Monday, March 1, 2010

Mouthy Mondays

This is a great story from D. Cooper. She has such clear memories from when she was a little girl! Mine are all fogged from spending my childhood in my head playing with my imaginary horses.....

Winter Memories

Lots of memories, come flooding back from the ranch this time of year.

Colder than cold- we fed 400 mother cows with a team of Belgian of mares.

I can remember just dreading, having to bundle up and head out to feed - but wouldn’t think of letting dad know. He had a way of hustling you up and out, to chore or work. There wasn't time to whine, nor did you consider the option.

The temperature would be 20 -30 below zero and everything was just brittle. No matter how much I bundled, my feet and hands would still burn with cold. I recall our old team of mare’s and how you could see their breath from their big nostrils as they waited patiently to be harnessed with the old stiff harness.

Usually a barn cat or two sat at the top step to the hay loft surveying the morning routine. I always enjoyed the clattering sound the frozen harness would make as it was lifted from each of their hooks to the backs of the mares. Can’t tell you why!

Once each was harnessed, they were left to stand while the old feed sled was prepared to haul it’s morning load. I will never forget the sound of my father prying each sled runner from the frozen ground and how each one let off a loud, thudding “pop” when it broke loose from its icy hold.

The sled runners had to be busted free from the frozen snowpack so the team didn't tear the sled from the runners when they started forward. Dad would then lead the two old girls out of the barn and join them up with the lines outside the large barn door.

Each mare weighed nearly a ton and as they each stepped over the threshold of the barn, they were both majestic in their presence. “Flash” and “Strawberry” knew instantly their job had begun and were all business.

Dad would take the lines and drive the team over the long iron toungue and begin to hook them to the sled. Each tug was hooked on top of the harness on the top of the hip on the right and left sides of each horse.

Since many teams were “voice trained” we didn’t make a peep as Dad unhooked each tug from the harness and connected them to the single tree, behind each horse, just above their ankles.

The sound of the metal hooks made their distinctive clatter in the frigid air. After we stepped up on the sled, the signal to begin, a low toned, stern, “gid-up” would start the feeding rounds for the day.

Loved it – every morning was like a rush to hear the rhythmic sound of the giant hooves pressing down into the frozen snow. Squeaking and crunching as we moved along. We didn’t have bells on the harness but the different metal connections and frozen leather on the harness would chime in on the rhythm of the hooves.

I got to have my very own winter wonderland every morning, no matter how cold or tired. The leather lines were like sticks- no bend what so ever in them and your hands would be throbbing, burning, cold- from not moving while you held the lines in the frigid winter air. Your toes usually didn’t miss chiming in on the affects from the cold either!

As the old mares “Strawberry and Flash” worked, the steam would rise from their backs and you could smell the horse sweat as they got hot from pulling loads of hay across the frozen feed ground.

I remember the wonderful smell of the bright green hay mixed with the frigid winter air. Dad always took such great pride in the quality of hay that we put up every summer. Each bale had to weigh 80 – 85 pounds no more, no less.

That would be so it stacked solid in the hay stack, on the sled and onto tractor trailers when we had extra to sell. The hay inside the bales, bright green from being put up just right in summer.

Pops told me horses could count, I didn’t debate and just went along with it until he proved his point. He told me, “They’ll give me exactly five steps after opening a gate, back to the sled. As he made for distinct steps and then paused, Flash and Strawberry began to step and shift in anticipation, but never moved forward until the last step. He proved it several times and we always shared a grin as a result.

The mother cows were always anxious and ready for their daily meal and would gather around the sled, softly mooing until you were ready to flake the hay off as you moved croward across the bumpy, frozen feed ground.

As kids we enjoyed hooking the plastic smooth bottom sleds to the back of the feed sled while the hay was fed off to the cows. We’d take shifts helping Dad and loved every minute of our unbelievebly bumpy ride. Wasn’t fast, just fun. The poor sleds were usually shredded by the time the winter feed season was half through..that would be valentines day!

I recall some dread of stepping out in the shocking cold, yet after I was out and about in it, I seem to forget the frigid temps. My experience was enjoyed and I took a lot of pride in getting to be a part of the few ranchers who still fed with a team.

The fingers and toes? Once you got back to the house.....well, warm water always did the trick !


Funder said...

Wow, fantastic story. I feel like I was right there!

Anonymous said...

You know my father proved to me horses could count...he told me the old girls would give him exactly four steps to the sled. He said "watch" and he took one...two...three......three...and paused. The team would start stepping in place and get antsy anticipating his step up onto the sled. We always got a good laugh out of it. They wouldn't move though until he give them the "Gid up". Frigid was anywhere from 0 - -40 - the coldest -52. Brrr! They were great memories! :) - DC

DarcC said...

Awww, that was just plain great! Thanks for sharing :)

Heila said...


Shanster said...

OH man - my fingers and toes hurt reading this post. Tho it does sound amazingly wonderful to see those big mares working and being a part of it. Thanks for sharing!!

Scamp said...

That was a wonderful story, and I'm with Shan: my fingers and toes hurt just reading it! Thank you!

Scamp said...

Oh, and Mugs - congratulations on the writing award!

mommyrides said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us. A wonderful story that transported me right out to the fields with you, your Dad and those wonderful mares. I'm glad your toes and fingers are still okay!!

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