DIARY OF WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #1
Days on the Horse Ranch
The original "diary" contained the real name of "the ranch" and the
real names of the prime people involved. This was done with an innocent
heart, not intending to offend and hurt the feelings of anyone. But I
have come to see that this was a mistake on my part. I just did not
fully see that stating the facts of life, giving my opinions, here
and there, putting down the realities of a public horse trail ranch,
would give offence to some of the real people. This was an error on
my part. So I have gone over this diary and taken out the name of the
specific ranch (will be called simply "the ranch" now), and changed the
names of all the primary people. Those who already know the specific ranch
and people involved, I appologize to them for my error of not realizing
some could and would take offence. As time moves on, the next few years,
five years, ten years, thirty years etc. people reading this diary will
have no knowledge of the specific ranch or the prime people involved during
the period contained in this diary.
The winter of 2008/9 has been severe for most of North
America - lots of snow storms and ice storms. Here in Canada we
had snow from the Easy coast to the West coast - not been like
that for 40 years. Vancouver on the West coast seldom gets the
white fluffy stuff, but this year was an exception indeed, they
had way more than they wanted and it stuck around for a few
For us in Alberta, we had some very cold weeks of
-30, but then we get our famous chinooks that can take us back
into the 40s.
I looked at the weather forecast Saturday night, and it was
going to be in the low 40s, so I anticipated heading off to the
Ranch to have an enjoyable day with my Golden Palomino - Goldie I
call her, but her registered name is "Final Touch." She is
actually a USA horse, from one of the big breeding stables down
East somewhere. It was a lady north of Calgary that bought her as
a yearling, for her breeding stable. The horse had exceptional
breeding, her grandfather was "I'm Impressive" - a Quarter horse that
won just about all there was to win the in "halter" class
I was looking about 4 years ago, for my boyhood dream horse,
a horse like "Trigger" that the cowboy star Roy Rogers rode in
his movies. I was not having much luck after about 6 months of
searching the horse magazines. Then one month there appeared this
ad, half a page it was, showing this lady with about six of her
horses, and the headline read: "Registered Quarter Horses for
Sale - owing to ill-health." the ill-health was of course on the
ladies end not on the horses end of her breeding stable. I
emailed her and asked, "Well you don't happen to have my dream
horse do you. A golden Palomino, dark gold, white mane and tail,
a mare, about 15 hands, and young." I sat back and really did not
expect to get an email back that said, "Yes, I have your dream
I drove up to see the horse. As soon as I saw her I knew she
was a "beauty" - a conformation was perfect, a super looking
Quarter horse she was. The ladies name was Debbie, goes by Deb.
for short. She showed me the horses pedigree, all official like
and photos. Deb. had come down with cancer and was not sure if
she was going to beat it, so thought she better find some good
homes for her lovely registered Quarter horses. She told me my
dream horse was registered as "Final Touch" and that she was
"green broke" only and was bought to be a brood mare. "Final
Touch" was five years old, about 15.1 hands, and had had one baby
and was carrying another. I said to Deb, "Well she sure is a fine
looking horse, but I'm really not interested in having a baby
tagging along. I want her for a riding horse, to help wrangle
horses on the Ranch and lead out trail rides." Deb did
not say anything. We continued to saddle this Palomino for me to
ride in the round pen. I did and the horse acted well. I
dismounted and tried picking up her feet ... no the horse didn't
really want any part of it. I told Deb that I needed her to pick
up her feet so I could trim the hoofs and have her shod. Deb
replied, "Well Keith leave it with me I'll work on it over the
So off I went back to home, and waited to hear from Deb
about the "picking up feet" problem.
The winter months went by, not one word from Deb. I felt a
little uncomfortable about phoning her as she had told me she was
fighting cancer. For all I knew she had died from it. The month
of March came and still not one word from Deb. I pretty well had
given up thinking about that horse, when one day in April I
received this email from Deb saying, "Keith, Final Touch has had
her baby, do you still want her, I will keep the young one, and
I'll sell her to you for $3,000."
I immediately replied, "Well, yes ... sure I'm still
interested, but what about the picking up feet problem?"
Email came back to me, "Oh, I worked on that over the
winter, and you will have no problem."
"Well okay Deb I'll be up right away," I emailed back.
I rode Final Touch again, and was able to pick up her feet.
Deb said, "Keith you know the horse market is down right now, if
it was not I could sell Final Touch for way more than $3,000, but
for you, that is what I'm asking."
