The Weight of a Horse



I will have a complaint when I get to the Pearly Gates on the Other Side. It will be that it’s always Thursday. It seems to me that the days – and, consequently, the weeks, months and years – whiz by at an incredible rate, and to me it always seems to be Thursday. The reason is that this is Danny’s short day, as he leaves after lunch, returning at night to play music. I guess this makes it a sort of marker of the week, and so….. it’s always Thursday.

I can hardly believe that the incredibly long time that I spent in boarding school in the Indian Himalayas was a scant six months, and that indeed, my whole time in what became Pakistan and India was just a couple of years. Someone once said that this is because when you’re, say, ten years old, then one year is 10% of your lifetime and so it seems to be forever, whereas the 1% which it would be, were you unlucky enough to live to be a hundred, is short indeed. I say unlucky because, indisputably, young is better. I would even settle for a nifty fifty, when a 16 hands horse presented no big obstacle. A different story today…..

And so, talking of 16 hand horses, let me turn to the subject of Chikala, my 16 hand 1160 lb. baby. The other day the subject of his weight came up for discussion, and one of the staff ventured an opinion that he might weight 900 lbs. As Danny and I are pretty good at eyeballing the weight of cattle, we both came independently to the conclusion that he is between 1100 and 1200 lbs. So in the spirit of the pursuit of truth, we took him down to the cattle scale in the corrals.

We haven’t used those cattle scales for quite a few years, even though they are regularly checked and calibrated by a scale company from Phoenix. This used to be of great importance in the golden days when a cattle buyer came to the ranch in the summer, drove through the herd, inspected the calves, and offered a set price per pound for steers, and a lower price for heifers, to be picked up by his trucks in November. He was gambling that the price would go up, and we were gambling that the price would go down. Over the years I guess it balanced out.

Then, on the big day, the cattle having been gathered the day before, the buyer and his sidekick arrived in the early morning, and the sorting and weighing of the calves began. You can imagine the din – the bawling cows, the braying calves, the clanging gates as the crew sorted, the squeaking of the scale gates, throw in the excitedly barking dog or two, and you have a good picture of shipping day at the ranch. The scale takes about 20 or so calves – or maybe even more, it’s been so long since we’ve done it that way, I forget. Load after load was run in, weighed, the weights duly written down by both buyer and rancher. At the end, the total weight was added up, and then the magic number of 3% was deducted off the total weight, this being the never-to-be-forgotten “shrink”, supposed to represent the weight the calves would lose due to being weaned and shipped. And then the ranch enjoyed the once a year payday! So you can imagine that the certification of the scale was of paramount importance.

It didn’t always work so well. I remember one year, about 18 years ago, we had guests in for the round up, as usual, around the 12th of November. But on the 10th of November, there was decreed a truckers’ strike. The buyer called and said he would send the trucks on the 20th. But we had committed to rounding up the cows on the 12th – so we had to go ahead. We penned the calves for the week until the buyer and the trucks would arrive, and fed them expensive hay, which was already bad enough. But, as bad luck would have it, about the 2nd night or so, something, perhaps a mountain lion or a bobcat, came by the corrals and spooked the cattle. They stampeded, tore down a stout fence made of metal posts sunk in cement with thick metal-mesh walls, tore up two more barbed wire fences, and escaped into the mountains. In the process two were killed outright and one was so badly injured that he had to be put down. By the time they were gathered again from the mountains, the magic “shrink” was probably more like 8%. Not a good year was had by the ranch!

These days the buyers, discouraged by the volatile market, no longer want to commit to paying a fixed price, and they prefer to buy the same cattle at auction, so that the rancher has not only the inevitable shrink, but also the hauling and the auction expense.

I did digress here – and all to explain why the scale is still certified, in case cattle do have to be weighed. It is, by the way, accurate enough that one year I weighed myself on it, and it was dead on.

So, to his great surprise, we took Chikala down there, ran him into the scale and shut the gate – and then Danny and I had to blow off the cobwebs and dead spiders, balance the scale, and take the weight. 1170 lbs – we have not lost our eye for weight judging! I imagine that it would be a real ouch if he stepped on your foot. Particularly if he did what most horses do, which is to look at you in thoughtful surprise, evidently amazed at your scream, transfer their full weight to that leg, and commence to grind your foot into the dirt while they ponder what to do. Anyway, this is a longwinded way of telling you that he is doing well.



And I guess I didn’t tell you yet about dog Tuffy, who is now undergoing obedience training. As she considers herself the co-owner of the ranch with horse Comanche, it came as an unpleasant surprise to her that someone should put a collar on her and expect her to walk, sit, trot, heel and all that baloney. But I must say she is doing well, mainly due to the trainer, our Guest Services gal called Wanda, who has in her life trained many dogs. I can certainly see that she has – there is a no nonsense, lots of praise but stern discipline to which Tuffy is responding well, and I am so glad, as I am a really terrible dog trainer. I ask, the dog says “Oh do I have to??” and I think, well, maybe not this time….. (Good thing I never had any kids, they would have likely finished up in the penitentiary!) I am really looking forward to being able to take her on cattle work, because the few times I did take her, she was very useful in getting recalcitrant cows off the tops of steep mountains, but there are times when I could, quite cheerfully, throttle her! So I am looking forward to a well trained, obedient and useful cattle dog.

Today we had to clear out the bulls and the few remaining cows from the Lake Pasture, and move them into the West Noonan. Danny and I had in this the help of three capable guests as well as Wanda, who had been here training Tuff. So in a misguided moment of enthusiasm I took Tuffy along. I rode Comanche, as Chikala does not as yet quite know what a cow is, Wanda was riding my Scotty, and Tequila was off grazing somewhere. And I love riding Comanche – I looked forward to a fun morning. But I hadn’t reckoned on Tuff. With a good will she built to the cattle and no amount of whistling and yelling would bring her back. As it is more difficult to drive 20 head than 200 head, and as bulls are notoriously difficult to drive anyway, and as Comanche chose that moment to tweak his ankle and develop a limp, I decided to withdraw from the field of battle and went for a leisurely walking ride, to see if he would walk out of it. He did, and it was a wonderful morning – I had forgotten with all these young horses, just how pleasant it is to have a horse that does exactly what you ask for, with willingness, no grumbling, and what a true treasure that horse is for me! (He wasn’t quite so much of a treasure on the way home, though, as he couldn’t wait to get back to his buddy Tequila, and tried to jig and jog all the way back, resulting in some unpleasant discussions.) I have had him since he was 2, and he is now 22, and how fast those 20 years have passed!

And so, seeing as this is where we came in, I’ll end this before we’re all in tears, and say I hope you had a wonderful Easter and talk to you next time!!

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