It’s branding time in the Cariboo and right now. With the often, daily rain showers, it’s been difficult to schedule a dry branding day!
However, this past Friday the weather co-operated and we were able to get our first branding accomplished by noon. Then, I hurried off down the road toward Dog Creek on one of my semi-annual photographic trips to record the Esk’etemc First Nation horse drive; this time it was to view the trip home from winter range (Wycotte Flats).
Luckily for me, the timing was perfect, as I arrived at the spot where the horse herd comes up from the river bench lands with about 20 minutes to spare, and very soon, the horse herd came thundering up the incline. After a brief rest for the herd, the horseback riders, and their mounts, the herd was bunched and turned, for the final run up the Alkali valley to the corrals at the home reserve corrals.
Each year, on the run home — as the distance accumulates, a natural separation occurs within the running herd and the chase-group, as the less fit horses (and perhaps, riders) began to fall off the pace set by the leaders. The gap widens until they lose contact with the main herd. Usually the trail-group consists of mares with young foals, thinner older horses and riders mounted on horses not used to travelling such a distance at such a quick pace. The separation is natural, and those left behind just adjust and travel at their own speed.
What was worrisome and very noticeable this year was the lack of 2012 foals (three was all I counted) and quite a few less yearlings (2011 foals) than is the norm. With the past winter being one of the easiest (mildest) in recent memory, the weather is an unlikely culprit. Instead it is thought that predators may have wrought havoc on the young stock these past months, meting out their own version of a culling program.
Liz Twan is a local rancher and freelance columnist for the Tribune.