My little alarm clock went off at 4:03am. I threw on my boots and stumbled to the porch where I brushed my teeth and spit into the dusty, dry dirt. Questa was snorting and stomping in the front pen, so I went ahead and gave him a feed bag while I groggily went around back to the outhouse, stretching my arms as I walked. Before brushing and saddling Questa, I took a few quick back and leg stretches to prepare for another hold-on-for-your-life ride with Questa.
Clark’s Forks’ grazing pastures were vast, and each morning all 30-50 horses had to be rounded up and brought to the pens in front of the barn for feeding, grooming and then to use for work and/or dude rides that day. That’s called “jingling the horses.” We took turns each morning for who had to jingle the horses. Those horses were often spread out all over the pasture at 4:30 in the morning. They had abundant grass to graze and occasionally bold campers passing through the ranch fed them apples and carrots… so they weren’t desperate for grain feed nor eager to be chased into a pen at the crack of dawn. To add to the fun of hunting them all down, the grazing area had a number of deep ravines, trees, shed-sized rocks and the occasional clothesline from the aforementioned campers which all had to be avoided while travelling at a full gallop. We had to work hard to jingle those prima donnas into the pens each morning.
I opened all the gates and led Questa into the pasture. “A’ight. Here we go,” I said a little reluctantly. Then I mounted up.
We were off – racing down the west side of the pasture as fast as I could hold on. At the sight of Questa, horses started to flee in all directions. This just revved Questa up more – cutting left then right, herding them together and pushing them faster. The horses were all aware of Questa’s speed, his power, and most of all, his temper. As we chased this group towards the Southern end, we rounded up more before turning east towards the hay loft. A couple of horses tried to break away to the left, and Questa cut so hard, he almost lost me over the side. The strays were chased back in line, and I looked ahead towards the hay loft. Even though we were still a good distance from those horses, they took off running at the sight of us – in no mood to take on testy Questa.
As we turned up the east side now heading north, almost all 40 horses raged ahead of him (I’d like to say “us” but that’s just flatly dishonest). They were running like the devil himself was after them. Passing through a denser, forested area nearing the barn, I saw some tents where folks had evidently made camp. Most fortunately, as Questa barreled after his tribe, I turned just soon enough to see the clothesline. Questa barely ducked, but I had no time: I let out the reins and laid back almost completely flat on my back, my head bouncing off Questa’s rump.
“Mother…” I held my breath not knowing if there were children in the tents. “Dangit!”
Loosening the reins on Questa is like handing the keys of a Bugatti to a testosterone-fueled, ADHD-plagued 17-year-old boy on the Autobahn. Questa took full advantage of my predicament and kicked it into an even higher gear. After some left to right maneuvering to tighten the herd, he got behind them and ran them as hard as I have ever seen a pack run – ever. They were running so hard that … not … a … single … one … broke stride jumping a 10-foot wide, 30-feet deep ravine. Neither did Questa. (That may seem like an insignificant point – except that Questa was saddled and actually had a loosely attached living being on top of him as he did it.)
As we slammed home into the corrals, the boys who were previously slowly waking, still buttoning shirts and searching for their tobacco, suddenly came to life fearing they may be caught in a stampede as fast as Questa had ‘em going. However, every horse managed to stop before ripping down the corral fences – although they were all crowded against the farthest one, leaving 2/3 of each side completely empty.
I had regained some control of Questa and was able to bring him to a trot down the lane. The other horses parted for us, and I stopped on the other side of the fence by the startled boys.
“Mornin’ fellas,” I casually remarked throwing my reins around a pole and giving Questa his apple.