The Moon-Eyed Horse
.We started the day around Dawn by eating what seemed to be a Thanksgiving dinner with lots of strong black coffee. Soon we were dressing in all the clothes we had to keep out the chill morning Wind. Moments after going outside, I went back inside to put on a third pair of wool socks even though I was wearing the insulated boots made by Sorrel of Canada that were rated to sixty degrees below zero.
Our "Trail Boss"; Elin Rusher told us that the first thing we needed to do was to separate five horses from the herd of twenty. None of the horses volunteered for the day's chores. They all knew how hard they would have to work.
With a few tugs on the manes and a few slaps on the rump we had five horses tied to the corral fence to be saddled. Six year old Autumn Rusher was right there with me helping brush the horses clean of dirt so that the saddles would not rub their hides raw. Autumn and I carefully saddled each horse as Autumn taught me their names and a little bit about their personalities.
"Are you riding Cutter today?" Autumn asked. "I guess so" I replied. "Is Cutter a good horse"
With the voice of innocence only heard from a child, Autumn told me that normally no-one rode Cutter because he did not like to be ridden. Cutter's technique according to Autumn was to immediately begin bucking, try to ride through the side of the barn or take off through the brush with anyone foolish enough to mount him.
Just after Autumn taught me a little about Cutter, her dad John walked up. "You will be riding Cutter today!" John said with a mischievous smile. "Be sure and make Friends with him before getting on" was all I was told.
I looked over into Cutter's eyes and saw that one eye was larger than the other and each eye seemed to sparkle and rotate in opposition to the other. The legendary author Edward Abbey called these kind of horses "Moon-Eyed" after some obscure reference to the effects of the Moon on the inmates of a Lunatic asylum.
Soon the horses were loaded into their trailers and we drove the ten miles to the unloading point. We got the horses out and checked the tightness of their cinches one more time.
"Autumn, what is the name of your horse?" I asked. "Daddy calls him Dice for some reason" Autumn said innocently.
We soon found out that all the horses had names to reflect their personalities as Dice started to roll in the snow with Autumn securely in the saddle. Autumn was quick enough to get her feet out of the stirrups and the snow was about three foot deep, so instead of grinding Autumn in the dirt, she was just pressed into the snow.
"Get me outta here !" Autumn yelled up at me from her imprint in the snow. She was pressed into the snow so firmly that suction was keeping her securely in place. I picked up an old fence post and got it under Autumn and pried her out of the snow just as her mom and dad rode up and started asking how come we were playing in the snow instead of rounding up cattle. We related the story about being surprised at Dice rolling unexpectedly.
"He always rolls like a pair of Dice. That is why we gave him that name" John explained. "Cutter quickly cuts out the bad riders from the good riders and so on."
"What is the name of your horse Mr. Rusher" I asked. "Why, his name is Orville" John replied as he rode away and left me thinking about the characteristics of a horse possibly named after Orville Wright who was always trying to fly!
Soon afterward we settled down to looking for the cattle. The Sun was bright and warm in an endless blue sky. The horses soon warmed up and were sweating and so were we so we took off our down vests and just wore sweaters and baseball caps.
From the ridge we were riding along we could look directly across the valley at the mountains of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. As we rode, I made Friends with my horse Cutter by softly singing one of the old cowboy songs:
"I'm an old cow hand, from the Rio Grande.
But my legs ain't bowed, and my cheeks ain't tan.
I'm a cowboy who never seen a cow.
Never roped a steer cause I don't know how.
And I sure ain't fixin to start in now.
Yippee - Yi - O - Ki - Yay!
Yippee - Yi - O - Ki - Yay! "
Cutter seemed to like my song and I could feel him relax under me as we came to an overlook.
"Stand right there while I take your picture good Friend" I told Cutter as I dis-mounted.
Cutter - The Moon Eyed Horse
I dropped the reigns on the ground and started to step back to get a photograph of both Cutter with the Sangre de Cristo range in the background. However, with every step backwards, Cutter would step forward and use his nose to push the camera to the side letting me know he did not want his picture ending up on the Internet. There might be some bad guys from the glue factory looking for horses just like him, he seemed to say to me.
I thought of all the years I had worked as an Engineer in the High Technology arena. I thought of how much more satisfying it was to ride the range on horseback in the high mountains of Colorado. I was glad I had experienced the culture of the multi-national corporations. "Been there, done that" as the Hollywood actor Steve McQueen used to say.
Cutter and I soon moved into a system of canyons. I saw three head of cattle up on some cliff systems that looked really steep. Luckily there was an old fire road that switchbacked up above the cows. In a few minutes we were above the cows and cutter and I moved them down toward the floor of the canyon.
The terrain was so steep I had to lean out from the saddle on the uphill side to keep Cutter from tipping over. Kind of like they lean out over the side of a sailboat to counterbalance the Wind.
Well, the cows decided to keep going down to the floor of the canyon with no more encouragement from us. However, I had been day dreaming and suddenly realized Cutter and I were on a slope of loose rock and snow. I could feel Cutter starting to tip over and fall down hill so I started to gently ease myself out of the saddle on the uphill side to let him have a chance to catch his balance without me on his back.
Just as my one foot touched the ground, Cutter shifted and started to fall. I kept one foot in the stirrups and pulled against the saddle horn with my entire 246 lbs. By pulling really hard I helped Cutter get all four hoofs on the ground and his head up hill. I quickly re-mounted him just as John Rusher rode up below me.
John immediately saw the situation Cutter and I were in and shouted a single command based on years of experience:
"Don't correct him!" was all John shouted.
That was enough of a clue , I knew exactly what to do. I dropped the reins loose and let Cutter look closer at the ground and decide what to do. After all, he could feel the terrain better than me.
"You decide what to do" I whispered to Cutter. Slowly he adjusted his footing and keeping his head low to the ground he began to move carefully and powerfully up the cliff. I let Cutter make all the decisions and just rode quietly so that I did not interfere with his movements.
A couple of hundred feet later, we were back on the easier terrain of the old fire road.
"Good job, Cutter! I knew we could do it!" I yelled as I reached over the saddle and gave Cutter a big hug around the neck. Cutter whinnied loudly and tossed his head in agreement, the sound of our relief echoing in the canyon. We were a great Team!
To be continued....