"Yes I know Deb you are right." I wrote her a check out for
$3,000. Six months later horses like Final Touch were selling for
7 to 10 thousand dollars, Canadian.
When Final Touch's baby was weaned, I brought her to the
Ranch. Everyone at the Ranch had their mouth hanging open in wonderment
at her beauty.
And so it was that I did after all these years, at the age
of 62, have my boy-hood dream horse. The Vet I chose in the
local town near the Ranch, knew of "Impressive" and was awe stuck
at Final Touch, saying the great conformation of Impressive was
shining through in distinct form in her.
I named Final Touch simply "Goldie." And so we began our new
life together; that was nearly 4 years ago. There was much for
her to learn, as she had only known a paddock and being a mother,
and Deb told me she was a very fine mother.
There was lots of training to be done, so much was new to
her, so much to learn, but with patience we did it, and Goldie
has shown she is just as good in quick learning as she is in good
looks. We have bonded very well, but she is very much a "herd"
horse; lives with the herd out on the ranges at the Ranch, all
year round, and would have it no other way. Actually I would not
have it any other way also, it is the natural way, the healthy
It was a very interesting first year, as the open range of
the foot-hills to the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, was all new to
her; she was wide eyed is for sure. She had never seen a cow or
deer in her life and freaked out the first time she saw them. The
first stream we came to Goldie wanted to jump over, so I thought
... well okay maybe you have some jumping ability in your makeup,
we'll see when you are 7 years old (should not jump a horse
before they are 7, it takes that many years to develop solid
I had her for three months getting used to all the various
sights and sounds on the Ranch. One dry sunny day I said,
"Now girl I think we are ready to see how much get-up-and-go you
have." She had never in her adult life been allowed to just fly
as fast as she wanted. I took her down to a valley, rode to one
end, turned her around and said, "Let's go girl ... as fast as
you like!" It did not take but a few seconds and she knew what I
was allowing her to do ... she flew like a bullet; it had been
many a year since I had gone so fast on a horse; actually it had
been in my early 20s that I went so fast riding a horse. I had
been training her with a snaffle bit. It took me just about as
long to stop her as the distance we had raced. She loved the
speed. The next day I went out and bought a curb bit as severe as
Roy Rogers used for riding Trigger. It worked!
Over the four years I've had Goldie everything I do with her
is voice trained in the main, a little leg and hand movement, but
in the most part I say the word and she responds. I say trot and
she trots; I say canter and she canters; I say "go" and she's off
like on the race track. I say "side" with my leg going to her
flanks and she side-steps. I say "back" and with a slight easy
pull back on the reigns, she backs, once in that mode I just
now and again say "back" and she'll back up forever, well not
really, as a horse will get tried of backing eventually. Yes,
there are some other neat things I've trained her for, that
usually get people looking twice and saying "wowwwwww!"
So we've done mighty good over four years her and I,
especially when I'm not retired and don't get out to see and work
with her everyday.
"The Ranch" as I call it, has undergone some big changes in the
last year. Dan who worked for the owner (His father and mother got the
land in the early 1940s, pretty cheap from the Government, if they
developed it, which they did) for 25 years decided to leave and start his own
riding school. The owner's son (from a second marriage) Tom and his cousin
Bob, both about 20 years old, have taken over the running of the Ranch on a
daily basis. They are really great young men, good natured, very pleasant
and friendly, well mannered, and sensible. They should do well with the Ranch
and the public trail riding side of the Ranch.
Betty is the lady owns the "Summer Camp for Children" which runs for 8 one
week camps in July and August. She leases the horses and ponies from the Ranch.
I work for her in those summer months. We could have as many as 50 kids in
any one week of camp. They do not live out at the Ranch; they come in daily on
two School Buses; one for the North and one for the South of the town, with various
pick-up stops along the way to the Ranch. Betty will hire many to staff her operation
during those summer months.
As time goes on I'll take you through life on the Ranch in July and August.
So there you have the basic background. Now it's diary time.
I woke to a nice sunny day this morning, with pretty warm
temperature for early February. It was time for a day at the
Ranch. I put on my cowboy gear and headed out from the west edge
of the city limits where I live, to about a 40 minute
car ride to the Ranch. There was little snow left as I headed
West, the rolling hills were in their drab brown color, quite a
contrast from the lush green they will become in late Spring. The
sun was rising behind me, in a mainly light blue sky with a whiff
of thin smoky clouds here and there. There was Spring in the air
today. Getting closer to the Ranch, which is situated in the
foot-hills of the Canadian Rockies, we had more snow, a little
more. Facing me in all their majestic glory and ruggedness, was
the snow-capped mighty (12 to 14 thousand feet) Canadian Rockies.
