wall cleared) and as we opened the gate to have Lunga and Hatari leave the roundpen, Hatari turned and followed. So now all 3 of the mares were out in the open areas of the barn with everywhere to go! The Red Desert was calling but they were not listening. Cecilia, Tommy and I stayed cool and we went out to let them find their way back in. I went through the traps and opened 2 gates so they would be able to come back. These 3 horses had every chance to leave and run away, but a couple things came into play. Horses are herd animals and creatures of habit; so home for them is amongst the other horses and they know where their feed is coming from, so they were not about to fly the coop. We simply gave them their space and with no chasing or running they found their way back into the trap. I have to say, that when we remove theses horses from the wild, we do remove some of the wildness from them right away. They DO begin to rely on us and in a small way they begin to trust us. After that we fixed the round pen and I walked out to the trap and they walked into a paddock with no jumping or panic of any kind. They and us had learned something from the episode. We need to have a little more patience and they remember who we are now.

After all of that, we still had horses to catch and it was only getting colder. I thought if we catch one today, we can focus on the others already caught. We had one who figured out how to rub her halter and had it crooked on her head and we needed to doctor the big bay filly. Well, everything else went according to plan. We had a halter and lead put on the 6 year old strawberry roan (Red Lips) in a little over an hour. We caught the chestnut mare(La Quinta) and fixed her halter in about 10 minutes(she will need it fixed again today)and we were able to doctor our bay filly (Poppy) out in her paddock. She is very kind and easy to work with. And, we managed to sort one bunch of 6 horses without any running or panic. And we were able to sort them the exact way we wanted them. All of the horses, haltered or not are beginning to trust us and pay attention to us and it shows we are training all of them on some level everyday.

Now if we could only train the weather to behave. We are begging for hot weather at this point!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

strange weather and a tough horse for sure.

It is Thursday morning and I was simply too tired to write last night. Maybe I was just a little frustrated as well.

We woke yesterday morning to really nice and warm weather, I was out feeding horses in a shirt, no jacket or coat. I was thinking that this was nice for catching and haltering horses! The horses already haltered and in pens seemed to becoming familiar with their new rawhide halters and dragging lead ropes, the horses still out in the trap seemed to be figuring out that we are not all that bad. Lunga, was a good bit of help yesterday morning. She managed to help lead 5 horses into the large paddock and then into smaller paddocks for sorting. I think she is coming to terms with her new job as bell mare and maybe she is a little cheeky in the thought of trapping the horses that are bothering her so much. We managed to trap and sort some of the older and fresher horses. I was happy with this because I was ready to get my hands on some of these older horses.

We let the geldings finish eating and I cinched up Pochita and walked on into the round pen, rope in hand. We had to start with a 3 yo filly that was still in the pen from the day before and I was not sure how she was going to be. She has a beautiful eye and seems very very kind, but sometimes they are the worst! She acted like she wanted to jump the padock fence when I walked in to head her to the round pen but she looked and found her way in. The next hour was very uneventful and we had a halter and lead rope on her with very litle work. Pochito worked like a truly seasoned horse and was very patient and very willing to work. This was just what he needed to build his confidence in working horses. He has so much try in him and so much ability to do this. He needed something to do and I think he has found his calling. This filly was sharp and quick and she actually dropped her head into the halter. As soon as we had her back into the paddock and drinking water, the wind began to blow, and I mean blow! It was gusting and we could see to the west that the rain and snow was coming. We put Pochito under the shed and took a break during the rain.

It settled down a little and I was eagar to get my hands on the little blue roan mare who is nine years old. The wind died down and the tempature was also headed down. I got back on Pochito and headed back into the round pen to catch this mare. She was very fast and quick and knew how to duck the rope. I finallly got her roped and her first reaction was to strike with both front feet and she never missed a lick moving around the round pen. It took a while to get her reeled in and close to me, but she was very strong and she knew how to turn and pull forward against the rope and my horse. I ended up having to switch to a bigger horse who was stronger than her and stouter than Pochito. But, I will tell you this, his heart and will were a fraction of Chito's! After a good back and fourth battle she began to remember the routine and she was letting me rub on her and touch all over her. During this time, it rained a little snowed a little and went from freezing cold to almost muggy and hot. At one point we had steam rising from the ground and from the horses backs, it was almost as if the fog was rolling in from the sea shore and we would soon be invisible to everyone and everything. That of course did not last long and before you know it we were freezing cold and dodging big fat snowflakes again.
The blue roan mare gave us a few more fits and revolt and then started to settle down a little, but in the end she needed Tommy on Butch and me on The Dude to kinda "split her in two" to get her full and undevided attention. I was on the rope end and Tommy was on the leadrope and halter end. I was expecting a big blow up when the halter would have to dip down under and up over her nose and over her ears, but I think she had come to some kind of agreement with us. She was very accepting of the rawhide halter and even with being lead by Butch. She took a big sigh of relief and her eye softened greatly. In the end, no-one was hurt(horse or man)and we learned something new. Between the weather and the horses we did not get many horses haltered but we did learn a new aproach to dealing with some of the difficulties of working with these horses coming out of the wild. You can truly go from one extreme to another, with horses and with weather!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

