Ranching Blog: A Life Well Lived

Ranching Blog: A Life Well Lived

She was born on this ranch, and she lived every day of her life here.

ranching blog - horse standing on a hill. Photo by Jenn Zeller

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By Jenn Zeller

In grass to her knees, on a warm summer day, the old dun broodmare stands vigil over her herd. Breezes from the river wash over her as the wind works just hard enough to keep the flies at bay. She’s at peace here. A leg cocked. Relaxed.

Her body, while clearly aged, is in good condition. Her legs only hint at the arthritis hidden underneath the skin, caused by a life well lived. “Iyamitt’s” legs can no longer keep up with the girls when they’re on the run. No worry, her daughter “Peppy” watches out that she makes the next ridge or draw. Peppy will run with the herd, watch where they go, come back for her mother and wait … the old mare will catch up. Peppy then reassures her and heads off to see where the herd has gone, while Iyamitt rests up. That process will repeat until she makes it where they’re going.

From the top of the ridge, where Iyamitt stands facing one draw, she watches her two daughters and a small bunch of mares graze. To her back, in yet another draw, a smaller jag of mares grazes. Scattered across the prairie, the broken grass, the bruised-up mares, and weather-beaten cows and calves recover from the recent derecho that blew through. I don’t know how we survived, let alone her.

This mare has stood the test of time. 

For 25 years she has lived on this range. Born here, she knows every nook and every cranny of almost every pasture. She has been through the sub-zero winters and multiple blizzards and weathered hailstorm after hailstorm – two of which claimed the lives of her herdmates. The latest storm passed through only two days ago. The previous one was 14 years ago and claimed six mares and five foals.  

Quiet and still, she has stood on the hill many a hot summer day. Peaceful and aware, she has grazed away on cool fall nights. Three years ago, she lost her last foal, a gorgeous dun filly that we had the highest of hopes for. But Mother Nature had other plans. Mother Nature, well, she can be brutal.

WDX Iyamitt has raised amazing babies. Some of our favorites are now in the saddle horse herd. Her daughters are now producing stock as wonderful as she did. We’ve tried to bring her to the homestead and give her all the extra TLC an old mare deserves. It’s not for her. While the other horses typically will stay confined by a single strand of hot wire fence, the call of the range and the urge to be wild and free, with views for miles unobstructed, are what she craves. She’ll tolerate a corral for a short period, but then begins to pace the fence, and if she can escape, she’ll find her way. 

She knows she’s old. She knows the best years of her life are behind her. But the range is her home. We can’t help but smile at the rugged individual she is. Her oldest daughter, Peppy, a red dun mare, was on her side for a year. The maternal bond is mostly unbroken, despite another two fillies after her. 

For years, Iyamitt followed her mother, Sniper Rae Buck, who led the herd from pasture to pasture. Then she followed another old broodmare. And then one day, she became the old one. For many horses, 25 isn’t old. But for a range mare, it is an excellent run. She has slogged and lived through mud most can’t imagine. Foraged through feet of snow and been up and down the Missouri River since she was days old. That kind of life, while romantic in theory, takes a toll faster than we’d like.

She has raised baby after baby. Knows nothing but the river bottoms, the ridges above, the old cow trails, suckling foals and a scratch on the head. Only haltered and ridden just a handful of times in her life, that was all it took to know she’d spend all her days here. We said good-bye to her this week. She spent the last days of her life in lush green grass, enjoying the country the best hot-wire fence couldn’t keep her away from. She’ll rest in that pasture now as the next generations step up and take the lead. 
Sleep well, Old Gal, and thank you.

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.