Horses are an essential tool on a sheep ranch. The sheepherders use their horses every day year round, whether to ride out with the herd, or to pack their supplies. In the summer, each herd needs around 7 horses to be able to pack all of their stuff. We run 8 summer herds. That's a lot of horses!
It takes a lot of work and time to get young horses to where they can go out with the herds. We raise some of our own horses, and get a few new babies each year. They run with their mothers in sagebrush country until we wean them and bring them home to halter break. This is where we put a halter on them for the first time and teach them how to lead and be tied up.
For the next year, they are turned out on 640 acres of steep, sagebrush mountains. This teaches them how to walk in the thick brush and rocky terrain, because that is the type of country we ride and pack in. As 2 year olds, we bring them in off the mountain around the first part of July, and the work begins!
Starting on the 3rd, I have been working with our two 2-year-old geldings each day. I named the one Azul, this means blue in Spanish, because he has a blue eye; and the other one Earnie, because of a funny story on a phone call to my mom that day. I start by flagging them out- this teaches them to not be scared of me flapping a flag around them, and lunging them in the round corral- this teaches them to move off my pressure and body language. I then saddle them with pack saddles from the back of my horse and hang corn sacks on them. I leave them tied up for a while to get used to having the saddles on and the sacks moving around in the wind.
Day 2 is the same process. I also hang big canvas pack bags on them to get used to, because that is what we pack with. After saddling them a couple times off my horse, I am able to do it from the ground. I continue working with them and adding new tasks each day to get them ready for our pack trip in the mountains next week.
Each summer and fall, my mom and I pack that years 2-year-olds as we ride in the mountains to count herds and for our other packing and hunting trips. This exposes them to what they need to see and do and gentles them down before being sent to the herders to use.