safe arrival

It was one of the coldest mornings I can remember this late spring. The forecast predicted high 60s reaching almost 70!
Today was the day that the horses would be arriving from Nevada and it seems like it would never come. I have been ready for just about a year to start another group of the horses coming out of the wild. I just wanted to discover that last years horses were not some sort of fluke or some streak of luck. I have all the plans in my head of how this years group would be different and how I would implement my changes in training and handling. I could not wait to get started.
The horses arrived safe and sound and not a scratch on them. There is a lot to be said for someone who drives a big truck and takes good care to deliver your horses safely as they ride loose in a straight deck trailer, thank you H.D. Criswell.
The horses settled in quickly and Lunga did not! She was rather upset at her new job as bell mare for a bunch of misfit wild horses. She has long forgotten that in fact she was in this same boat last year as one of the original misfits of the 88 Ranch program. The horses filled up on water and really nice alfalfa hay; it did not take them long to figure out what the feed wagon is all about.
We decided we would start catching horses right away. We wanted to take advantage of the warming weather and the sunshine and of course we could not wait, it was like opening presents on Christmas morning!
I decided I would use my little horse, Pochito, who is also a horse started last year in the program, but by good fortune we have him for the summer. He spent the entire winter doing abosultely nothing and so I can say that he has less than 100 days riding, so it was a perfectly pleasant surpise to have him handle gathering a small group, getting them in one pen and then into another and finally getting down to the work of roping, haltering and leading his very first horse. I was so happy with him, his heart out-weighs his body. He was very patient and very willing and stood his ground when he needed to show his stature and place at the ranch. Good boy, Cheeto Man!
By the end of the day we had managed only 3 horses haltered. We have halters on Gwen, Cueca and poppy. Poppy managed to hit herself on the back of her right front leg, so we spent the latter part of the afternoon doctoring her and she atually let us clean up her wound and put bandages on and a wrap over her leg, so all in all it was a very good day working with the new horses.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Horses in the Wild

