Whenever we introduce a new horse to the ranch, it often takes a while for them to adjust. The country where I live is pretty brushy, meaning cat claw, mesquite and cactus of all kinds. It is also riven with steep sides, arroyos, canyons and jagged rocks.

I’d traded for a young horse and took him out for his first gather. He had been raised in corrals and was bamboozled by the rough terrain. We’d ridden about two miles with him snorting and stopping and sliding, whinnying for other horses to save him.

We slid off a slope and hit a small arroyo at the bottom. He stood shaking. I was eggin’ him on, but to no avail. He wouldn’t move. Completely overwhelmed, he laid down in the sand like a cow!

I sat still in the saddle with my stirrups on the ground. We had a short conversation, about a minute, then he took a deep breath and rose to the occasion.

The South Dakota badlands can overpower a horse, as well. Shorty took a green grulla gelding of his out to check cows on a Pine Ridge Reservation lease. That, too, is rough country, mostly rocky and uneven.


He trailered across the prairie and unloaded on a little flat at the edge of the pasture. They weren’t far from a big badland creek called Redstone that drains a lot of that area.

Laying off the side, he spotted a middle-sized Hereford bull. Shorty decided to push the bull on down the creek where he’d seen some cows grazing. It took a little prodding but they soon got the bull on a trail goin’ down the creek. The trail had a lot of bends and vertical-cut badland walls.

The bull started down on to a steep trail into the creek bed but then turned back the wrong way, right along the wall! Shorty loped back up the creek bank, hee-hawin’, hollerin’ and waving his arms to shush the bull.

But, all of the hoorah spooked the young horse who, in a moment of “Now or Never,” jumped the bank and landed a’straddle on the bull!

The bull lit out down the creek, the horse rolled off the bull and Shorty rolled off the horse! The frightened horse, in a panic, climbed the bank and took off! While crawling up the steep slide, Shorty had a vision of his best Hamley saddle hanging underneath the horse’s belly as the horse galloped for home.

Which, of course, is what a good horse, with any common sense would do. But when Shorty topped the rim, there stood the inexperienced novice grulla, eyes wide and nostrils flaring, not 20 feet away. Somewhere in his equine brain he had processed his options – Bull? Rock? Trailer? Mother and home?

Not having any experience in his young life to compare this to, he actually walked up to Shorty, who touched the side of his face and sighed. I guess he just needed a hug. PD