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Being Empowered: Lessons From Our Lead Mares​

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Being Empowered: Lessons From Our Lead Mares

Being empowered: Lessons from our Lead Mares (women in our ranch community) during a stressful wilderness situation.  

For six months of the year, our horses are free to graze on the range when we don’t need them. This means those that are taking a break get to eat the best grass nature can provide. The wildflower meadows near our Brett Camp is one of their favourite places in the whole territory.

When our range rights end on October 31st each year, the horses have to all be back on the ranch property. This was why in mid-October, Manon, Alexia and I set off for the Brett Camp wildflower meadows to pick up the thirteen horses who were currently living like wild horses and taking a break. Sophie the dog was with us. Manon and I were driving the two trailers. We were a team of Lead Mares, empowered women, capable, independent and self-reliant, getting the job done.

We made it to the trail head and parked the trucks out of the way. Then we began the two hour hike up to camp. We walked at a good pace and were soon at camp. I stayed at camp to get it ready for winter while Manon and Alexia went to get the horses.

Finally Manon told me over the radio that they had the horses. They were coming on the low trail and I should meet them at the public campsite.

I hiked down to the campsite which was about ten minutes away. I waited, listening for bells or any news over the radio. Manon and Alexia were riding two horses, leading four and the others were loose in the middle so I needed to be there to intercept them and stop them going back to camp.

This didn’t quite work out as the loose horses took off through the meadows instead of staying on the main trail. Manon radioed to tell me this and I hurried back uphill through a light dusting of snow to try to head them off. I couldn’t see the loose horses but I saw Manon and Alexia with six horses.

All the loose horses headed to camp where they stopped and waited by the hitching posts, hoping for oats. Going back to camp wasn’t a big deal, it just added half hour or so onto our timing. Manon and Alexia had got halters on all the horses except for Bandit and Carly who they couldn’t catch.

We now needed to use our knowledge of the horse herd to choose which horses to lead and which to leave loose. For the first part of the trail we would tail-tie the horses to make sure they all followed and didn’t go back to the meadow. This meant to tie the halter rope of one horse into the tail of the one in front. In this way we could lead four or five horses and ride another.

Bandit and Carly were still loose. We had to hope they would follow. With three of us we could each lead one horse that wasn’t tail-tied. That left eight horses to tail-tie in two groups of three and one of two, which we would then lead behind our lone horse.

Manon led Pearson in front and her string of tail-tied horses. As a highly experienced and respected lead mare, Pearson would make sure her herd followed. I was in the middle of the group and Alexia at the back.

Bandit and Carly started falling behind. Manon jumped on Pearson and rode back to get them, with Sophie’s help she got them in front of Alexia. At the bar way we had our best chance to catch them because it was a narrow trail with a high bank on one side and a steep drop down to the creek on the other. I managed to catch Bandit, then Carly with surprising ease.

Now we were past the bar way, the horses wouldn’t be able to run back up to the meadows if we let them go. We untied our tail-tied horses and reassessed who should be led and which seven should be let loose. Bandit, Carly and Apache were our biggest flight risks. So I would take the two paints and Alexia would take Apache. Manon still had lead mare Pearson in front.

It started to get dark. As it got darker and darker, all I could see were the white patches on lead mare Fortress in front of me.

At first, the loose horses spread out a lot but with Alexia and I shouting to hurry them along, they soon got the idea and got closer together. Even if they weren’t wandering off, getting seven loose horses down the trail in the dark was a challenge. Tatla didn’t have a mouth bucket on so kept stopping to eat. I hollered as loud as I could to keep her moving, three horses ahead of me. One time Fortress fell off the trail. She got back on the trail, Sorcerer kicked her and then they sorted it out between them and carried on in the order they liked best.

Bandit and Carly didn’t know how to walk on the trail, being new horses to the herd. I kept switching which horse was in front to see what worked best. Walking in the dark it was harder to see the familiar landmarks of the trail and the hike seemed to go on and on. Finally, we made it to the fork in the trail, not long now. Then we got to the logging road. Here we tail-tied all the horses again so they wouldn’t be wandering off on the main road when we got back to it.

Now I had Bandit in one hand and Callie, Mowson and Taylor in the other. This turned out to be a bad pairing. Bandit didn’t know how to walk on the logging road. Now it wasn’t a narrow trail he wasn’t forced behind me and kept going out to the side or trying to walk in front of me. Sometimes he’d refuse to move and then Callie would kick him. Which would make him run forward and spook Apache and Ranger in front of us. Finally we got all the horses, experienced, inexperienced or old and retired to the trail head.

While Manon and Alexia tied all the horses to trees, I went and got the first truck and trailer. We were going to have to leave four horses here as we could only take nine horses in the two trailers. Here we had to be conscious and aware about the herd dynamics and each horse’s personality. Who should we leave here tied to trees in the bushes to come back for later?

We could only leave the smart horses because the new horses would get into trouble if we left them tied to a tree alone. As Lead Mares we were collaborative as well as conscious and aware and soon had a good plan for which horses would go in each trailer and which would stay here.

Fortress had an injury that needed to be seen to so we loaded her in the front of the bigger trailer with Ranger and Apache, the little guys. Bandit and Carly went in the back of that trailer. Bandit was a problem loader and although he had improved in the time he’d been with us, he was still a challenge, turning sideways so he didn’t have to load. Finally, he decided to just step in.

Pearson, Windy, Sorcerer and Taylor were going in the smaller trailer. We got Pearson and Windy in easily, but then decided to bring Tatla instead of Sorcerer because she was less likely to kick the other horses and Taylor could also be a kicker. We read the situation and chose the best horses, right down to the last minute.

I drove the trailer with the five horses and Alexia as my passenger. Manon drove the trailer with four horses and Sophie to keep her focused. I led the way, driving through the darkness, checking in my mirrors that Manon was still behind me. It was about an hour’s drive back to the ranch and in the darkness I was driving slower than normal to be safe.

We got back to the ranch around 10pm. We unloaded the horses as fast as possible and Manon and I took the bigger trailer back to get the last four horses with Manon driving. We’d chosen the right horses, they were all standing there as we’d left them. Scout, Sorcerer, Mowson and Callie were all good, we loaded them up in record speed and I drove us back. We got home at 12:30 and unloaded the last four horses.

This is a typical story of how the Lead Mares in the ranch community can do the impossible, get the job done and stay positive doing it. You can read this story and more in Charlie Botting’s latest book, Lessons From a Lead Mare, to learn more about the ranch community and lifestyle. You can purchase her book from fortress-press.com.

Does this sound like the lifestyle you want to live? Are you ready to become a Lead Mare? Take a look at our practicum, work exchange and volunteer opportunities here then complete our Wilderness Readiness Survey here to begin the application process.