Horse unity: Up close and personal

Aug 14th, 2013

Knowing the ins, outs of cow work

By Stephen L. Wilmeth

The morning started before sunup. I was feeding horses.

Feeding hay from big bales is hard. I made sure Bailey got at least her share. She was going to work today.

At 6:30 a.m. I walked to her with a halter. She left and started her predictable lunge circle.

“OK, Bailey, I’ll be here when you decide you’ve had enough,” I told her.

The routine concluded when she stopped and turned to me. That signaled she was ready for the day. I put the halter on her and we left the pens.

As I groomed her, I noted the things that make her unique. I worry about her weight. She isn’t an easy keeper. I feed her largely what she wants and gauge it by how she cleans it up.

In recent months, I have not been satis­fied that she weighs enough. I had her teeth floated and she was wormed a month ago. Her coat, though, doesn’t suggest a nutri­tional issue. She shines in the sun.

I brushed through her mane as she finished a can of oats. That is part of our deal. The horse that works for the day gets another
portion of oats as he or she is saddled.

As for saddle, the Albert saddle was the choice that morning. It is a historical three­fourths single rigged saddle. I put a pulling collar on in the event we had to rope some­thing. I hung the bridle over the horn that I use on her. She doesn’t need a bit. I use a beautiful old Sleister on her.

We were ready. I looked at her admir­ingly.
She is a big time ranch horse. I never load her on the asphalt. She has a little tick that emanates from lunging at the trailer one day and slipping. She wound up with her back legs under the trailer and she is now leery of loading on a slick surface. I start the truck and drive up on the right-of­way. It is there I load her on dirt. She still lunges into the trailer, but she does it with­out hesitation.

She is mostly quiet in the trailer. She in­variably screams at the gelding brothers she lives with as we are leaving, though.

“Bailey and the boys” has substance with reality in our world.

We pulled to the Valles Tank for the task at hand that day. The cattle were already penned from a previous day’s work.

Leonard and I finally started to load the pens with cattle. These cattle don’t pen easily. The thick mesquites in the water lot made it tougher.

Trying to read the cattle, horses and rid­ers adjust to the responses. At the onset, I cue the little mare mostly with my legs. She is alert and responsive and we set up our drive. Our position and our direction of movement are countered by the cattle. In short order, we put 60 head of adult cattle into the wire pens. The number of calves was unknown. We would go with our first load with what we had.

Loading became a nightmare. The pens were at best make shift just to get the cattle loaded. With the first drafts, we recognized our stops in the alley were not going to work. We had to halt to set posts
and re-hang a gate.

As we worked, a cow came into the alley blowing snot and looking for a hole. We had to react to her. On the second pass by us, Bailey had enough and kicked her square in the head. The cow left the alley. We secured the gate and continued our work.

As we sorted the next draft, I could feel a change in the horse. She was still about half mad and she wasn’t as responsive off my legs. I used my spurs on the next speed lunge.

We lost two animals on that first at­tempt. A cow jumped the fence going out­side and a loaded bull came off the truck and never stopped. He cleared the alley gate and then jumped completely out of the sorting pen back into the water lot.

Everybody was on edge.

Finally, 60 head of cattle were loaded, the truck was started, but the rain came. It poured. We stuck the truck leaving the pens and spent the next two hours resolving that major problem.

Cowboys, cattle and horses alike were soaked. The day was concluded without planned completion.

Tomorrow would start before sunrise. Another horse would be fed and groomed, and … the cycle would continue.


Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from south­ern New Mexico. “As I drove by a Mesilla morning gathering place, my world seemed so foreign to that of theirs … I’ll take mine.”

As we sorted the next draft, I could feel a change in the horse.