Since I don't have an indoor arena with engineered footing and no-fire heaters, I don't get much riding in during the winter. Cold, snow, mud, wind, all of these things sap both my will to ride and my ability to do so, unless it's absolutely necessary.
When it's cold and your horse is feeling like kicking up his heels to warm up, and you're feeling like your nose is about to shatter and fall off your face, you just can't ride to the same standards as when you can actually feel your fingers and toes.
So I don't ride much during the winter, unless we get a rare day with warmer temperatures and no snow or mud on the ground. I'm extremely paranoid about treacherous footing when riding, simply because I'm not set up to stall a horse with a minor leg injury to keep them from moving too much. Being in a pasture rather than confined can turn a minor strain into something more serious in short order, so I watch my horse's legs. If we have to go into a muddy field to retrieve a straying cow, we go, with due caution, but I don't ride for fun when the footing is too bad.
So, Wednesday when we moved cattle, I had been off horseback for literally months, and I was so excited to finally get back on a horse and get back to doing what I love.
I rode Rebel, instead of my beloved and cow-loving Monkey for a couple of reasons. First, Monkey has been off for months as well, and if he was going to have a fit of exuberance about the spring day I'd rather it didn't happen when I have cattle to handle. Second, we have a bunch of little calves, the kind that don't always have the stamina to walk miles at a time, and sometimes those guys need picked up and given a ride in the trailer or the back of a pickup. The easiest way to get a hold of them without risking The Wrath Of The Mother Cow too much is to drop a rope over their heads while walking beside them on horseback. Monkey doesn't do ropes. At all.
Anyway, Rebel and I saddled up and started pushing cows. With wheat growing green and lush in the ditches, most of my job consisted of making sure that they didn't wander into the wheat fields and pushing and shoving them along as they dropped their heads to graze.
We didn't get too excited about getting anywhere in a hurry. Cattle who want to drop their heads and graze as they walk along are far less likely to go tearing off into the wild blue yonder for no real reason. Plus the slower pace means the calves can keep up.
Starting off we had Farmdad in the lead with cake in the back of the pickup. Our cattle love their candy so much they followed him like rats behind the pied piper for about five miles before the lead cow started eyeballing the wheat field across the road too much, and trying to slowly wander off.
At this point I was still helping push, with Farmmom in the other pickup, since the cows in back were more interested in the green stuff under their feet than the cake up ahead.
Once the lead cows got more interested in other things than the cake, I had a bit more of a challenge. I had to push in back to keep things moving, and also keep an eye on the lead cows to make sure they didn't take everyone off across the road.
When they started to wander that way, I had to get up to the front of the herd, which was strung out, before they could get too far.
Now, this can be a delicate balancing act, between getting there before they get out of the fallow field we were crossing and onto the road, and not startling the other cattle into going back the way we'd come or further into the field.
So I needed speed, but not too much speed. Luckily, Rebel was feeling very cooperative and listened to my cues well, keeping an eye on the lead cows we were going to head off while I kept an eye on the ones we were passing and adjusted according to their reactions.
All in all we moved the cattle seven miles in a little over four hours. Mom figures Rebel and I covered at least twelve miles, what with the back and forth behind the herd, circling around to keep the cows pointed in the right general direction when we'd stop and let them graze a few minutes to give the calves a rest, and the back and forth between pushing from the back and heading off the leaders before Farmdad went to the back to push instead of trying to lead them, leaving me to provide a block between the lead cows and the super juicy goodies across the road.
All in all it was a great day for a ride, I got a little sunburn on the back of my neck, my face, and my ears, and I discovered exactly how out of shape for riding I've gotten in the last few months.
But ya know what? Even though I was sore before I ever got off the horse, even though I knew I was going to pay dearly in muscle aches and bruises on my seat bones, I was smiling. Hell, I'm still smiling.
The first ride of the spring, my horse and I doing our work well, watching the calves at their mothers' sides, or pushing in front of the cows to try to get them to stop mom I'm huuunnngrryyyy!
I couldn't have asked for a better day. Everything went smoothly (ok except for the bull deciding he was done walking just short of the pasture gate and turning the lead cows back into the herd... even that was kind of entertaining, I mean, ever seen a bull work a cow like a working cow horse in competition?) and the day was lovely and at long last I got back in the saddle.
Unfortunately I had other things I had to do yesterday, and today a cold front moved in, dropping the temperature to ranges that I know better than to try to ride in with sore muscles, lest I get so stiff while riding that I can't get my leg over to get off.
Soon, though, the weather will warm back up and I'll get back in the saddle. Getting the horses back in shape and polishing their training, moving on to new things and hopefully getting some client horses in to work with.
Spring. I love it.