My parents and I send our horses to winter pasture from mid-November until mid-April or early May. My step-dad’s horse, Ranger, is an adopted BLM mustang, that was wild for the first nine years of his life, and my mom’s horses, Jesse and Washoe, are mustang mixes. My horse, Estes, is a quarter horse/morgan mix, but was raised on a mountain ranch and is used to having the winter “off” to be a horse. We’ve found that the few months that they are turned out on hundreds of acres to roam in the foothills are essential to their mental health. As much as we miss them, they are much healthier all the way around if they get their “horse” time.
The livery horses work hard, six- to ten-hour days, six days a week from May until mid-September and then the majority of them are also turned out to winter pasture on the plains. The seven months that the livery horses are turned out are also essential to their general health. They’ve got time to heal up, socialize, and foal. Each spring round-up finds multiple foals sired the previous winter by one of the free-roaming mustangs. In the past these foals were immediately written off as worthless, but in the last few years the mustang mix has gained more respect as a hardy mountain trail horse.
One of the best parts of each season is the beginning. The anticipation, the itch, for the season to start begins in March for me. As there are more and more sunny days and the snow begins to melt, the horse fever begins.
By April, I’m like a horse-crazy teenage girl. I need the season to start. I need to be on horseback in my favorite place in the world; the mountains I grew up in. I start pulling out all of my gear and getting it ready. My saddle gets cleaned and oiled, the head gear un-packed, worn equipment mended or replaced.
Mid-April finds me counting down the days until the horses are delivered. I start moving my cold-weather gear back up the mountain, water-proof my boots and treat my oilskin duster. And I count down the days…
Delivery day, for me, is one of the most exciting days of the year. Opening the back of the trailer and unloading the first load of horses is like opening a long-anticipated Christmas present. You know what you put on your Christmas list and now you get to see if your wish came true. One of the liveries I’ve worked for bills itself as being the oldest continuously run livery in the area. As such, the Barn Boss gets to request certain horses at the close of the previous season – it is like writing out a Christmas wish list, but we never know exactly which horses we’re going to get until they are delivered. Delivery day is a day of renewing old friendships with the horses and getting them settled in. It’s usually a pretty laid-back day; nothing is a chore, not even feeding.