TALES FROM OUTSIDE THE UNDERBRUSH
“Tales From Outside The Underbrush” is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside “The Underbrush” of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This “outside world” is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.
This month’s entry continues the tale.
HORSING AROUND – Part 7
"Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are."
Old English Saying
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
variously attributed to Sir Winston Churchilll and Will Rodgers
BANNER AND THE CAPRICIOUS COWBOY!
"Do not spur a free horse."
So it was that for several years over a period of what amounted to a long weekend in September, I became a cowboy! To accomplish what needed to be done required a good horse; the rental beasts I had been riding not particularly fitting that description. Amongst the horses at the ranch however, was one that was to admirably fit the bill. Banner was a twelve year old dappled grey gelding Quarter Horse, a breed that had been developed in western America to particularly serve the needs of cowboys whose main preoccupation was to control and move herds of beef cattle whose collective IQ’s barely exceed that of the average politician. Cross bred from European thoroughbreds and horses that had evolved in North America as “native” breeds, and even though the origins of the latter were largely Spanish from the days of Conquistadores, the quarter horse was bred for quick manoeuverability and speed over short distances, both being important requirements when dealing with skittish and often uncooperative cattle. Stockier than perhaps the average saddle horse, the quarter horse is a compact breed featuring a broad chest and powerful hindquarters, built for agility and bursts of speed over short distances. Another feature of the quarter horse, and certainly in the case of Banner, is their even temperament and intelligence. As a stock horse, this is a breed that is ideal for the task of dealing with cattle.
Bonaparte Lake is situated in the British Columbia central interior and features a landscape that is in part moderately hilly and open mixed with more densely vegetated bush land populated with various tree species. It was in this setting where was located the ranch and where the terrain made good riding……………..up to a point. Herding a bunch of cattle on one’s own sometimes goes well, but sometimes it does not. Moving the majority of the herd from the Crown lands to the ranch valley was a task that principally involved patience more than anything else. Once the herd is coaxed into moving in a direction, it remains but to maintain a steady pace and direction. Impatience that spooks the herd is unproductive for several reasons, one being that such a situation tends to scatter the herd in various directions, making their succeeding and eventual rounding up a more arduous and lengthy task. The second reason not to panic or stampede a herd of beef cattle relates to the basic reason why you have them in the first place, and that is to fatten them up for eventual sale to a slaughter house. Us humans undertake running programs to control our weight. The only weight control program one wants for beef cattle is to fatten them, not reduce their weight as a consequence of running all over the place.
While the majority of the Bonaparte herd was successfully moved to winter quarters as it were, and without any major incident, a majority does not constitute “all” and more work remained to be done. Strays and lost cattle that had not participated in the move had to be located and persuaded to join the newly located majority. That’s when the fun and frolic began, and when horse sense became very important. It was that sense that Banner had in abundance and that proved to be so important in successfully completing the task to everybody’s satisfaction. It is almost an axiom that a stray or lost cow is not in open ground where it can be easily seen and retrieved. Almost certainly without fail on Banner’s ranch land this meant that we had to ride the more treed and scruffy ground in order to locate any strays. So it was that plunging into the bush with one arm held up in front of me to hopefully deflect branches and prevent getting swept off my horse, we invariably would come upon a member of the herd, usually a yearling or stray calf, who had no intention of co-operating with our well-meant intention to herd him back to the safety and comfort of his herd. This is where Banner displayed a significantly greater brain power and ability than his rider.
It must have been a thing of beauty to watch, should anyone have been doing so, but it proved a challenge for me just to keep my seat as did his thing. If the cow lunged to the left, Banner lunged even quicker to cut off that escape. If the cow did a feint one way but lunged the other, Banner had would anticipate that and cut off that move. Back and forth, to and fro it would go, Banner always ahead of the action and me holding on for dear life, trying to match my body motion in the saddle with his. Eventually, the calf would give up and submit to being herded in the direction we desired. On one occasion while chasing a steer through the bush I was swept off the saddle by a branch that was too big to deflect. Stunned but unhurt, I thought I might have to walk back to the ranch, but Banner, with a seemingly puzzled look that asked ”what the hell are you doing lying there?”, came back to stand over me, patiently waiting while I picked myself up, brushed myself off and remounted. Banner’s horse sense that translated into cow sense was amazing and it is fair to say that as his rider I had little to do with rounding up the strays and bringing them back to the herd. Banner was a marvelous horse and I like to think that we became pals since for at least that few few years he was ridden by nobody except me. Riding him was the greatest union of horse and rider that I have ever experienced.
Sadly, it all came to an end when the ranch was sold and the young couple moved away farther north into the British Columbia interior. They took Banner with them where he was to live out his life with good care and comfort. I never got to see or ride him again but I hope his memories of our time together were as good then as are mine today.
"What the colt learns in youth he continues in old age."
“In riding a horse we borrow freedom.”
Copyright © 2015 Ian de W. Semple. All rights reserved.