Once I left California, I had to learn that what I call a pond attracts more than thirsty cows and overheated cowgirls.
By Kelli Neubert
July 5, 2016
It may look like a pond. It may smell like a pond. But if you are in Texas, don’t call it a pond.
It’s a stock tank, and it’s a useful and necessary way that ranchers store rainwater for their animals on their property.
Stock tanks are manmade holes that are created in easily accessed areas to collect water from streams and rain for livestock. In Texas, Oklahoma and parts of the Midwest, if there are horses, cattle, goats or other pasture animals present, there is usually at least one stock tank on the property.
As summer stretches across the country and we swing full-throttle into the heat, stock tanks offer more than just a home for herons and a drink for animals. It’s common to see heavy cows and their playful calves wallow into stock tanks to find relief from the heat. Admittedly, when our temperatures reach triple digits and I’m trotting by one, I’m tempted to join them.
But then I think about my last swim in a stock tank.
It was during a trip years ago, when some childhood riding buddies and I trekked mid-August to visit some friends in Kansas. It was our first experience in the thick, humid heat that the Midwest offers, and we were having a tough time adjusting. While out on a particularly sweltering ride late one morning checking cows, we searched for some relief from the heat. I was hoping that we could find a water spigot or small trough to dunk our heads in and cool off a little. However, we spied a manmade stock tank instead and decided there would be no better idea than to un-cinch our saddles, strip down to our skivvies and take a swim with our geldings.
We had plenty of experience swimming horses and just loved it. Carmel Valley (where we grew up) was home to a rock bottom river that flowed with clear, cool water from the hills of the central coast of California. The divots and swimming holes that lay within the Carmel River were deep, safe and inviting. My friends and I would ride bareback and wade our patient horses out through the smooth water, splashing and laughing and enjoying the relief from the sun-filled afternoons.
We figured that this Kansas pond would offer the same sort of situation. We tested the banks and found them to be soft, but not boggy. The water was murky and warmer than expected, but it was still refreshing and energizing on that sultry day. We splashed and played and raced across the pond for an hour, our horses quiet and tolerant. Once sufficiently cooled, we let the sun dry our backs and we rode to the house for lunch.
“Did you girls have a good ride?” our friends asked us once we arrived back at the house.
“Oh, we had so much fun! We unsaddled and swam our horses across the pond and it was so nice and cool!” I enthusiastically responded.
“The stock tank past the cornfield?”
Between bites of a sandwich, I paused and questioned “Stock tank? No, we went in the pond.”
“No, ponds are home to cattails and bullfrogs. You swam in the stock tank, where the cows drink. I just shot a water moccasin in there two days ago. You know that thing is filled with snakes and snapping turtles, right? Catfish too, that will nibble your toes? Must not bother you much, huh?”
Our jaws dropped and our three naïve faces went white as we realized what could have potentially happened. See, being from California and our cool, safe, rocky little river, it never occurred to us that most stock tanks were cesspools teaming with aggressive reptiles and bottom dwellers. Never mind that we were in our underwear, besides!
Nowadays, I still admire the almighty stock tank (from afar). It is an attractive and effective way to store extra water and keep animals hydrated and cool.
And when the temperatures rise here in Texas and the urge strikes for me to take a little swim horseback, I think of those snapping turtles, venomous snakes and nibbling catfish—and realize it sounds even better to ride home and just run the hose over my head, instead.