Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 3

           About May of each year, the most exciting event of the year occurred for a small dreamer—the Horse Round-up. A horse is a strange piece of machinery. It has the capability of surviving even the terrible Wasatch mountain climate entirely unsupported by man, whereas the domesticated cattle or sheep would die. So each fall, all of the horses used for the summer haying were turned loose on the range to provide for themselves. In addition, a large number of brood mares and colts were kept on the range to produce future energy sources. But, come time for haying, all the horses are needed again so the round –up is organized. It is done late enough in the fall to give the horses time to fatten up on the rich spring grass and early enough to give the ranch crew time break the horses for the job to come.

The round up crew was selected from the top hands on all the ranch. Dad was always included and sometimes one or two of the older brothers were taken along by Dad. There was the selection and conditioning of the saddle horses and the chuck wagon always needed repairs, and saddles and other gear need put off from last fall’s cattle round-up. Dad would always be gone two or three days before Mother would hitch up the buggy team and go see the round-up off to the hills. I generally got to go with Mother. Then, in about a week, Mother would hitch up old Gunpowder and old Dynamite and take a lunch over to the corrals to the men bringing the horses in. We could never get too close to the corral or to the herd for fear of spooking the wild horses. But to a boy, it was the greatest picture on earth—hundreds of wild-eyed, excited horses in all colors, bay, black, greys, dunns, buckskins, roans. I can even remember seeing a red, white, and blue horse once. The animal was a blue roan in the front quarters, but turned to a red roan behind. She was really a beautiful horse to my young eyes. And oh, how I wanted them to cut her into Dad’s string, but she was a mare and considered too small for a draft horse. So she was cut back into the brood herd to be returned to the range. I never saw her again, although I always watched for her each spring.

            The useful horses would be divided up among the five haying crews that would harvest the precious feed. All of the other crews were manned by hired hands, only our operation was contract operated. But each crew claimed its horses from the previous years and selected new broncs to replace the ones that didn’t come in this year. They could either have been winter killed or just missed by the round-up or just plain out ran the riders and escaped capture. Our herd of forty to fifty head would then be driven to the Blue Grass and the greatest rodeo on earth would begin.

            The wild horses would be corralled in front of the old log barn. The corral ran east of the barn and was about 150 feet wide north to south and 200 feet long. There was a narrow gate at the north-west corner near the barn and a wide gate at the southwest corner. Near the middle of the corral was a snubbing post about a foot in diameter and six feet high. The log was buried about five feet and an old wheel was fastened to the bottom. An arrangement designed to hold any horse that lived—well, almost. The corral was made of cedar posts and pine poles about five feet high. The horses in the corral were divided into broken horses, which had been worked in years past, but many of these were more dangerous and wild than the bronco, but all of them had to be driven and made sure they were relatively safe before they were hitched to the farm machinery.

            Each horse was roped around the neck. If the horse showed a tendency to fight, he was also roped by the feet until a halter and rope could be put on him. This is not always so easy if the horse is 1500 pounds of frightened wildcat. Horses have three sets of deadly weapons. The hind feet for kicking, the front feet for striking, and the teeth for biting, and a mean nag will use all three. Some are kickers, some are strikers, and some just love to chew on people. The older horses were known and the men would warn each other of each one’s favored weapons. After a horse was haltered, the old horses were generally leadable and would be tied, harnessed, and hitched to the wagon for a trial run.

            A new bronc had to be taught to lead before anything else was done. The horse would be roped and haltered and tied to the snubbing post. The poor, frightened animal would then try to escape with every ounce of strength and cunning it had. The colts as they were called, were never mistreated. They were always handled as gently as possible, but firmly to avoid their breaking loose or hurting someone. The horse was left tied to the post until it stopped fighting the rope. For some horses this only took a few minutes, but some took days.  After the rope, came the man. One man would walk slowly to the animal which would try to stay as far away from the man as possible which kept the post between the man and the horse. The trainer would then inch forward, backing off when the horse tried to escape and coming on again until he could rub or pet the horse without startling it. If the colt came around the post to meet the man, the man left quickly because he had a fighter and, all things being even, a 1500 pound horse can whip any man.

When the horse was gentled enough to be released from the post, he was fastened to the saddle horn of another horse and taught to lead enough to be put in the barn where he would be tied in a stall and fed and watered.  A horse soon gets to know where the feed comes from and becomes more tame. After a few days, the harness is put on the horse and is led back to the snubbing post. A wagon is positioned so the horse can be hitched to the wagon while still tied to the post. The other horse to be driven on the wagon is generally a old tried and true, such as Old Coley. The colt is, of course, afraid of the wagon and often puts another terrific battle, but, with patience, is eventually hitched up. His head is also tied to the head of the break horse and a snub rope is by a man in the wagon. The driver gets the lines and indicates to the ground crew to turn him loose. The south corral gate has been opened before and the team and wagon must be maneuvered out the gate and up through the hay field. The colts immediately start out at a dead run when they are released from the post. Team wagon, driver, and snubber go for a wild ride that makes Roman Chariot races a ladies’ past time. The colt runs until he begins to give out before they try to control anything but general direction to keep out of ditches and fences. Then, slowly, the team is pulled in until they are slowed to a walk. Of course, the break horse must be fast enough to keep up with the colt and strong enough to stop the colt when they start to tire. The team is turned in a big circle and returned to the barn. Sometimes the run was half a mile and sometimes two or three miles, depending upon the colt. The shorter the run, the sooner the horse will be broken, but the longer the run, the more stamina of the horse when he is broken. The run is repeated each day for each colt until he doesn’t run anymore.

            The colt then is matched with one of the older, more reliable horses and assigned to a specific task. Most of the colts and wilder of the horses are put to mowing hay. The best and most reliable are assigned to the push rakes and the rest are divided between hay racks and the derrick. The mow teams are changed at noon each day so each mower is assigned four horses. The matching of the teams is a great art and was usually done by Dad. The team must match in speed and strength, and stamina. Color or looks didn’t make any difference. Sometimes the matching would be tried and re-matched several times before they would work satisfactorily. All this for perhaps a dozen colts had to be done before haying season started in the first of July.

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