Wednesday, June 10, 2009
An early start, over to Peter's for a morning's muster. John on tall Gandhi, myself on gallant Blue (as Tess reneged, so hey why not use a great pony?), Peter on his Quad bike and Toby on the tractor, the kelpie dog freewheeling around the mob. The older herd needed shifting towards Skinner's Creek, and the newer herd brought over the disused railway and across the road, over the hill to the far paddocks near Pearce's Creek. The older herd went quietly and calmly, well used to the whistles and encouragements to "move on girls". They're happy.
Then back to fetch the newer mob. Not many of them, but Peter's tense and worried - he has no idea how they'll behave, whether the mob will break and go skittering across the countryside. "If one breaks, just let 'er go, hey ... we'll send the dog round first. Keep well back, we don't know how they'll move". Peter stays well clear on the Quad and John and I move around the new mob, who watch us warily. John takes the rear of the herd, and they move suspiciously towards the gate, but then head off towards the wrong corner. I click my tongue and Bluey spurts forward with his ears pricked and hurtles to head them off. He knows this game, and as soon as we're level he turns on a penny, nearly pitching me over his shoulder and he faces the closest cow. So there, he snorts, and the cow heads back towards the gates. The rest follow. Neat work Blue, and I rub his shoulder affectionately.
Once through the gates the herd takes off towards the disused railway. "Catch em up!!" Peter shouts, and John leans forward as the leggy Gandhi fair eats up the uneven ground in his stride. I watch John's slender wiry figure sit easy on the galloping horse, the subtle shifts of weight to take in the uneven hilly terrain, his body light in the saddle, and smile with huge affection for my wonderfully ept, competent partner. He's not feeling top notch today but he's giving it his all, on every level, and I admire him for it.
At the open road gate the cows balk, they think the gate is spooky and won't go through, huffing at it with amazed expressions. They turn round to face us, en masse. They're surrounded by two bipedals each with a horse under them; one on a Quad bike, one tousled lad with a large tractor, and a wiry dog. No wonder they'd rather stand and stare at us than at the gate. John starts to chuckle and cajoles them, "Don't look at us, you lot, turn round, and just look at the gate, go on, just turn round". And then Blue lets off three successive snorts, which horrify the cows and all of a sudden the gate is less spooky and they all stream through. I catch John's eye and shrug with a wry grin, who understands cows?
Despite Peter's misgivings about mustering along the road the cows trot easily along and eventually go through the far hill paddock gate with no trouble at all, as if they knew the way. Before heading back home along the road Peter asks us to bring them over the big hill and down to the river - gee that's no hardship, it's the loveliest thick grass to canter through. John takes the bull who tends to stick to one side and ushers him politely up the hill, and I take the main mob, the pony zig-zagging back and forth to work them along. When we reach the other valley the cows rumble through the gate and disappear towards the river. Job done. Little Blue's sides are heaving from all that zig-zagging on the hill so I slip off him and ruffle his forelock. Good boy. He stands there quietly. John's Gandhi, on the other hand, has so much more strength and energy, he's fairly dancing on the spot. "I'm taking him back up for a gallop", says John, and I grin and nod. It'll do them both good. I watch with pure pleasure as horse and rider take off, streaking across the ground, up the hill and bearing North over the brow, till all I can see is a dark speck surging along at an incredible pace. That horse's pace just eats up the ground, it's amazing. He's not easy to handle though and John does wonders with him.
When he comes back only the horse is puffing, and not very hard at that. Must have a good constitution, both of them. We head to the creek and let the horses cool their legs in the water. Both of them love the water and they splosh their noses and front legs around liberally, and I catch a soaking from Gandhi. Oy! I shout. John flashes me that grin of his, which I love. It's like the sun comes out, that grin.
As we canter up the hill towards the Hall Road a Wedgetail eagle flies low over my head. "John!!" I call as I point upwards, standing in the stirrups of the cantering pony, reins in one hand. "Look up, the eagle!!". He looks up, sees the eagle wheeling behind him, and nods his appreciation.
At the last gate I slide off the tiring pony and let us all through. Calmly we clop back along the road to Peter's, talking of those large, small and sundry things that partners talk about ... family and friends, future and past, hopes and plans.
On the way back we blow a tyre on the horse float. The horses didn't even notice. Poor fellas, they had to get out and be ridden home along the road. Tess hopped on Bluey bareback and ambled along with Yarrow and myself, chatting companionably, while John rode on ahead on the faster paced Gandhi. Once home we treated the horses to a good massaging wash with the pressure hose, which they love, and then we set to to fix the tyre.
And the sun still shone.