While working on a cattle ranch for the first time, my reining mare gained a lot of practical experience, and so did I.
By Katie Frank
Ranch Diva, or “Lucy,” was started as a reining horse, but the Quarter Horse mare had never been on a ranch and asked to perform a job. Heck, I hadn’t either. So when Jason Pelham, who runs a division of Spade Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, invited a small crew from Western Horseman for a crash course in day working, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I wondered if my horse and I were capable of the tasks ahead.
We spent five days on the ranch, and each morning started the same: up before dawn, coffee and breakfast, and saddled by daybreak. Then, we’d either load up and haul to location, or ride off from the house.
Our first challenge came when I asked Lucy to load into a half-top trailer, saddled and wearing a headstall. Normally the red mare loads with ease. Though an everyday occurrence for most ranch horses, I hadn’t asked my horse to load with tack on and stand in a trailer untied during transportation.
When I stood at the trailer door and attempted to send her in alone, she balked and backed up. Three of the cowboys linked hands and scooped her in, and the encouragement popped her right in. Off to a great start, I thought sarcastically to myself.
Upon arrival, Lucy had turned around and was facing the rear door, a position frowned upon for safety reasons. I let her step down and out of the trailer, aware that our first lesson in becoming a ranch pony wasn’t going as planned. I felt like I had failed by not preparing my horse. It wasn’t her fault she didn’t know what to do—she’d never been asked.
By the end of the week we’d gathered, sorted and weighed yearling heifers and weanlings. We rode onto the caprock and down through gulches, and worked in sloppy muddy pens driving calves through chutes. Her demeanor transformed dramatically, as did mine. It seemed the age-old adage of a “tired horse is a good horse” was true. I pushed her for more, and the work pushed me to become a better rider.
Every horse can benefit from time spent doing ranch work. Two-a-days—saddled once in the morning and again in the evening—filled with long trotting, roping, and sorting teaches a horse to conserve energy given the opportunity. Horses learn to think for themselves amidst rattling trailers and bawling calves, and gives purpose to maneuvers practiced in the arena.
And the trailer situation? It seemed there was a new problem. I could hardly keep Lucy from trotting into the trailer once the door opened. Once loaded, she’d stand patient and quiet. It seemed my mare was redefining her name and becoming more Ranch and less Diva.