post-Christmas Prairie Ponderings

My husband, Steve, and I needed to move the cows the other day. Normally, this is not a hard job, in fact it’s one that both of us enjoy. We’re out in the sunshine, riding good horses, maybe feeling a little adrenaline rush if a yearling turns back and one of us has to chase it, plus we get a chance to visit about the little things that never seem to come up at the dinner table.

But that cold wintry morning, as I walked down to the bunkhouse, I realized this job might not be an easy ride in the park. About 3 inches of snow had fallen a few days before, then crusted on top. We had a day with above-freezing temperatures that created an Olympic-quality skating rink across the entire ranch. I baby-stepped my way to the bunkhouse and skated down the hill, glad for enough balance to stay upright because I certainly couldn’t stop.

“I’m riding bareback today,” I informed my patient husband. “It’s not a matter of if the horse falls on this ice, but when he falls.”

Steve must have thought falling was a distinct possibility, too, because he hopped up on his horse sans saddle, too.

Both of our horses wore shoes. Steve’s horse had ice nails on his shoes, giving him a slightly better grip on that solid ice, but not much. My horse, trusty Dayglo, to whom I turn whenever I must count on a well-trained, athletic, enthusiastic cow pony, kept at least two of his feet underneath him all the time and three feet underneath most of the time. I don’t think I felt all four of his feet solidly standing on the ground at any point that day.

We managed to move the cows across the road, the horses tiptoeing along at a walk, trotting only if absolutely necessary.

Of course, we needed to push the cattle through the gate at the driveway, where our trucks and tractor had packed the snow hard before ice layered over the top. A slight incline made this little stretch treacherous, and we had no way around it.

Dayglo knew exactly what to do. As I clenched every muscle to hold on, he squatted like a sitting dog and slid on his haunches right through the gate.

That’s when I realized that I am more afraid of the idea of falling off my horse than actually falling.

This horse is short. I don’t have a long way to fall. He has fallen with me before, in slippery mud while cutting calves, and I survived without a bruise.

Nine times out of ten, both the horse and I will be fine, I’ll get back on and we’ll continue with our job. The risk of pain really is relatively small.

I’m not afraid of hitting the ground as much as I’m afraid of that instant when I realize I can no longer stay on; the instant I realize that something bad might happen and I can’t stop it.

I can’t stop a lot of things from impacting my life. I can’t single-handedly improve the economy. I can’t stop terrorists from thinking up new ways to hurt our country. I can’t stop drought and blizzards from knocking on our door.

But I can look the consequences of these uncontrollable events straight in the eye. I can make a budget and stick to it. I can become more self-sufficient so our country depends less on nations that harbor terrorists. I can put up hay to feed during a drought and straw shelters to protect our livestock during a blizzard.

And I can hang on tight when Dayglo and I slide down the ice.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.
She has two children; Will, 12, and Abby, 4.

Adam O