The Urban Herd has the good fortune of living at Horse Haven at Bear Creek. Our spectacularly beautiful home is entirely fenced around its perimeter, along with having individually fenced pastures, paddocks and play fields. Basically, it’s a safe place to explore on horse back, but it also protects the horses should they find themselves at liberty outside one of the individually fenced areas. So it occurred to me a while ago that it would be pretty cool if we could just open all the barn stall doors and the pasture gates and tell the horse to put themselves away in the evenings. Right? I mean, wouldn’t it be awesome to see them all heading back to the barn on their own? Worst case scenario, they wander around the property and we would have to go round them up and scoot them into the barn.

Well, don’t worry, I haven’t put this little idea to the test. Horses are pretty adept at finding ways to get into trouble that humans never imagined. So I guess it is an ill-conceived fancy for many reasons. But that hasn’t stopped me from experimenting with individual horses by looping their lead ropes over their backs and having them walk back to the barn along side me without my holding the rope. Mija is genius at this. She’s like the best trained golden retriever, heeling exactly at my side all the way to the barn despite the lure of grass along the way. Briana is also a champ, though I can’t exactly take my eye off her. If I do, she can tell immediately and starts to wander toward any grassy spot she sees. A simple clearing of my throat brings her back to my side though, so I give her an “A” for effort, though not a tie with Mija’s “A-plus”. So far the only other one I’ve tried it with is Ranger, which brings us to the point of my story.

Saturday I went out to get Ranger and Spartacus. Typically we lead the horses in one at a time, but Nate started bringing Sparty and Ranger in together a while ago, so that’s become the new normal for those two. As I went out to get them Saturday evening I thought maybe Ranger could be trusted to follow Sparty and me to the barn on his own. Bold experiment? Or Hairbrained idea? You be the judge.

I put Ranger’s halter and lead rope on and looped his lead rope over his back like I’d done with Mija and Briana. He followed me from his pasture down to Sparty’s – so far, so good. Of course, he and Sparty share a fence line, so that isn’t really much of an accomplishment, but he didn’t run off down the aisle or anything. I was emboldened. I left him munching grass in the aisle outside Sparty’s pasture as I went in to get The Big Man. Sparty shoved his nose into his halter, the consummate professional that he is, and I led him out his gate and over to the gate at the end of the aisle. As I’d hoped, Ranger picked his head up out of the grass and followed us out the gate and down the driveway toward the barn.

Now, Ranger is a tender-footed lad, so we make a habit of walking him through the grass next to the arena instead of all the way to the barn on the gravel drive. Saves his delicate little toesies. Sparty thinks the grass there is for little girls, so he walked with me on the gravel. As soon as Ranger hit the grass though, he took off at a trot toward the barn, passing Sparty and me right up in his haste to Get Those Alfalfa Pellets (of joy). I didn’t anticipate that scenario – score one for the Ranger. He was quickly out of my reach and all I could do was shout to him to “Whoa!” using my best imitation of The Great and Powerful Oz. As luck would have it, that is the exact moment when his back hoof stepped on his own lead rope that had slipped from his back when he started to jog. He stopped himself dead in his tracks! He had just enough slack in the rope to turn his head and look wide-eyed in my direction with a priceless expression of: “How did she do that?!” on his now sheepish face. He was unable to sort it out before Sparty and I caught up to him, backed him off his lead rope, and led him the rest of the way to the barn. I gotta say, horses are a non-stop fun fest.

And while your thoughts are turned toward the ranch, let me take this moment to update you on Dolly’s progress. She is home from the hopsital and enduring stall rest at this time. Nate is doctoring her daily as she works to recover from her recent surgery. Her prognosis remains guarded, but we refuse to be anything but hopeful. She is doing as well as can be expected, especially considering she is a large, intelligent and active creature being asked to stand quietly in a relatively small space for long periods of time.

I’m thinking of bringing in a Scrabble board to help her wile away the hours, but I’m afraid she’ll beat me at my own game. Maybe a jolly ball would make more sense…