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Cowboys brush up on horsemanship

It’s five o’clock in the morning and cowboys are starting to stir and roll around in their sleeping bags, reluctantly sitting up and slapping on their cowboy hats and pulling on their riding boots.
On the final day of the clinic everyone went for a two- or three-mile ride. Roger Bacon leads followed by Shalene Charleyboy

It’s five o’clock in the morning and cowboys are starting to stir and roll around in their sleeping bags, reluctantly sitting up and slapping on their cowboy hats and pulling on their riding boots. 

More muttering and grunting as they find an extra layer of vests and jackets to slip on, then tie the final knot in their scarves as they step outside into the cool, misty morning … sniffing the air for the aroma of coffee!  

In Hanceville lives Roy Blatchford in the big house across the road from the corral. 

Beside the house, Roy has set up a big long canopy. At the end of it sits the old wood cook stove, the most favourite spot to be when it is cold. The old stove gets a lot of attention from the cold cowboys trying to warm up, lifting the lid and poking or prodding the wood to produce more heat.

Outside the wind picks up a little more speed and cold air while the clouds threaten to rain on everybody. Eventually I stir out of bed as I hear the muttering and bantering of the cowboys. I rise, prepare myself for the day, grab a coffee and stand by the stove.

Now two things need to be done. I need to warm up, plus I need a fry-pan and bacon! 

So I start directing the cowboys, “Hey! How am I gonna cook bacon if I have no fry-pan?” I ask. Quick as a wink, a fry-pan magically appears and is placed on the stove, but before I can open my mouth the bacon appears and is placed in a neat row in the fry-pan. 

Ah, nice! Now I have to listen to all the bantering of who can cook the best, plus the proper way to cook bacon, all this from the cowboys. I then produce a long-handled egg flipper, place it in the pan and the quickest cowboy grabs the flipper and proceeds to move the bacon around. I retire to a chair to relax because now I am the official supervisor! Meantime, Jen Johnston is in the house making scrambled eggs and hash browns. Fast food restaurants have nothing on us! Mouth watering breakfast!

After everyone has their fill and stacks the plates in the garbage and places their cups in various perches around camp we all head down to the pen where the horses await us.

This is the first day of the second annual, three-day cowboy horsemanship clinic organized by my husband Evan Howarth and I in Hanceville early this spring. 

The cowboy clinic is for experienced cowboys who just need a bit of brushing up on their horsemanship and handling tips. 

The participants included riders Bill Evans, Dave Forseberg and Bill Lampert from Vanderhoof/Fort Fraser area; Dave Green from Quesnel; Roger Bacon from Kamloops; plus local area riders David Setah, Roy Blatchford, Shalene Charleyboy and Skyann Setah.

Bill Harestead from Bella Coola wasn’t a rider, but, oh, what a spectator! So all in all we had three Daves, three Bills and two Lindas.  

This cowboy clinic is pretty much run in the same style as our regular clinics except that Evan can actually skip a few steps since these riders earn their living on horseback and already have a pretty good idea of what is really a good idea not to do with horses!  

This weekend we had about 12 horses to work with. Since the horse, HIV scare just started, the horses were screened pretty good. Besides, Roy Blatchford owns quite a few horses and was not keen on exposing them to any diseases.

Roy had a flat-deck trailer parked alongside the pen, with a tarp over it for the spectators to watch Evan and the cowboys work the horses – protection from the wind, rain or hot sun. 

I dug out a blanket and wrapped up in it trying to stay warm and stop the wind from chilling me to the bone. But I had to keep throwing it off to take pictures of the action in the pen.

By Saturday afternoon, we were all humped up shivering from the cold when Kirsten Forseberg became the most popular girl in camp. 

Kirsten had been on a camping trip where she learned that if you’re cold you can heat up rocks on the campfire and hold them to stay warm! 

She brought down one rock and was busy the rest of the three days heating rocks on the wood cook stove. Her brother Seth or Emmett, not sure which one, as I was just wanting to warm up, brought pot holders full of hot rocks down every half hour. A real-life-saver idea for sure!

Meantime, the cowboys in the pen with the horses were extra warm, peeling off coats or vests as they heated up working with the horses. 

As the gallery watched, Evan would ask someone to bring in a horse, which would walk in all nervous and upset, nostrils flaring, tail clamped tight, eyes wide and unsure. Evan would calmly walk up to the horse, rub their forehead with the palm of his hand, reassuring the horse that everything is fine.

A few more snorts and restless shuffles of the feet and the horse would relax. At this point Evan could pretty well tell us what the horse had been through, like rough handling by a misunderstanding trainer, not being caught when he was ready, or not a soon enough release of the rope by the previous handler — mostly people problems the horse had experienced. 

“I’m here for the horse. I want to help him. If I help you too that’s even better for the horse,” Evan advises his students.

Or the horse may be really troubled after being saddled and express himself by running around the pen bucking and kicking, after which Evan would stop him, rub him on the forehead a bit, then tell the rider: “Okay, he’s ready. You can come in and step on him!”

With a bit more direction the rider quietly steps into the stirrup and slides into the saddle, at which point Evan instructs the rider not to lean ahead or the horse will stop, or use your legs more and get in time with his feet. 

The occasional rider got a bit of a “ride” as the horse would spook at something and roar around the pen bucking and squealing, but before too long his head is down, his nostrils indicate he’s okay on the inside, and his tail is no longer clamped.  

