Snow Stories

It’s still snowing today. The second day of it. Not a blizzard, not for us at least. A decent amount of snow and we can hear the wind howling out there from here behind the safety and protection  of the wind break.

It was time for the kids to get outside.

We went out tromping through the high snow drifts, up to their waists,  and I decided it was story time. They needed to know what to do just in case. It’s one of my favorite stories so I thought I would tell it here too.

Long ago in a land far away, a little over ten years ago and about an hour west, I was working on a ranch. It was high empty country, beautiful and desolate. Nothing to break the wind clear to the Wyoming border. Deep draws where you could look down on the bald eagles nesting high in  the cotton wood trees. Not a drop of water and soil that would only grow good Buffalo grass. Ranch country.

The bad drought of 2006 and ’07 was just breaking, and doing it dramatically. There had been a few grass fires already that spring before the blizzards set in. Nothing was going to burn for a long time after it started snowing. Three weeks in a row, three blizzards to bury the pastures and leave the cows tired and cold. Calving was not going well.

The third blizzard was the worst. The snow a fine mist that got into your lungs making it nearly impossible to breath. It blew through the smallest cracks, filling the barns where we tried to find shelter for the smallest of the calves. The bigger of the calves were tucked away as good as could be up one of the deep draws, lots of hay and as much windbreak as could be found. It was a good place, if they would stay put.

The cows stayed pretty good. They knew better than to wander into the wind. The calves weren’t so smart.

Braving the storm every couple of hours to check them found a calf that had drifted down the draw to where it became shallow as it opened up to the flat open grassland. He was still down in the dry creek bottom but no  longer sheltered at all. Back hunched he stood cold and still, the thought of turning back into that wind to get back to his mom never crossing his mind.

He would need put back.

Leaving the warmth and shelter of the pickup, the wind struck like a whip. Sucking the wind from my lungs and impossible to breath without filling my lungs with snow. Pulling my scarf over my face I made my way down to the calf. He took off. I followed up the other side of the shallow draw following a path trampled firm across an old snow bank. Until he turned.

Once off the old path he was on new snow, light and fluffy. He fell in like if he had stepped onto a lake. Not spending a lot of time thinking at that moment I followed him. As soon as I stepped off the old beaten path I fell in too. Up to my armpits in soft fluffy snow. I was stuck. For a moment I thought I would die there. The soft snow I was in combined with the whirling blowing snow filling my lungs. Drowning on dry ground, I couldn’t breath.

Fighting the panic I got a hold of my scarf and pulled it back over my mouth and drew some grateful breaths. The calf and I sat there eye to eye. Stuck.

I tried to climb out. The calf climbed on top of me. We both sank again. Still stuck. Looking into that calves eyes I thought.

My dad had told us lots of stories growing up of his life running wild along the Platte and Missouri Rivers when he was a child. Quick sand was a constant threat. Never fight it he had always said. If you get in quicksand, swim. Fighting will suck you deeper if you go with it and quietly swim you can swim out like it was water. This snow was the closest I had ever seen to quick sand. No harm in trying. Turning down hill, back towards the blown bare dirt of the draw I pretended it was water and swam. On my belly I didn’t sink, the weight was spread out enough that the snow could hold me. Crawling along I was able to move and slowly but surely made my way to the bottom and firm ground.

The calf had decided I was his friend by then. Amazing how facing life threatening difficulties will bring two strangers together that way 😉 He followed me through that snow. My weight compressed the snow enough that he was able to walk behind me. Stepping on my legs all the way. The calf had decided I was mom and was glued to my side. He followed me as I walked him back up the draw to the rest of the herd. I go to walk with the wind at least beck down to the pickup and back to the house where I was able to warm up for  little bit. Until it was time to go back out again.



Show Not Tell

Rusty already knows how to play basket ball. He and I in this video are old news and not the interesting part.

What’s going on in the background is very interesting though.

The children kept interrupting our work to ask for more cookies. As I played with Rusty I could hear them talking behind me. They are both in gymnastics and my daughter was carefully coaching her brother in the right way to work on the balance beam, eyes up, look straight ahead. She was giving him a great lesson. Each success rewarded with a horse cookie. Positive reinforcement at work in play.

They both watch me work with the horses and are both rewarded for good behavior, kindness as well as doing what is asked of them. They seldom work the horses with me and have never been coached through lessons in the how and why of it all.

They learned by watching, it is what they see around them all the time and what seems normal to them. In play they learn how to implement it, by experimenting, by doing.

As we go about our lives in the regular horse world, the world in general, we need to remember that. Nobody is convinced about anything by arguments or facts shoved down their throats. If people are convinced that feeding horses treats is going to teach the horse to bite, no one is going to change their minds by telling them otherwise. If someone says horses can not be trained with food even though your well trained horse is standing in front of them as evidence, facts and arguing isn’t going to change their mind.

