Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Return

The next morning, bright and early, we were up and had the few horses left saddled up. We had a big ride scheduled for ten a.m., so we had no choice but to find and return the whole herd. The hope was that they had stayed herded up and were hanging out in the meadow, grazing. Four of us headed out toward the meadow. Just before the trail headed down, we split up. Two of the wranglers circled to the east of the meadow and the Barn Boss and I stayed up top in hopes of being able to keep the herd from splitting up. The plan was that the wranglers moving toward the herd would quietly work their way in, catch one or two, halter them up and lead them out. It would have worked like a dream if one particular wrangler hadn’t taken it upon herself to change it.

Barn Boss and I tied up our horses on a side trail and had intended to creep through the trees to a better vantage point when we heard a whoop followed closely by the sound of stampeding horses. We hurried back to our horses, mounted up, and headed in the direction of the herd. Obviously, someone had gotten too excited about playing cowboy to actually follow the plan. Instead, we had another disaster in the works. Rather than leading the horses back in a calm manner, we now had thirty head stampeding toward the highway. Crossing the highway the night before in the middle of the night was worrisome enough, but at eight-thirty on a summer morning during the height of tourist season was downright dangerous.

Boss and I moved out as quickly as we could without spurring on the horses too much. The last thing we wanted to do was run up behind a stampeding herd and ignite even more panic. Boss’s son, one of the wranglers that had gone into the meadow, met up with us on the trail, cussing up a storm. We were too far behind to head them off – they didn’t follow the trail back up, they just crashed through the trees straight up the mountain, the same way they headed down the night before. We followed as quickly as we dared, but couldn’t get them in sight. The best I hoped for was that they’d head for home, and from the sounds of it, that’s exactly where they were headed.

As they headed down the switchback, still out of our sight, I cringed inwardly, already hearing the sounds of squealing tires and screaming horses. Okay, so maybe I have an over-active imagination, but I could also see in my mind’s eye the car, horse, and people carnage just waiting to happen when the horses stampeded across the highway. What I actually heard was a whole lot of shod horses skittering across the asphalt. The skittering sound brought a whole new batch of images to my mind of one horse losing his traction and taking out the rest of the herd, and then there would be squealing tires and screaming horses and carnage.

Luckily, my imagination was just that – imagination – and the herd got across the highway without anything bad happening. Boss and I arrived in the yard just as the one most useless wrangler I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with was shutting the gate to the pen. While I was glad that the horses had all been returned, I was livid with her. She’s actually very lucky that the Boss’s son got to her before I did. She really, truly had no idea that what she had done was endanger not only herself, but the whole herd and anyone on the highway by racing them back in stampede fashion. Actually, I wouldn’t have minded if she’d been trampled in the stampede, but I really was worried about the horses and the general public. In her mind, she had single-handedly brought the horses back and proven that my plan to do it in a calm manner wasn’t the way to do it.

Yes, we got the horses back, and yes, she single-handedly whipped them into a panicked frenzy to do so. As a consequence, we had hot, sweaty horses that we had to calm down before we could even consider pulling them and getting them ready for our big ride. We had them in the pen, but they were so full of adrenaline that they were picking fights with each other and staying whipped up. We had less than an hour to get them calm, pulled, and ready for the big ride at ten.

They slowly calmed down once they realized they were back home and that no one was chasing them, yelling. Eventually, we were able to enter the pen – minus the useless wrangler – and start pulling the horses we needed to the day’s ride, which went off without a hitch.

The useless wrangler? She got to stay behind and scoop poop while the Boss’s son and I took out the ride. To this day, she has no idea what she did or why she was punished.

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