Trailing Horses

I just read an article on the Cattlegrowers blog about trailing horses. Author Jack Blerry says, “With the widespread use of the truck and stock trailer, trailing livestock, especially horses, has become a thing of the past in most parts of the country. Many hands do nothing more than jingle up horses out of a horse trap come a morning. In big country, whether out on the desert or way back up in the mountains, one still needs to know how to trail horses from one place to another.”

In 1930 my grandparents, faced with drought, dwindling grass, and potentially starving horses, trailed their 100 head from Cut Bank, Montana to Salmon, Idaho. The 350-mile trek took a good two months and took them over the narrow, steep Lost Trail Pass between Montana and Idaho.01_12_19---Horses-New-Forest_web

Following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Follow the Dream, which shows some of the hazards faced on that trip.

“Heeya.”

“Gitup there.” The cowboys yelled and whistled to push the horses toward the bridge spanning the wide Flathead River. Despite the long drought, blue-green water raced over jutting boulders, and formed deep, eddying pools along steep, tree-lined banks.

Nettie looked across the long wooden bridge. Must be a good 500 feet. Those side rails didn’t look like they’d hold back a calf, much less a herd of horses. And it was a good ten feet to the rock-strewn river below.

Jake rode up front, leading a draft pair on a rope. They would cross first and the rest of the herd would follow. At least that’s what Nettie hoped. She reached over and slapped a straggler on the rump with her hat.

The men closed ranks on either side of the horses. Nettie pushed from behind, her nerves strung tight. “Go on, git, git.”

Jake’s pair stepped onto the structure but halted as their hooves thumped on wooden planks. They snorted and pawed at this new footing, then tried to back off. Jake tugged on the lead rope. “C’mon now.”

First one, then the other horse thrust a leg forward, hesitated, then made another step, and another. Jake coaxed them toward the other side. The next several horses followed, then more. Nettie reined Tootsie to the left then back again, urging the group to keep moving. Ah, maybe this wouldn’t be too bad after all.

Hooves thundered and planks rattled. The entire structure swayed. Nettie gripped her reins. The bridge might not hold up under all that weight. Maybe they should have taken them across one at a time so the horses wouldn’t crowd each other until the railings gave way.

Jake made it across with his lead pair. He called and clucked at the horses on the bridge. Those who reached the other end bolted off. The structure shook in their wake. The horses still on solid ground on Nettie’s side balked at the entrance. They milled around in confusion, flailed the air with their hooves, and whinnied with fear. Anything to avoid stepping onto that swaying, noisy bridge.

Dust swirled. The horses’ fear and sweat was sharp in Nettie’s nose. She saw confusion in the great mass of horseflesh. Animals turned every which way. Some came back toward her. Teeth gritted, she urged Tootsie into a fast trot, criss-crossing the rear of the herd. The men riding the flank did the same, whooping and slapping at the stubborn horses with their lariats.

Someone motioned to Shorty to help and he pulled the chuck wagon up on the left, just before the bridge entrance, to form a barrier.

Nettie caught a breath. Neil’s still inside. “Get him outta there!”

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Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 12:26 am  Comments (15)  

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  1. […] This post was Twitted by horselady3 […]

    • Thank you all for visiting and commenting!

  2. Heidi, how wonderful to read a piece of fiction written by someone so deeply rooted in the heritage of this way of life. My daughter worked for a big outfit in Colorado last winter and they had the horses in a long trot for 7 miles before even getting to the wide open country where the cows were. But trailers and 4-wheelers have certainly changed everything. Good luck with Follow the Dream!

  3. Heidi, how wonderful to read a piece of fiction written by someone so deeply rooted in the heritage of this way of life. My daughter worked for a big outfit in Colorado last winter and they had the horses in a long trot for 7 miles before even getting to the wide open country where the cows were. But trailers and 4-wheelers have certainly changed everything. Good luck with Follow the Dream!

  4. Good place to stop. You left us worried and wanting more! This was a fun piece to read.

    I gave you the Superior Scribbler award today. Whether you pass it on or not is up to you, but I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and wanted to give you the award.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

  5. Heidi,

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Made me feel like I was on the trail with Nettie. It’s a great story. Thanks for the read. Enjoyed it immensely.

    Gwyn
    http://gwynramsey.blogspot.com

  6. Heidi,

    Tried to send this once, will try again.

    What a great piece of writing. Enjoyed the story immensely. Felt like I was on the trail with Nettie.

    Gwyn
    http://gwynramsey.blogspot.com

  7. Wow! Heidi, I can’t wait to read your next book. You can write about these events with such authority. It is a pleasure to follow your career. Thanks for sharing this excerpt.

  8. Heidi,

    I’m happy to learn we’ll be reading more of Nettie. Cowgirl Dreams left me wanting more – much more!

    Charlotte

    • Great! I’m glad. If the book is accepted and if all goes well, I hope the new one will be out sometime next spring!
      Heidi

  9. I could see those wide-eyed scared horses… Hope they all got across the bridge with no mishaps. I look forward to your new novel, Follow The Dream.
    Eunice

  10. I agree it’s great to have such a wonderful knowledge of what you write about. Love the horses. I don’t see many of them around here in Illinois.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com
    http://choiceonepublishing.com

  11. Loved the excerpt. Your writing style really fits the imagery well.

    Marvin D Wilson

  12. Nice piece of writing, Heidi. And of course, I want more. I’m glad to see Nettie with Jake–obviously their partnership is working.

    A couple years ago, on a drive from northern Utah into Colorado, we met up with trail drivers herding along both horses and cows. So not everyone is using trucks. I’ll look forward to this book!

    Julie

  13. I can’t wait for this sequel to debut! So exciting!


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