Snow-capped they were.
As I drove into the Ranch, it all seemed very quite, it was
about 11 a.m. The Stable/Barn door was still closed. I thought
now surely there had to be people coming out to ride today, as it
was such fine weather for trail riding, even in a foot of snow
(some of the trails are of course trampled down from the horse
rides we've had over the winter months). I walked into the barn
and was happy to see it was not as quiet as it seemed outside.
The horses for the day's riders were in and saddled; Tom and Bob
had been busy.
I gave the lads my greeting and continued to the back of the
barn where we had the corral the horses come into when we bring
them from the range. There was my horse. I said, "Hi Goldie" and
she walked towards me, I sensed she was happy to see me. She has
a good reason to be happy, for she knows when I come she gets her
large treat for the day. I haltered her and brought her into the
barn and to the spot where she lives when in there.
I made my way to the tack room, and the big plastic tub I
keep her "sweet feed" in. "Sweet feed" is a commercial sack of
protein, oats, corn, and a little oil, I think from soybeans. I
buy "mare Plus" a vitamin and mineral supplement for mares. A
couple of scoops I mix into the sweet feed. Then I add more oil,
Canola Oil. I'm not quite done yet. You can buy these horse
"cookies" from the tack shops - wheat, bran, flax, and a few
other things. My horse will not eat them as a cookie, she was
never fed them, as like apples or carrots, so she just turns up
her nose to them all. I take these cookies and put them in my
"blender" (soaking them in hot water for an hour or so first) and
blend them up into a mush. I now add the cookie mush, a third of
a cup, to the sweet feed. Well, got you hungry right, just
thinking of all this good stuff. Yes, I'm sure it would be fit
for humans, never tried it, but pretty good mush. My horse
Goldie, just loves it. It is her big treat for the day when I
arrive, so she's always happy to see me.
"Here you are girl" I said dumping the fancy mush into the
half tire we have on the walls of the barn for each horse. She
eagerly dove her mouth into it, kinda like a child rushing
his/her mouth into an ice-cream cone or candy apple at the local
I walked back to the staff room. "Well Bob, what have we
got on for today for trail rides," I asked.
"We have three members coming at 1 p.m. and as you know they
will ride on their own."
Those who take out memberships are ones with enough riding
experience that they do not need a trail guide tagging along.
"Then let's see," Bob continued diving into his laptop
computer, "we have 7 people coming at 2 p.m. - 4 of them are
novices, and 3 are intermediate; we'll need you to guide them
"That's fine with me," I replied.
I returned to Goldie, to give her the grooming I always give
her. As I brushed her with the hard bristle brush (all the horses
I mentioned live out on the range, all year round; in the winter
they grow their winter hair; there's lots of evergreen trees out
there for protection from the biting wind when it blows during
the sometimes -25 cold that comes our way), I said, "Well you're
looking very good girl in this mild weather, you haven't been
rolling in the mud."
I finished brushing and now started to comb out her mane and
tail. All done she looked mighty good for a hairy winter coated
"Let's go for a ride girl before the folks come we need to
guide." I saddled her up. She always tells me by putting her ears
back that she does not care for the cinch being tightened. I go
slow, just tightening it a little at a time, and not fully until
I'm ready to mount up. "Oh, I know you don't like this cinch
girl, come on now keep those ears up," I say as I take my left
hand and touch her left ear, pushing it up. "You've now had this
cinching done hundreds of times you know." But it is the way she
is, some horses are just that way. Some we have on the Ranch will
bite their tires when we go to cinch them up, others, most of
them, have no problem with being cinched up. Such are the
personal things of horses. You just have to know what they are
for each horse, to keep you out of trouble. They can all have
The bit was cold, so I place it in my hands for a few
minutes to warm it up, walking around the barn as I did this. You
have to think, if you were a horse how would you like to have a
very cold bit placed in your mouth, the barn is not heated.
Bridle now on, we were ready to go for a short ride. At the
end of the last summer the owner had built two out door arenas,
on the peat-moss area of one of the ranges close to the barn. He
had used large tractor tires as the fences. "Let's go over to
them girl," I said to Goldie. And we did. To my surprise she did
not want to enter the arena; she would stop turn to the left or
right, but she just did not want anything to do with going into
this tire fenced area.
"Girl, you went in here when Al was building them last
summer," I said to her. "Okay, there are banks of snow in there
now, and those big black tires may now look like some dark
monster that wants to swallow you up. Okay, I'll lead the way."
