Covering ground in the pasture can be tough going. It’s not like we ranch in the mountains, but it still gets tiring to walk up and down hills all day. That’s why my favorite mode of transportation is the one that gives me twice as many legs–the horse!
Riding a horse to move cattle or check fence is quite efficient. Horses cover ground well and take longer to tire. They give you added speed and agility. Also, sitting horseback gives you a height advantage to help you see over obstacles that otherwise you would have had to go around to view the other side. It was for these reasons that horses have been used in American ranching since the first cattle came over with the Spanish.
Carolyn and I each have our own horses. Her’s is called Cheyenne, mine is named Blue. We like the fancy colors, the palomino and the blue roan, but their cow sense and quick feet are their best assets. I broke Blue to ride during high school and since then we’ve been together for many interesting events. This includes a winter storm where we went to check cattle after 24 inches of snow!
Nowadays, the ATV is taking over the horse for many applications. There are some solid reasons for this–ATVs don’t “eat” fuel when you aren’t using them, they don’t spook at pheasants and they can carry more equipment on board. Some ranches have completely eliminated their horses and only use ATVs now.
Despite these advantages, the ATV will never completely replace the horse on our ranch for two reasons. First, ATVs are not even close to as good a a horse for moving cattle. Horses are quieter, which spooks the cattle less. They are also far more agile and will give you the ability to sort cattle more effectively.
I’ll admit the second reason has less to due with practicality and more to do with culture. Horses are exhilarating to ride. As much fun as it can be to take an ATV out in the hills, nothing compares to the perfect bond between horse and rider. Not the steepest slope nor the deepest ravine will stop this pair if they are well practiced in working together. A cowboy needs his horse like he needs his boots–he just doesn’t feel right without them.
So until the day they make an ATV that has the perfect blend of agility and excitement, I’m sticking to my horse to traverse the pasture. Well, as long as I can catch her.