Glenn and Caryl headed down to Albuquerque, New Mexico this week. There, at the Quivara Coalition 2019 Regenerate Conference, Glenn presented on “Nurturing Health from the Ground Up” in collaboration with renowned grazing researcher and author Fred Provenza. They’ve been having a great time at this year’s conference, but it’s been a busy week for them! As such, I was tasked with writing the newsletter story this week. In this season of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share the following with you all.
I remember the day like it was yesterday, even though it has been years since my dad and I visited the little wooden ranch house nestled in a rare hollow amidst the rimrock breaks of the windblown Snake River Plain. It was a cold November day and the wind whipped my hair as I stepped out of the warm pickup cab. Tumbleweeds piled up against a ramshackle fence and the surrounding landscape was an uninspiring dull grey. We were there to see a horse.
I’ve been blessed with good horses all through my life. But there is one horse that has accompanied me through many adventures and misadventures, ups and downs as I have grown from an angsty teen into a young woman. I would trust him with my life and I often do in the rugged Salmon River country where we summer the beeves. While I am not one to endow an animal with human psyche, I count this horse among my friends.
I’d found the yearling colt on Craigslist, which is a dubious beginning for any transaction. The colt was seemingly nothing to get too excited about; he came with excellent Quarter Horse lineage, but he also had a muddy brown coat and the slightly too-thin neck and a too-big head of a long-yearling just before a growth spurt. Yet even in that low-resolution photo on my computer screen, I could see there was something special about him.
And so, we made the trip South to that hardscrabble homestead just down the road from Ray Hunt’s own ranch in Mountain Home, Idaho. Perhaps proximity to a master horseman should have been taken as a sign of things to come. The colt’s owner was a kind-faced woman with a real love for good horses and a wealth of knowledge. She’d spent years developing a small Quarter Horse breeding program, but times were tough. I could see reflected in her faded blue eyes the hours driving down to Texas to retrieve a little palomino stud colt that would become the cornerstone of her breeding program, the long days in dusty arenas campaigning her horses in local shows, and the endless nights staying awake with restless foaling mares. She’d just gelded her stud and was now selling off her broodmares and a few remaining colts, the remnants from almost a lifetime of research and experimentation.
Her face was sad but also proud as she led us to her round pen, constructed of huge timber poles logged from far off mountains. The second I saw the gangly colt bouncing around in that enclosure, I knew he’d come home with us. That “something special” in the sale photo materialized as a kind eye and undeniable heart.
I started him the next year and discovered that he had a penchant for the occasional exuberant crow-hop, but otherwise he put his heart and soul into everything I asked of him. Whether gathering cattle or taking long solo rides up the massive creek drainage behind the ranch, he did his best. Occasionally, folks will compliment me on how far he’s come and that he rides around pretty broke, but I never feel like I can take credit for it. He just wants to learn and do right by me. He’s always been like that.
I took him to school with me at Montana State University. Amidst the stress of school and the homesickness of a ranch girl in the “big” city of Bozeman, he was my respite. The only time I felt at home and at peace was riding that sweet hearted grey gelding. I tried to make time every day to at least go out to the boarding facility and see him, but then the demands of my freshman classes got the best of me. There was a period I didn’t visit him for two weeks, trusting the boarding facility personnel with his care. I still regret that decision.
When I finally made it out there, I could immediately tell something was wrong. He was off in the corner of the big pen where he was housed with several other horses. When he turned toward me, he would bear no weight on a hind leg. In a panic, I called the only vet I could reach on a weekend and he came out to the facility, only to shake his head sadly. I only heard a few words like “joint capsule” and “infection” and “poor prognosis.”
But it couldn’t be the end of the road. I didn’t have a trailer at school, but some dear friends dropped everything and hauled him to a nearby equine hospital. This clinic was renowned for successful colic surgeries and rehabilitation of devastating performance horse injuries. They thought they could help my big-hearted gray gelding, ridding his inflamed hock of infection, but the recovery would be lengthy, and they warned me that he might never be anything more than pasture sound. I didn’t care. I had pleaded with God to save my horse and we had to do our part as well.
They treated him, multiple veterinarians collaborating to save the life of a seemingly average ranch horse. He was at the clinic for several days, handling the fear of a new place and various uncomfortable procedures like the long-suffering and patient soul he is. Then my dad trailered him back to the clean air and wide-open pastures of his Pahsimeroi valley home. While I continued with my first semester of school, my family oversaw his care, walking him daily and changing his bandages. We all prayed hard. As fall progressed to winter, slowly but surely, his big heart and his unending try won out as he gradually recovered to soundness.
That horse has since carried me many miles in the high country, through some precipitous situations and near-death experiences. From Montana arenas to the sagebrush country of the Little Hat Creek allotment, he has carried me. He is strong, even when I am weak. He forgives, even when I react in anger or impatience. He somehow reads the conflicting cues I send him and executes maneuvers I never believed a horse of mine would. And he tries. Oh, he tries. Always.
For my big grey gelding, my friend and my partner, I am thankful.
Thank you for reading and happy trails!