She had no trouble following me on foot as I led her into
this ... what she may have seen as some big black hole with some
white edges, the snow having disappear from the center of the
arena. We walked around but the snow was deep on the sides, so
really not much fun.
"Let's get out of here girl, you'll be fine in the Spring
time when this place will look like you remember it. I'll put our
jumps in here so we can have a permanent jumping arena."
We were back at the Ranch. It was a little while before the
people for the 2 p.m. ride would show up. I took out some of my
spinning ropes, practice for a few minutes spinning the larger
one. Then the small one which I use to spin around the back of
myself, starting in my left hand and changing to my right hand
half way around my back. After that I took a few minutes to spin
the middle size rope in my right hand, while bending down to pick
up the small rope in my left hand and throwing it out into a
spin; two ropes at once spinning away.
"Hey Keith," Bob calls out, "you'll have to come up to the other
arena barn and practice roping with us. We have the bobcat
pull the dummy wood calf, and we practice roping. You should be
able to do it on Goldie."
"Yes, thanks for the offer, I will. I have her trained with
roping my stationary wooden calf, and pulling it back on a tight
rope. But yes, I need something that moves now. That would be
great, a wooden calf pulled by a bobcat for training, sounds
cool, sure would like to do that."
In the staff room waiting for the 2 p.m. people, Bob and
his girl friend told me about this lady and her boy friend coming
at around 3 p.m. "She's pretty strange," Bob starts to tell me,
"She throws money around like she has a gold mine. Talks about
being a doctor of some sort. We're not sure how to take her.
We're not sure if she signs the insurance form with her and her
boy friend's real names. We'll see what names she signs with
today. You'll be here so you'll meet her, yes kinda strange she
is in many ways."
The people for 2 p.m. arrived on time. Took a while to fill
in all the insurance policy forms that everyone must sign who
come to ride. But finally we were ready to depart. "Keep your
heels down and toes up in the stirrups," I informed them, "it is
still slippery out there and if the horse slips you'll have a
good chance of staying in the saddle." They all laughed but with
a little "scare" in the tone of laughter. Maybe they just were
not thinking about the snow conditions out here at the Ranch,
being still icy compared to the city, from where they all came from.
Off we went for our hour long trail ride in the snow. We
talked a little on the way down to the valley, about who they
were, what they did, why they were here etc. It was a birthday
present for one of the young ladies, and she was really enjoying
it as she told me, many of her birthday party days in the past
had been celebrated with not the best of weather. So a nice
sunny, reasonably warm day out on horse-back, even in the snow,
in a lovely quiet area of the foot-hills, was a delight. And it
was quiet today. No birds singing, no deer to be seen, no sound
of anything but the chomp, chomp, of horses hoofs stepping down
into the white sun reflecting snow.
Looking back at our nose to tail line of horses, as you must
do when leading to make sure all is well, I noticed Mary, the owner's
daughter was catching up to us on her horse. Mary is nearly 17, a
pleasant and nice girl.
"I thought I would come along with you Keith," she shouted
"Ya, that's fine Mary, glad to have you along," I shouted
back to her.
I did not now at the time I would be really glad she was
with us, it made things much easier to deal with the problem we
would shortly have with one of our old horses in the line.
We were in the valley, from behind me I heard a "Oh, ah!"
from someone, then a sharp loud "Jump off right now" from Mary. I
looked around to see our 25 year old horse doing something
I do not think anyone in 25 years ever saw him do before. He was
down on his side in the snow and wanting to roll. The young man
rider was bright enough with Mary's words to listen and do what
she said ... he had jumped off. I yelled with powerful and
commanding voice, "Get up!" And he obeyed. He has been a
good horse for dependability and for obeying commands. I told the
groups of shocked riders that we seldom explain to people before
leaving the barn that horses can now and again do this, that is
want to roll, as it so seldom has happened on this Ranch. I
explained that horses do like to roll at times, it is like us
taking a shower, it just feels good, and when they decide they
want to do it they do not care that you or the saddle are on
their back. I told them that if you feel the horse go down on to
its knees, pull up hard on the reins, kick with your heels their
side and say, "No, no, up, up!" It's one thing to instruct people
who haven't been on a horse very much, but in actual reality only
about 50 percent of such riders are able to do it when it
Mary and I told the young man now standing in the snow that
he did real good, was very bright in listening to Mary and doing
what she told him to do, that was jump off right now.