Now he’s ready to go for a ride!

Twelve horses were worked in this similar fashion both Saturday and Sunday. No one got hurt except Evan who received “war wounds” on his hands as he scraped them along the fence during the sessions. 

Young Brandon Loring was busy playing but took time to ask: “How come you didn’t start this horse like the last one Grampa?”

Brandon is only four-years-old and very observant. And we think they’re not listening or paying attention!  

Roy Blatchford had three of his horses in the clinic, all big horses that were only two years old — great looking horses! 

Bill Evans had three great looking horses as well, one a very flashy paint.

Every night after supper we enjoyed a campfire with singing cowboys. Ah, nothing like  a campfire with guitars and songs! 

Dave Green brought his guitar out and entertained us, along with Dave Forseberg with their strumming and picking of the guitar and singing good old country songs! Everyone bantered each other around the campfire and the kids roasted huge marshmallows. They were monstrous!

Cody, the border collie that is hooked on catching a puck, would drop it at the kids’ feet, and when they threw it as hard and as far as it would go he chased it, caught it, and brought it back. 

Out of six kids he was kept busy all weekend. He tired out the kids, not the other way around!

Monday, the final day of the clinic, was the day when everyone saddled up, mounted up and rode on up the hill for a little scenic trail ride. 

Ah! Not so fast. … some of the horses were a bit skittish, a bit unsettled, but usually after everyone was lined out they’d settle down. 

Evan caught my horse, Chester. Being as I am just a little short I climbed up on the trailer and Chester was sidled up to it and I still had to crawl on him. 

He’s a tall dude!  

After getting situated Chester was getting antsy and would not stand still so I rode him around and gave him something to do. 

He soon found standing there was a better idea. In the meantime everyone else was starting to relax so we headed out the gate and on up the road. 

My job was to bring up the rear. Oh, I can do that. 

That way I’m out of the way. Sure, except Chester thought he should be up about two horses away, but I got him convinced we belong in the rear.

All of a sudden there was a huge snort. A big loud ka-thump, ka-thump! A few yells. Uh-oh! I look up in time to see one of Roy’s big horses headed right for me. 

Bill Lampert is pulling on the halter rope and the horse is just not giving to it at all. 

For a brief moment I thought we (Chester and I) should step in front and block him. But I was looking into two pairs of huge eyes and one pair of flaring nostrils and quickly decided “not a good idea.”

As Bill and the horse thundered by me, I could have reached out and touched them they were so close.

Then more thundering hooves as Evan went in hot pursuit of Bill and the runaway horse.

Evan was riding, Hombre, a red roan, just a colt, going as fast as they could, but even faster!  

Next thing I knew … wow! There goes David Setah on the black and white paint colt, nothing but tail and ears disappearing from my view. Yikes, there goes Bill Evans. Oh no, he got him under control … whew!

By now Chester is tucking his head and bouncing up and down on his front feet, nickering like he wants to play too. I reached down and pulled his head to the right while telling him “Not even, Chester!” 

He calmed down. Whew! So now what? I ride down the trail a bit but I cannot see anyone so I turn back up the trail and holler at everyone else: “Keep going! They’ll catch up.’

All I could think was: “Rats, and me without my camera!”

Like I had time to focus and get in a few shots! 

Eventually David Setah pulled in behind us and Bill Evans got his horse under control.

We made it up the hill without further incidents and eventually Evan and Bill catch up with us. Then the stories started …

Now the rest of the story:

Evan says: “I lined out after Bill. I never had Hombre going that fast ever. By the time I got caught up to Bill, he looked like a monkey on a football. Hanging onto that saddle, I reached out and grabbed his halter and thought we were okay, but the horse pulled away, breaking my hold on the halter which ended up flopping between his front legs! 

“Down that hill we all went wide open,” Evan says. “I swung to the left to cut Bill off, but they jumped that ditch like it wasn’t even there. Then I look and there comes a car, with Bill on the horse swinging in behind like they’re gonna pass him. Why, that fancy black car picked up another gear and got the heck out’a there, only to see me coming out’a nowhere going just as fast! 

“The car really booted it hard, spitting gravel all over us and the road. I finally got Bill and his horse cut off just before the corral. I grabbed the horse, told Bill ‘don’t touch your stirrups at all, just bale off!’ In the mad dash down the hill, the front cinch had come undone and the only thing holding the saddle on was the back cinch, plus Bill who was not going to fall off at all.”

Then, of course, Evan started laughing and laughing. Bill was puzzled as to why Evan was laughing, but Evan says: “You should have seen the mad dash down the hill from my eyes. You lost your hat and your bald head was just a glinting going down the hill!”

At the top of the hill, when Bill Lampert got off, he looked at Roy Blatchford and announced to him: “I guess I took the wrong horse to go on the ride.”

In the meantime David Setah explained that he had a pretty tough horse that just took off on him, running wildly back down the hill. But at the first opening he got him turned around and headed up the hill again.

After a short break we all headed back down the hill, and at the exact spot where Bill Lampert, David Setah and Bill Evans horses took off going nine-o, the dog Cody picked up a scent and tracked it up the hill. Possibly a bear spooked them!

Other than the run-a-ways it was a glorious ride up hill and back, so nice and relaxing.

Can’t wait until the cowboy clinic next year! Yeehaw!