The Ranchlands horse herd has been taking on a brand new adventure, as they are experiencing their first South Dakota winter. This winter has been challenging yet exciting for everyone at the Wilder.
In most parts of the pastures, grass is buried under 3-4 feet of snow, making it hard for livestock to access feed. In exchange for snow-free hay every morning, the horses have ignored that the fences are drifted over. The buffalo, on the other hand, are not so compliant. In the buffalo pasture, there are many places where the fences are drifted over and the buffalo have taken this opportunity to walk right over them and head south for the winter. While we don’t necessarily blame them for wanting to venture to warmer climates, it does make our job rather difficult. Piecing together makeshift fences out of hog panels and taking expeditions on the snowmobile have been regularly included in our daily routine. We have also started feeding them hay every afternoon as a bribe to stay home. For the time being, the buffalo’s Tour de South has been put on hold, which is great news, as it frees us up to work some horses in between buffalo checks.
Slowly but surely, we are getting back to the fun of working horses. Though the number of horses worked daily is small, we still see significant progress in the ones we do get a chance to swing a leg over. You would never be able to tell that they had a two month vacation in the ways they are progressing. Cayenne, the little red ball of spunk, picked up right where she left off. Blanca is progressing in the same manner. Her break put a little more spring in her step, and this is greatly improving her quality of work. Blanca has a tendency to momentarily fall asleep during works but that tendency has been absent in the last few rides.
The round pen we all knew and loved this summer quickly disappeared under the snow drifts, but Brett, with his trusty skid steer, rescued the rusty roundness from the frosty grips of the South Dakota snow mountains with the added upgrade of a snow enclosure! Though this enclosure has some glacial qualities, we are excited to work horses with little to no distractions. Credit is certainly due to Brett (and skid steer) for making this upgrade happen in just one day.
For all horses, buffalo, and people inhabiting the Wilder, this winter has been frustrating at times. We have all decided to take every day as a challenge from Mother Nature herself, and she has not provided a challenge yet that the crew wasn’t up for. Finding new ways to deal with the snow, temperatures, and roaming livestock has become a regular occurrence up here. Whether it be hanging Christmas ornaments on fences to deter buffalo, or seeing how many pairs of hand warmers you can shove in one glove, we have all found ways to adapt these challenges. Although we are getting used to a blanket of white covering the pastures, we are looking forward to seeing that blanket lifted away to unveil thick, green grass come summer. But until then, we will be taking in the beauty of the buffalo and horses among the colossal amount of snow as it is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
By Callie Rusher. She and her parents manage the Ranchlands colt training program and domestic bison herd at the Wilder Ranch in SD.