The other day I was out with my camera and had the good fortune to get these pictures of a cowbird and Dancer. The cowbirds graze with the horses most of the summer into early fall. They use the horses to scare up insects that they then light upon and eat. It got me to thinking back on the times I have seen other animals working with the horses, as they graze, using them to scare up a meal.
It was a couple of years ago when Dave Reynolds had a herd of mares up on his pasture and my horses were grazing with them. It was early morning and I walked out to visit with them; since they were up in my pasture. I came out to find a group of coyotes standing among the horses as they grazed. I was a little concerned, but realized the horses were not. As the horses grazed they scared up a rabbit and off the coyotes went to get their breakfast. They lost the rabbit and quietly came back to hang with the horses. Finally, everyone wandered off in search of better grass and more rabbits.
Although this was not a case of working together it still falls in that category, as far as the horses are concerned. As seems to mostly be the case, it was morning and I looked out to see Ricky and Dancer prancing a little funny. It got my attention and out I went to figure it out. A badger had wandered on to the property and the two horses were gently herding it off the property with their light prancing motions. The badger wanted to go east but the horses wanted it off the property, by the most direct route, and were herding it North. They keep at it till the badger finally crossed under the fence and wattled off, now able to head East.
The deer will graze with the horses throughout the year. It is for protection because coyotes do not bother the horses. Lately in the Southwest Black Hills the deer have not been seen doing this because of the reduced numbers of young taken by coyotes and a growing number of cougar.
One has to always remember that nature is a harsh task master. And, when you mix in the naive machinations of man, extremes are most always the result.
The Bull Rustler
Rustler is an 1800 pound bull who has decided that fighting with the bulls in the next ranch and maybe breeding an available cow is better than staying home. He is with 60 cows and 5 bulls on 700 acres of ranch with lots of canyons, woods and open prairie. The only way to get him back is on horse back. So Dave Reynolds, Rustler’s owner, and myself have our Spanish Mustang horses and are ready to go. I use my girl Ricky.
Ricky and Win Riding
She is fast, can stop on a dime, turn sharp at high speeds and loves doing this kind of work. For Rustler’s size he can still move at a good 20 miles an hour or more and is tricky in his maneuvers. We have to separate him from the other cattle and keep him headed home. First finding him in all that space takes about two hours of riding through forest and canyon. It is beautiful and lush this year because of all the rain and cool temperatures.
We finally find him on the Northwest corner of the ranch with the other cattle. Ricky and I circle around, while Dave and Crazy Legs move toward Rustler. All the cattle decide it is time to go and take off with Rustler in the herd. We slowly follow, working and cattle on the outsides away from Rustler and try to turn him. He senses the pressure and takes off at a lope. Ricky goes to a gallop and we try to race ahead to cut him off with Dave working the rear and other cattle to separate them more from Rustler. Ricky gets ahead of Rustler and we bring him down to a stop as he moves from side to side trying to evade. This is not galloping on flat land but going up and down ravines over fallen debris and trying to keep the other cattle from spooking to much so they do not encourage Rustler to really take off with them in tow.
Dave and Crazy Legs
Crazy Legs moves in and we all weave in and out in the timeless dance of herding. Finally, the cattle have moved off and we have Rustler heading Southeast and toward his own pasture. It is heavily wooded here and I spend a lot of time ducking and staying close to Ricky’s neck as we continue to thwart Rustler’s attempts at returning to the other herd.
After about four hours Rustler is finally back with his own cows and calves. Ricky and Crazy Legs have a good sweat worked up, as do we, but are showing their pleasure at getting a good run and workout. The other herd did not get all agitated and Rustler herded fairly easy.
I find that doing this kind of work gives me the inspiration that I never found in city life. It is the reality of nature, it is how the world moves and for all the excitement it is harmony for the soul. A quiet dance with the universe as my partner.
Twelve years ago I came to the Southern Black Hills to live and own a horse. In the end it was two horses that entered my life and became my family. Ricky and Dancer are, full sister, Spanish Mustangs. Dancer was a year old and Ricky two.
At the time, I was recovering from a motorcycle accident, wearing a leg brace and using a cane. I wasn’t really sure if I would walk normally again, but here I was with two horses to train.
Having never trained a horse, in my life, I spent everyday just hanging out with them. and over that next year and a half Ricky and Dancer showed me what horses do being horses. I followed them everywhere, as part of my therapy, and Dancer would always stop and wait for me when I feel behind. I had no round corral and trained in my 20 acre pasture.
Spanish Mustang Ricky working with a bright yellow umbrella.
Dancer is easy going and a real character. She made my learning to train seem simple. Ricky, on the other hand, was really full of survival instincts and made me work and really concentrate on learning how horses see the world. My friend Dave Reynolds would console me saying “the harder they are to train the more you learn and they become your best horse”. They drew me into their lives so completely that it seemed easy to overcome my damaged leg and get myself to the point where I could join with them in the communion of riding. The first time I got on both Ricky and Dancer we were out in a 210 acre pasture; they never bucked. It seemed they said “OK, get on and let’s ride”.
Spanish Mustang Dancer wearing ballons
Dancer is still a real character. When we go riding I call her “the tourist”. She wears bunches of balloons, likes to help me fly a kite and always sneaks into the garden or someplace else she doesn’t belong. Ricky has become a perfectionist in her riding skills and lunges without a lead rope as well as bowing and other maneuvers. She just loves doing these things. They both have done parades, worked cattle and horses as well as lots of trail and what I call “play” riding.
Needless to say, the girls have really been my cure. They have taught me how to “horse around”.
Thanks Ricky and Dancer for such a rewarding life.