Whether it is horses, politics, or any of the myriad other topics people love to argue about in this crazy world, NO ONE has ever changed their mind because someone argued with them. Facts are believed, or not, as they fall into a persons belief system.

Instead be the change you want to see. If you believe positive reinforcement works get out there and prove it. Quietly. Be great. Or mediocre. Be happy with your horse and show the world a horse who is happy to be with you. Be out there so people can see, over and over again, that there are other options. Repetition normalizes, for better or worse. The more we see something the more our brains accept that it must be true. Let the things people see be the good things, kindness and love. For people and animals. Those who are willing to look at options will. The ones who aren’t interested wouldn’t be anyway.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us here at Rescuing Rusty. I think we got most of us in this video.
We’ve had a wonderful year here. The children are happy and healthy. The horses are fat and love to play. My husband puts up with me, the horses, and our antics rather happily for the most part and doesn’t complain when I chose horse work over house work. Daisy is still the best dog anyone could hope for even as she starts to grey and slow down a bit. Kitty is fat and furry and still brings us presents regularly.
May next year be almost as good and I hope to keep seeing all of you here regularly!
Merry Christmas!


Horse Cookies

I’ve been having way too much fun dressing the horses up for Christmas this year. As I went back through the videos I happened to stumble across this lovely little bit.
The kids love the apple cinnamon flavored horse cookies. I have to carry some even if I’m not feeding them. To horses that is.
This was too cute not to share 🤣💝🎄


Two Step ‘Round The Christmas Tree

One of my favorite Christmas songs. The season isn’t complete until I’ve heard it a few times, so the horses and I decided to get out and dance to it! 💃🐴🎄

Two Step ‘Round The Christmas Tree by Suzy Bogguss
Staring, in order of appearance, Harvey, Rusty, and Heildorf, seven year old Morgan geldings.

After The School Show

My daughter brought a book home with her from school this week. One of those books kids make in school, folded paper stapled together. I was wondering what class project this was now as I picked it up to look at it. Only to see that it was addressed to me!

The class had drawn pictures of the horses and I and written little stories about what they had liked! How incredibly sweet! The teacher had included a thank you card, along with the thank yous from the children.

As if I needed a thank you! Now I need to figure out if it’s proper to send a thank you for a thank you?

It was fascinating to see the things that made an impression on them. Some of the boys mostly noticed thee pickup and trailer judging by their pictures. Painting was popular and one picture had a blue and a yellow child so they must have liked Harvey and his colors. One girl, the daughter of a friend of mine, noticed every single tiny detail down to the playground off behind the school They were standing with their backs to it. What a memory!

School Show

I took Rusty and Harvey in to the school to do a few tricks for the kids.

It was a perfect day, warm and still. Tomorrow it is supposed to snow. We thought we should hurry and get this in while we could.

I unloaded them with plenty of time to spare and let them walk around looking at things. We grazed near the heavy equipment and the big scary building. The went through a few tricks to see how they were feeling.Harvey wasn’t feeling it but he hadn’t been at home either before loading up. I wasn’t holding out much hope for him.

When the time came we could hear the kids coming clear down the hill. They bounced and sang their way to us enjoying the beautiful day.They all spread out along the side of the parking lot and waited.

I wasn’t ready. As much as you try you can  never really be ready. I rushed to get Rusty and get out there.

Rusty was great, he fetched and played ball and rang his bell and painted. He even managed to rope the dummy on his first try! We, I? I guess Rusty was there and demonstrated but didn’t exactly talk 😉 I talked about how he helps me teach school and how we do a lot of the same things that the kids do in school.

He didn’t pull the chicken out of my pocket as good as he usually does and was slow going after the toys. He dropped the handkerchief when wiping my nose. Those were the worst blunders though. He happily sniffed children and went about his job in his usual business like manner.

Harvey was not present. He started out by standing and staring off into the distance. The sidepass that he is usually so good at was gone. I was able to send him out around the bale Rusty roped and he did some good, if very slow, Spanish walk. Harvey did chose his balloons in the proper colors and didn’t spook from the children holding them so there was that at least. After we finished the children  all took turns petting Harvey’s nose. With the offering of a treat he was convinced to hold his nose at their level.

I think my favorite part was at the end though. The children stood in front of us for a group picture. Harvey and Rusty both buried their noses in the mass of small children, sniffing and soaking up the pets. They both did a great job of not biting off small fingers and being good ambassadors for the breed and positive reinforcement!



School Show, Prep

I talked to my daughters teacher the other day, asked her if I could bring a couple of horses in and do a show for the kids. You know, someday. She said yes! How about here before Thanksgiving.

Oh dear.

Suddenly my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of a single trick any of my horses could do. A some day sort of thing is one thing. Right now is another. I spent the weekend trying to remember what we could do. Then tried to put it together somehow.