It was a cold morning, but the sky was clear and you could count the stars with the greatest of ease. The sun was rising, but all we could see was the glow behind the mountains off to the east. The Red Desert at five o’clock in the morning is something that cannot be justified with words or rarely even with photographs. It is amazingly quiet with a freshness to its being. The desert is honestly in its prime, in this moment.
Driving down the blacktop towards the entrance to the desert floor, I am looking off to the east and then glancing to the west. I am amazed at the difference in the dark and light of both directions. This is very much the yin and yang I would like to know. Without the East, we cannot have the West and the reverse. They are equaled but yet still very different. Dark and light exist together at this moment; we are experiencing them both. Side by side we have the welcomed warmth of the rising sun just over the horizon, and off to the West, we still have the cold dark of night as if we are staring into frigid ocean waters with the threat of falling in. The light brings out all that we wish to see, and at the same time all things reality throws our way, just as the darkness offers excitement of the unknown as well as the feeling of walking with your eyes closed. These are the parallels between two worlds that exist just north of the Little Snake River Valley and Baggs, Wyoming.
If there is truly a heaven on earth, then at this time and in this place…….it is the Red Desert, home of the antelope, the prairie dog, the massive golden eagle and my friend, the horse. We enter heaven as we hit the cattle guard and head west on Standard road in the desert, twenty-five miles north of town. When you live in this part of the world, there are no distractions for man or for Mother Nature. The sun is on the rise and we are doing our best to get deep into the country before the sun is above us. Cecilia and I had been out the previous afternoon walking amongst the horses and we wanted to come out before sunrise to film and photograph during the pre-dawn. We knew the horses would be there, everywhere, but not sure how many groups. We almost needed blinders because we were eager to find the white stallion we spent time with the day before. We practically had to wade through horses in order to get back to his area while we still had time before el sol.
A little back story: Sunday afternoon, we drove out to the desert to look for horses so we could take some photographs, video and to just plain look at them. If we could’ve, we would’ve jumped on them bareback and ridden around the desert looking for more horses, or chased antelope across the sage flats! Anyway, we came upon a small group of horses near the road that were rather accommodating and very much not afraid of us, the truck, the cameras, or even Luli (our dog). We literally had the chance to get to know this young stallion and his family whish consisted of an old grey mare, three of her offspring and one on the way. The stallion was so clean and healthy and very kind. He appeared as if he belonged to someone. It was as if he was brushed daily, blanketed at night to keep his coat slick, and reminded daily of what his manners should be as a stallion amongst people. We had a great time with him and his clan. They even thought well enough of Luli to walk up and give her a once over. We had made friends of them and at that moment it made me realize something…….these are not wild horses, these are horses living in the wild! They do what they have to to survive and they accept us for who we are. I believe we shared a mutual understanding and respect for one another that afternoon. This stallion displayed enormous potential as a sire as well as a performance horse in the equine industry. It was as if his potential and his chance to show the world what he was made of could never be known. Yes, he is majestic out in the wild and he shows wild beauty that so many people think of, but when does it become a side show display of folklore and mystic tale? The fact that we are fighting over gathering or not gathering horses from the wild only cheapens the actual living, breathing west. These horses are sons and daughters of horses once owned by men and ranches who respected horses, who took care of them, who bred them, who loved them. It is as if now we have the Wild West Show all over again for all to see. The West is all bottled up in the wild, and no one is looking; but I am. These horses are legitimate and real. They deserve respect and honor, and between horse and man, we can share a legacy.
We did find the white stallion where he had been the day before and he and his brood were again very good to us. These horses did not act wild as animals do in the wild. They were curious and kind and friendly. They showed patience in us being there and when they had enough they simply walked away. When we think of wild animals in the desert, we think of deer, bear, lions and all of the other creatures that we read about. Do you think of horses when you think of wild animals? When I think of horses in the wild, I think of an evolution of horses from the time when our society truly relied on horses. We needed horses of every shape and size to help us in establishing a foothold in this great country of ours. Like so many things, once we used them up or simply found another way (sometimes not a better way) to do things, we just threw them away. We basically littered the West with unwanted material. If one has to place human characteristics on horses, then this is mine: Imagine how it feels to be laid off from your job, imagine sitting the bench and knowing you are never going to be used again……that is what happened to the horse! From the earliest of days, we dubbed the horse as the beast of burden; we used and relied on them for everything. They were created for our use, our enjoyment. We used them to pull our wagons, to gather maverick cattle from the depths of South Texas and trail them north. We used them in our coal mines and on our ranches and then we used them for our enjoyment as well. As if riding twenty miles to town horseback was not enough, we would spend the rest of the night in rodeo events on that same horse and then ride home! We worked with them, along side them and we enjoyed their company. Our worlds evolved around horses. Slowly we started downsizing and breeding and the horse world changed forever.
The horse world today is divided and specialized and full of many personality types and egos. Everyone sees an opportunity and they do whatever it takes to capitalize on what they see and what they dream of. I see an opportunity to take an endless supply of horses coming out of the wild and giving them the chance to comeback. We turned our backs on them so long ago and I do believe we owe them something, I believe we owe them a great deal! The white stallion is not a mustang, or a wild horse, he is a horse living in the wild. He represents horses coming out of the wild. He is not a side show attraction or a zoo exhibit, he is real and he represents something that can be very real.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I want to get back to the discussion on horses in the wild and the idea that being in the wild and having to survive makes them talented. I do not believe it is so.

I have had a lot of people comment that horses coming out of the wild have a natural lead change, nice stop, and a terrific handle, etc. all they need is training. People tend to give no credit to the trainers who train these horses with such good “wild skills”. The reason we notice this particular horse is because of its natural born abilities. The wild does not make this horse handle. This horse stands out because of its lack of effort to run, stop and turn. It moves with the greatest of ease. You can compare this wild horse in some ways to those great cowponies who seem to read a cow like a book, those perfect polo ponies who will fly down the field as fast as possible and then turn on a dime when the ball changes directions right in front of them. Even the big jumper who seems to have been born with its knees tucked perfectly over a jump and looking for the next one before its front feet hit the ground. The wild horse is not bred out in the wild for one specific thing; but it is born to do many things. They only do what we show them, it is up to us to make it work when it needs to work; stay out of their way when things are perfect. We have the perfect blank slate to work with, if we know what we are looking for! We look for conformation, disposition and that beautiful eye. We look for that horse with presence, with kindness and sometimes with fire. It is very possible that this horse is a descendant of some great horse whose papers were not important, but its heart and ability were.
When we decide that there is more to life than the importance of public and private opinion, when we decide that we cannot ride paper but we can ride a good horse and possibly train some great ones, then we can be a part of a new era and a part of the solution.