Who let the horses out?


One of my proudest and least proud moments from a few years back…

I am considerably less clueless than I was when I arrived as a greenhorn — I grew up in the suburbs for goodness sake — but life on a ranch will probably always be rife with me doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

One of many examples of this: I am prepared to deal with the smaller creatures that populate the ranch, but the larger animals still intimidate me, and I am thankful to have fences separating us, especially when I am on my own with the kids. This is why, when my son looked up from the sandbox where we were all happily digging, and exclaimed: “Horses!” I was alarmed. The funniest joke around here lately has been, “Made you look!” And the horses should have been a half mile away in the pasture, but something about his tone made me suspect we had escapees on our hands.

I followed his pointing finger, and sure enough, there were six full-size horses and one small pony trotting up the gravel driveway toward us. Our horses are gentle and good-natured. There isn’t one I wouldn’t ride, and they are all accustomed to humans. That being said, a pack of horses is like the wind and can change direction quickly without warning — and my kids are low to the ground. I shuffled everyone into the house.

My first recourse in these types of situations is always to phone my husband, so with a shaking hand I dialed his number. I knew it was a fool’s errand though, as he was fencing far from home, and almost certainly wouldn’t have cell service. As expected I got his voicemail.

I watched as the horses continued to approach, stopping by the larger of our two gardens to snack on the creeping jenny that was crawling up the wire fence. That wire fence was designed to keep out chickens, and wouldn’t be much protection from a horse looking for a snack. Then I looked around at all the other things in the yard they could mess with or destroy and let out a long sigh. It was time to woman up.

First things first, I needed to secure the kids. The best way to do that reliably with small children on a ranch is to pack them into the pickup with the windows down, which I promptly did. Then I opened a few gates, moved a few panels, and hoped I could get the horses going in the right direction with a little motorized encouragement. A couple passes in the aforementioned pickup, some well-timed shouts out the open window, and then a final circle on foot, and I had all six equines funneled through the corral into an adjacent pasture. The kids were pretty impressed, and so was I — it was maybe the ranchiest thing I’d ever done, and I’d made it look easy.

I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home so I could brag about myself. He was suitably impressed or convincingly pretended to be, congratulating me on my cool head and dexterity. “But, I wonder how they got out?” he added at the end of the conversation.

I was still riding high on my success the next day when he mentioned that someone had left the gate between the gravel section line and the far pasture open. “I did a few days ago,” I said, “But there is nothing in there, right?”

“Well…there’s another gate that connects that pasture to the north pasture where the horses usually are. I leave that open so they can get water…” my husband replied. A pregnant pause ensued, during which we both considered what that meant. Yes, I’d quite capably gotten the horses in, but, apparently, it was my fault they’d been out in the first place. So, I guess I won’t be awarded ranch wife of the year anytime soon, but I am still better help than I used to be…I think.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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