This is a quick run through of what we came up with. Some ideas I had the horses said no to. Other things I hadn’t thought of they reminded me about. What we ended up with is a talk about how we teach school kind of like their teacher. Then a demo of the classes Rusty and Harvey help teach. I hope to include them in throwing the chicken and the ball and holding the balloons.

We’ll see if either horse feels like participating when we get there. They alternated between having it down and not having a clue what I was talking about during our few practices. With the new place, people, and distractions I’d say we have a fifty percent chance of doing anything but standing around spooking at things between chewing.

It’s this afternoon. Gulp. Wish us luck!


Working Calves

I never did put an ear tag in Booter. I don’t remember why. Probably just never bothered. I know I had planned on running them all through and giving them their shots and branding them. I never did find time for that. I probably planned on getting him an  ear tag then.

Summer is long gone and winter is coming in early this year. The bottle calves pasture is getting short. Before too long all the cattle will be home and the calves will go to spend the winter with the other calves. Right now though they needed a hay bale to make up for the grass that is getting to be in short supply. Thinking hard about it while I gave them their corn I decided they would be better off out with the rest of the cows. They would have the wheat stubble to graze and hay bales are already being put out there anyway. Plus there would be other cattle including calves for them to be with.

Before they could go though, Booter would need an ear tag.

As much of an individual as he seems here with his two buddies out in the main herd one more black calf blends in amazingly well and it would be hard to find him again. There’s a good reason people use ear tags, it’s not just because they’re pretty 😉

My son and I went out this cool drizzly morning after the calves had eaten their breakfast and walked them slow and easy into the barn. I dropped a pile of cake on the floor for them to clean up, a reward for going into the barn. Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to involve a clicker.

Opening the back gate on the chute I fed Ghost a few pieces of cake. Booter was very obliging in shoving her out of the way and barging into the chute. I fed him a few pieces of cake until he was settled down, then left a pile on the ground for him to eat while I closed the back gate. He got a little upset about that but calmed down as soon as I went back to feeding him. Now to get his head through the head catch.

It will open in allowing the cow, or calf, to push it closed as they try to fit through. He is much smaller than a cow so I was worried about him slipping right through is I didn’t get it opened the exact right size. Holding the cake in front of his nose I was able to lure him slowly into the catch. With  horse I would teach them to touch a target then reward them instead of luring with the food itself. Booter doesn’t know how to target and I’m not worried about further training implications with him so we lured, it was easiest. After feeding a few times in the catch he stepped forward far enough that I could close it. He pulled back a bit but wasn’t too upset. grabbing the tagger I put the tag in his ear.

Or tried.

When I pulled the tagger off the tag came too! Grrr. Looking down at the button, like the clasp that holds an ear ring on, the tagger had pushed through it and ruined my button. He had done so well too. Now I would have to go for a new button. I let him back into  the chute and went back too the house.

Returning with a large supply of buttons and a refill of cake we went to work on getting him back into the chute. It took a little longer this time but he went in. I got the button in right this time and he is now sporting a fancy ear tag with his name on it. I gave him a handful of cake and let him out. He walked a few steps and stopped to chew on some weeds. Obviously he was very upset by the whole thing.

Then I called the girls. Ghost walked right into the chute and stood happily to eat a few pieces of cake. Blossom followed her just the same.They all stopped just out of the barn to chew on weeds, then went back in the barn as I cleaned up after ourselves.

Now it was time to run them out to the herd.

We grabbed a fourwheeler and went to get the gates open. The calves jumped and bucked and ran all around on the way out. The new space was exciting to explore and they were feeling good. Out in the corral they slowed down a little but went into the herd without hesitating. No one started beating them up immediately, that was good. While cattle wont kick and bite a new comer the way horses will they will still beat up on them pretty good. When no big fights ensued I left them to settle in with plans to check on them later.

So, thoughts on teaching cattle to go in the chute using positive reinforcement. It did work good with tame bucket calves. Obviously semi wild range cattle would be different. Do I think it would be kinder to tame each individual calf down so they could be put through this way? No. I do not. Not only is it impractical, the time and effort involved in working with a few hundred head is not efficient. Also though, the stress of the taming compared to a few seconds, a few minutes tops on average of stress in  putting them through the chute doesn’t seem kinder. Bucket calves are already used to humans. The stress of taming them is usually a necessity because of a mother who wont or can’t raise them. Healthy calves out with their moms are left alone as much as possible in general. We want the mom  to do her thing and raise her calf naturally. We try not to get involved.

Yes, we should work with herds to get them used to humans and quiet to walk through and work it makes their lives and ours much easier. Making pets of the whole lot of them is not going to happen though. In the end I was very happy to get to do some training on Blossom and Ghost on going through the chute, letting them see that it wasn’t a big deal. Hopefully they will be sticking around as heifers. Many people do run their cattle through the chute once without any sort of work or catching them as a training procedure. I think that that is the most practical way to go about the training of many cattle.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on them out with the bunch, I worry about them with the big girls. This is worse than sending children off to school!