Monday, September 1, 2014

Herding Horses

Rain Returns
Muddy Palomino
Fussing Wet Sorrel
Beautiful Booties
Snapper the Mare
Beary the Mare
Resting at Gate
Grass is Always Greener Over the Fence
Fence Posts Make Good Scratching Posts
Always Curious
Licking the Dog
Rest or Attempted Murder?
Misty Morning Greeting
Pond Spotting
Note Which One is All Drama
A Horse and Her Cat
Rain slides silently down my window and morning looks more like evening. The view is blurred, the grass greener and shiny headlights bob as trucks speed past. It feels good. After the dry, hot season, the Pacific Northwest has returned to northern Idaho.

Two muddy mares are less content about the rain than I am, though. A palomino shows the dirt like a farmer wearing buff-colored overalls. She's a canvas of mud from the pasture and pond. Yet, she nibbles at what clumps of clover remain unabashedly.

On the other hand, the sorrel fusses like a trophy wife experiencing a bad hair day. Rain-stained, she drops to her knees and rolls in an attempt to rejuvenate her damp hide. Kicking her hooves toward sodden clouds seems futile. She rises, shakes and drops to roll one more time.

No matter the weather, they are gorgeous and I never tire of noticing how well they are matched to Elmira Pond as if I shopped the Pottery Barn for the pair. Golden-white and golden-red, they grace this place with powerful beauty, hides glinting in the sunshine.

Photographing horses, brushing horses, nuzzling horses are all activities that I rate higher than watching television. They are my entertainment (good thing since I have no cable). However, herding horses I'd rate down there with hauling wood in in a winter squall or mucking a barn.

Early mornings are relatively quiet. The back neighbors got a rooster a few months ago and not too long ago an eagle fledged its nearby nest. One crows at dawn and the other pipes like a shrilly flute. It's an odd duet led by the rooster. Sometimes the corvids join in, but I think they are really laughing.

But this particular morning song is accentuated by the constant blasts of an 18-wheeler's sonorous horn followed by the squeal of tires as a truck brakes. Not a good sound. Todd flees bed like the Army Ranger he used to be--always ready--and is halfway downstairs by the time I reach the bedroom window.

He's outside and has a visual on the horses. Both mares are in the back pasture. Slowly, I dress and keep looking out the window at the empty north pasture. Todd walks to the two-lane faded highway and sees fresh skid-marks. He was worried that the young bull moose that hangs out by our house had been hit. But no such sign.

As he walks the fence, the horses trot over to greet him. The mares are friendly, often licking our dogs as if to claim the two canines as foals. They expect scratches and rubs at the fence. A pretty picture unfolds--my shirtless gallant husband willing to rescue a moose at dawn, two mares with ears perked and tails aloft, morning light filtering through pines to illuminate the scene like a Thomas Kincade puzzle.

Then the sorrel steps right out behind Todd. That's the moment he realizes the moose must have been scared by the honking, taking out a corner post and snapping three lines of wire. The mares confirm that the gaping hole is big enough for a moose--or two horses.

Horses, creatures of beauty, intelligence and sociability, become giddy middle-schoolers let loose at a theme park without adult supervision. Todd tries to herd them back through the gap, but they blow past him, tails up like flags and they are off running behind Elmira Schoolhouse. Todd shouts my name as if I'm the family horse-whisperer.

A born buckaroo; not a miracle worker.

Half dressed, as in pants and pj top, I shove my feet quickly into my Keens set by the door and I'm headed to the gate that leads to the north pasture. By this time our neighbor, Mr. Rooster Owner, is at the main entrance, opening the double gates as if Todd is going to catch up anytime soon to two galloping horses--free at last, free at last! I close the north pasture that is now compromised.

Mr. Rooster Owner is headed to work so off he drives, leaving me to mind the gate. Twice I see the palomino across the huge meadow that spans north beneath the power lines. I call, "Bear-y, Bear-y," only to realize--twice--that it's my shirtless husband. He's not amused and I can tell from half a mile off.

Todd returns pony-less, and declares his need for coffee. He lost their tracks beyond the school. We go back inside, coffee up and then cowboy up. We only have one halter and a dog lead, but I grab what we have and we head north in the car. At the Elmira Store two miles down the road we turn left onto a dirt road hoping to see horse tracks. Better than that, we see two horses!

I hop out, but the mares spy the halter and shy away. The palomino blasts by and Todd blocks the road next to our car. He has his hands on her which is sort of "caught" to the perspective of a horse. The sorrel goes up the embankment. She lets me approach and I get the lead around her neck. We walk to Todd and Beary, but are above them on the embankment.

Stretching--not my idea of morning exercises--I manage to give Todd the halter but Army Ranger can't figure it out. It's as if I handed him knitting needles and said make me a scarf. After I tease him, we pass leads to horses and now I'm on the road with the palomino deftly haltering her until--what's that knot? I look to Todd and admit that I can't remember it. Army Ranger smirks and knots the halter closed for me.

With both horses in a precarious position--one up, one down the embankment, Todd says, "Just follow the power lines home." He hops in the car and drives back out the dirt track, leaving me to ponder why I hate phrases that begin with the word, "just." Coaxing Beary up the embankment both horses rush me like linebackers.

Remembering my buckaroo days I push back and give them my presence. They accept my bid for leadership and both follow as we begin walking through grass and weeds up a hill, down its sloping flank, through a bog, across an abandoned ranch with snarled barb-wire and...would you look at all the dog poop!

Dog poop...why would there be dog poop out here. Honestly, it looks like the dog yard of a sled musher. The horses begin to prance, nostrils flare and I step across hairy dog droppings. Hairy. I know that the coyotes live across the tracks to the east and the wolves to the west. I'm on the west side. I also know the size of piles my daughter's 90-pound
Free Enough

Back in the Mists of Elmira
huskies leave and these hairy piles are larger.

Just as I think the den must be nearby an eagle screeches loud enough for me to understand why our forefathers chose this bird to represent our nation. It's formidable. Not only is a wolf den nearby but so is the eagle nest. All I need now is for the rooster to jump out of the brush and attack us. Or the moose.

It's been a long time since feeling this scared. Thing is, when herding horses you have to contain your fear or they will pick it up and run with it. As in, run me over and gallop away. I talk to the horses in the soothing voice of a first responder at the scene of an horrific accident. Soon, I see Elmira Pond glinting in the distance.

With home in sight I feel like singing Barry Manilow (Looks Like We Made It), but that's not very buckaroo-like. Home, home on the range, where wolves, roosters, moose and run-away horses more acceptable.

I shut the gates, release the mares and feel framed in the beauty of this place once again.


  1. Each time I visit your blog it makes me want to hop in my car and come for a visit. I don't ever recall seeing a horse roll around like the Sorrel. The picture of the horse kissing the dog is priceless!

  2. Come on down! Funny, saying that, because most people think I live "too far north." I'm like, there's an entire country above Elmira Pond! The sorrel is a daily roller. I also rub her spine when I brush her, like a massage, and she gets goofy over it like she really, really likes it. She's also the one who kisses the Grenny.

  3. What a pre-breakfast adventure! I can understand why you would consider herding horses as much fun as hauling timber or mucking a stall - especially before breakfast. How fortunate the Army Ranger got up to investigate or the horses may have been even further afield, and closer to the wolves' den. I love reading this description of your day - it is so different from mine; as are the creatures that surround your property: wolves, coyote, moose. It sounds all so out of a movie to me! Thanks for sharing this adventure. :)

    1. Thanks for coming over to Elmira Pond and adventuring with me, Norah. If anything, I'm a reluctant adventurer. :-)