Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 8

Some parts of my narrative can best be told as separate stories as is the case of my youthful ownership of the aforementioned bay team of horses.

My dad had a dream of developing a ranch around the family. One of his efforts to interest each boy in the ranch was to make it possible for each to own his own horses. In my case, being the baby boy for so long, Dad would simply give me all the new colts. The colts were so very cute as little things, and then each Fall, as the horses were returned to the range after harvest season, the colts would be turned loose to survive on the open range until they were old enough to break. Generally, at age four. Occasionally a really outstanding colt would be separately be brought in for winter, but these were very few because most of the ranch horses were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves on the open range.

The next year, as the new foals arrived one by one, Father would trade me the new colts for the yearlings I had owned the year before. In my case, the deal was always out of site out of mind because I never saw the colts from the time they were brought in four years later. Each new colt was so cute to a small boy that I ended up owning all the young colts but Father ended up owning all the horses.

One of the new colts that was born on the ranch was a beautiful blood bay colt out of Old Gunpowder. Old Gunpowder was part of Mother’s buggy team, Gunpowder and Dynamite. They were both small Indian ponies which were abundant in the West in the early days. They were dark brown and not much to look at, but they were tough. They could leave the ranch at a fast trop and never break stride until they reached Woodruff, seven miles away.

The sire of the colt was a bay stallion Father had bought as an outlaw. The stud was named Ted and was gelded shortly after he fathered this one colt. Old Ted had an interesting beginning also. His mother was a registered shire mare owned by one of the neighboring ranch foreman. His father had been a real wild outlaw stallion that had jumped into the neighbor’s pasture and bred the mare and then escaped with the mare. The neighbor didn’t get his mare back until the next year, but never could catch the colt. When the colt was three years old, Father traded him wild and spent an exciting weekend with all the boys catching him. Catching wild horses is a sport for kings, but that is another story.

When a new colt was born, to me for some older colt I didn’t even remember. Anyway, the colt was a beautiful bay with a white star and a couple of white socks. But the lithe, muscular grace was obvious to horse owners. During the summer, the colt was taught to lead and was gelded, but he was never tamed. Many of the colts I could eventually pet or even lead, but never this flighty bay. I named him “Old Bird.” Don’t know why, I just did. At the same time, there was on the ranch a very fine pure Percheron filly we called “Belle” and the two colts were pastured together and tied together when the mares were working and the two became friends. And horses do have friends. Eventually the next spring, both yearlings were turned out to range. They had been kept in and fed during the winter because of the value of the Percheron filly and my pleading with Father to keep the colt also. When the two were turned to the range a close lookout was kept on them because of the value of Old Belle. The colts were seen together many times during the summer as the ranch hands would be out on the range for work or for pleasure. In the fall, Dad sent Dick out on the range to bring them in for winter again because of Belle. But when Dick tried to herd them, the bay gelding just ran away from him in spite of the fact he was riding a very fast horse. Eventually after trying all day, he had to abandon the gelding and roped the filly and led her back to the ranch. In the meantime, new colts had arrived and I had traded Old Bird for a new filly I called Wildfire. But because Bird had been so beautiful, I was disappointed to not see him brought in.

When the family found they could not catch the wild colt, there came a great romance between myself and the horse. I imagined a thousand ways to catch him. I eventually traded my other colts back to Dad for Old Bird. I hadn’t heard the old adage about “a bird in the hand” I guess. As time went on, one brother after another would attempt to catch my colt. Finally Dick got the opportunity to trade for Old Buck because he was supposed to be a race horse that surely could catch any range horse. On top of that he traded Old Dubby which practically became my private horse since no one else would ride her.

Dick took his big race horse out to the range and found Old Bird in a large meadow with some other ranch horses that were broken, so he was able to ride right up to the herd without spooking them. In fact, the colt showed no desire to run until Dick rode between him and the herd, almost close enough to run. Then the race started. The wild, free colt against the race horse. But the results were the same. To paraphrase a line from Kipling, the colt fled like a spritely doe, the Dun like a wounded Stag. And so another frustrated rider returned without my horse. Even though he was my horse, my heart was always with him and I was elated to see Dick come home empty handed.

Merl was the next to try to catch him. Merl had been working for Frincis’ ranch over on Bear River and they had given him the job of breaking and riding a bay mare named Dolly. She had developed into a first-class cow horse and was extremely fast. So Merl decided to try to catch the colt. He was so sure that he could catch the wild colt; he offered to trade me his team, Old Helen and Old Alice for the wild one. By this time I had grown to have a little horse sense so I accepted the trade. I thereby came into possession of a fine team of horses at the age of nine. But Merl’s luck was just like all the rest. The horse was still running wild on the range when we later left Woodruff.

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