Back up he got and away to started once more, onwards through
the foot or more of snow. We had not gone any more than 15 feet,
when the horse I guess thought, "Well I did not get my roll, so I'll
try again." Down he went once more, the young man was not able to pull
him up, but again knew what he had to do, and that was jump off. Once more
the horse was on his side going to lift his legs and take a roll. Again
I yelled at him in a rough commanding voice, "Get up!" and he obeyed.
The reins we tie together so novice riders cannot loose or drop one as often
is the case if you do not tie them together. The reins had moved
up on the horse's neck, so they hung down low, and as he moved forward I
could see what was going to happen, and it did. The horse put one leg
through the reins. I immediately jumped of Goldie and moved
towards the horse, saying to him, as he was now in some panic with
tight reins around his chest, "Easy boy, easy boy, okay, you're
okay, I'm here to help you." Of course we do not expect a horse
to understand such words, it's not the words so much as the tone
of voice, the calm soothing sound they here, coming from someone
they know and respect. But such words you should say to a horse
in a situation he knows is abnormal and has fear it will hurt
him. That is one of the keys when a horse is in the fear mode,
you've got to reassure it you are there to help take away the
fear. He stood still for me while I untied the reins and set him
free from his fear.
The young man mounted up again. Mary decided to walk for a
while along-side this horse, leading him by his halter. She walked
probably for a quarter mile, and then we decided he'd likely
behave himself, and he did. He had no trouble the rest of the way
and back to the barn.
The last gate back from that valley range I asked Mary to
lead the line through while I closed the gate. I have trained
Goldie to close all the Ranch gates while I'm still sitting in
the saddle. I've trained her to push the gate with her nose on
the word "push." I did this a few years back. We have some box
stalls in the side of the barn, the half doors of which are a
hinged. I led Goldie up to a door and pushed her nose against
it and it moved open. I told you she was a bright horse, that's
all it took, she learned that little trick as quick as the blink
of an eye shall be say. She thought that was pretty darn cool,
and was a door and gate opener from that day on. Once I was
getting her ready in the box stall which faces the inside gate
into the barn. You go through the box stall half door and then a
few steps across the stone floor and up a step and through the
barn gate into the arena. Goldie was eager to get going and
wanted to push the half door of the box stall open, I said, "No
girl, not yet, not yet." A few seconds later I was ready and
mounted up on her, as she pushed the box door open, walked across
the stone floor and pushed the gate open into the barn and moved
inside, me in the saddle. Two ladies (they'd come out with
friends who were going on the trail ride) were standing just to
the side, inside the barn gate I came through. They laughed and
looked at me saying, "Wow now we now, we heard you saying, 'No
girl not yet' and of course did not know what it was all about,
until we saw your horse pushing open the steel barn gate and you
riding in on her. She was obviously anxious to go before you were
ready." And they laughed again. I said, "Yes, you are right on,
that is exactly what was happening."
Back to where I left off. Goldie pushed the gate with her
nose so far and then moved into her side-step as I had trained
her. We closed the range gate and I caught up to the folks that
Mary was still leading. I let Mary lead them back to the barn while
I talked to the ladies on the last two horses of our line.
Mary met Bob as she entered the barn, told him what this horse
had tried to pull in the snow, twice even. Bob gave the young
man a "gift certificate" for another free ride. Everyone was okay
Such it can be at times on a trail ride at the Ranch.
That "strange" lady and her boy-friend did arrive, and I did
meet the two of them. Sure enough they signed in under another
name from the previous time. They paid for an hours ride, went
out for 20 minutes and returned, saying the horse the man was riding
did not want to go very far. Bob and I were there when they came back
to the barn.
"I'll get my horse and go with you if you like," I told them.
She looked at him and he looked at her, and she said, "No,
that's okay, that's okay for today."
Quietly Bob whispered to me, "It was this way last time
Keith, they only went out for about 20 minutes."
Both of them were quite happy to call it quits for the day.
Bob took them out to see the other horses in the back corral.
Now, there can be strange people, and some are one step
away from the police knocking at their door. Bob and Tom had
warned me the couple were "strange" and they were right. I'm not
sure if Tom and Bob will try to trace who they really are. I
never asked them.
The day was over for any more activity on the Ranch. We
unsaddled the horses, and turned them out on the range.
An interesting day for only 12 people coming out to ride.
We'll see what happens the next time I'm out there, which maybe a
few weeks, for they tell us the weather is to dip down cold
again, and people just don't ride when it's cold. I don't either,
not much fun when you are sitting in the saddle frozen.
Keith Hunt (February 2009)