Trap in the Jordan Narrows
My old horse chasing rodeo pal, Robert, called me one day and said he needed my help catching a bunch of his horses, could I come? One thing for sure about goin’ with Robert, it was gonna be “Western”— lots of action, never boring, and sometimes some danger thrown in the mix… well most times. You couldn’t really round up a bunch of wild horses without danger bein’ a part of it. Robert’s horses weren’t really wild, just half wild. He pastured lots of horses in various places and some of them were left for months on end till he needed them, so they were used to freedom and open country in big pastures, not little five or ten acre pastures, but hundreds of acres, or thousands maybe.
This bunch we were after on that day were wintering on a big pasture on the Jordan River in Utah. The Jordan flowed north out of Utah Lake, through a narrow valley, then on into the Salt Lake Valley finally emptying into the Great Salt Lake. The pasture was located near that narrow valley or area between Utah Valley to the south and the Salt Lake Valley to the north.
It was late February or early March with patches of snow here and there, and mostly bare ground but not dry ground. We trailered our saddle horses out of Springville in Utah Valley and headed north till we got to the Jordan River narrows and unloaded our ponies on the north end of this big winter pasture. We rode south over undulating ground searching for the horses or their tracks, and located them down near the river. It was just a small bunch, about eight to ten head. They all had their heads down grazing on the sun cured bunch grass as we rode over a little rise that dropped down toward them. When they saw us coming, they all lifted their tails and trotted off to the south. We put our mounts into an easy lope, when they saw we were comin’ after them, they went into a gallop, as did we and the round up was on. The horse in the lead was a palomino, definitely the leader. If we could catch him and the one next to him, we figured there was a good chance, the rest would follow and we’d have our horses.
We shook out our loops on the run and were trying to size up the lay of the land ahead of us and what advantage of it we could take to help gather the herd. The river curved back and forth like a sidewinder, with cut banks and u-shaped curves. The ground was soft and muddy in places with patches of snow—not the best footing.
One of the horses veered off from the herd and dove into the river going for the opposite bank. Instinctively, Robert raced for the river where a sand bar looked like a good place to cross, and was soon on the other side and beat the horse to the far bank, hazing him back into the middle of the river, and deeper water. He couldn’t come to the near bank cause by now Hondo and I were there waiting with a hungry loop. He couldn’t go back to the other bank Robert had that covered. He was trapped. The river was deep there and the horse was swimming, headed up stream against the currant. Neither Robert nor myself could reach him with our ropes, as long as he stayed in the middle. So there we were guarding the banks and the big brown horse treading water. It didn’t take him very long to decide he had to do something or he’d run out of the gas. He swam hard against the current till the river got shallow enough he had purchase on the bottom. He lunged forward and up the incline of a sandbar on Robert’s side of the bank. Robert threw, but it was still a far shot and the loop fell short on the withers. The Big Brown kept lunging and made it up on the bar and raced for the herd holding at the next bend of the river.
Robert and I were in hot pursuit, he on the west bank, me on the east. The horses had got themselves into a cul-de-sac on this next ben. The east bank was very high cut bank with a hard sand bar at the base of it. The herd was all held up on the bar with Robert and myself closing in on that u-bend, blocking off their retreat. The middle part of the cut bank was probably ten to twelve feet high. It receded rapidly in height up and down stream, but now Robert and I had our horses blocked off both ends. Their only way out was up that high cut bank and over the top or to dive into the river and try swimming downstream a ways before they could reach that other wand bar the brown had been on, then they could jump the low bank on the west side and head for parts unknown. OR they could always just stand quietly and stick their necks out till we got a loop on them, fat chance on that. The herd milled about for a few seconds throwing their heads and turning and sizing up the options. One thing for sure, they were full of spunk and weren’t ready to throw in the towel.
The palomino decided he was gonna climb that high bank and go over the top. I couldn’t believe it. I’d seen paintings by Charlie Russell showing horses doing that, and now I was witnessing it for real. The adrenaline rush was incredible, my temples were pounding and Hondo was hard to hold, the whole herd turned and followed the ‘mino off the sand bar and started up that steep cut bank. Horses were lunging and clawing with their hooves for footing. Mud and clods were flying, horses were whinnying and snorting, manes and tails were flowing and waving, all was action and a real drama. Two of the horses with the palomino got their front feet over the top and digging with their hind hooves they gained ground till they got the leverage they needed and with an all-out lunge with their hind quarters they disappeared over the top. The palomino was close to going over too but couldn’t quite get the footing he needed. I had jumped Hondo forward along the edge of the cut bank where it inclined steeply up toward the top where the palomino was struggling above us. I was swinging my loop sideways instead of overhead, so I could get more momentum in my release. Just then the palomino started to come over backwards as his front feet lost purchase on the top of the cut bank, he twisted hard to the right avoiding a complete backwards somersault and getting his back hooves against the steep bank, he sprang out into space toward the river. I took aim the best I could releasing the loop at the strongest point of the bottom half of the swing where the centrifugal force was the greatest and the loop shot out into the same space occupied by the plunging palomino as he dove downhill toward the sand bar and the Jordan River. I saw the loop standing up pretty much vertical still fairly open as the palomino’s head passed through the open loop almost like a slow motion movie, at the same time I pulled the slack and threw a lightning dally as Hondo’s front hooves came down solid on the grassy edge of the cut bank, facing downhill to take the jolt so we wouldn’t get jerked down and tipped over sideways. The slack came tight just under the ‘mino’s jaws and he swung to the right across the side of the bank slipping and sliding on the mud, but still upright and Hondo still on his feet holding the weight of the sliding horse till he came to a stop, up against the lower part of the bank below us. We had ourselves the leader of the pack. Robert let out a whoop.
“You got him, you got him!” He yelled. It was then that I saw he’d caught one too. It was probably the proudest moment I ever had as a roper. I could hardly believe I’d made that catch, yet for some reason I felt sorta confident that it was gonna be, destiny maybe. I was so proud of Hondo, he had performed “magnifico,” what a horse! What a moment- what a good time.
With the leader and another horse high up in the pecking order now caught, it wasn’t long till all the other horses saw the gig was up. It had been fun they figured, so now we gotta go to work somewhere for Robert, OK-cool! The other horses followed us off the Jordan, their leader in tow back towards the trailer. The two escapees came a runnin’ and joined in also as we trotted along the open ground. The air was cold and refreshing—the horses were all frisky, full of vinegar, and lovin’ life. It felt good to be in the saddle, to have a great horse underneath you, jogging along, not really a care in the world, just lovin’ doin’ what your doin’, bein’ there, in the moment, not wishin’ you were somewhere else, bein’ somebody else. As Badger Clark once said, “Give me a day on the horse work.” It is its own reward.