Barnyard Basics: A mare named Ed

The author’s granddaughter, Dani, enjoys a ride on their mare named Ed.

Heather Smith Thomas

Soon after our son, Michael, and his wife, Carolyn, came back to the ranch in 1999, they needed another horse.

They bought a little bay mare with blaze face, about 12 years old. The rancher who sold her wanted a larger horse. This mare was small and we don’t know her breeding, but looks like an Arab/quarter horse cross. She is heavier muscled than most Arabs, but lighter muscled than a quarter horse, with more endurance. She has a unique, quirky personality. Michael named her Ed but she has many nicknames — Eddie, Eddie Girl, Edwina, Edgarita, EddyAnn, etc.

Michael, Carolyn and their kids used her for several years as an all-purpose ranch horse. Then she injured a hock while living at pasture with their horses. She probably got kicked or got that leg caught in a fence or a bog. Her hock was huge and she was very lame; they didn’t ride her for two years. With all that time off, she gradually regained soundness, but still had a big hock.

The next summer, they loaned Ed to me, since my best cowhorse, Rubbie, was getting old and stiff. After a couple more years, we made a trade for Ed in exchange for a four-wheeler, so she continued to live our place. I rode whenever we had to move or sort our cows and helped Michael and Carolyn move their cattle. She was getting stiff and not quite as agile as she used to be, but was more sound and agile than Rubbie.

Ed did a great job for me in September 2011 when Carolyn’s brother and I helped round up their cattle off the range, especially the day we had to find cows that had gone to the wrong range. A fire in 2003 burned up several miles of fence between our range and the forest allotment. Even though the fence was rebuilt, burned dead trees kept falling down over the fence and more than 20 cows went through it.

Carolyn’s brother, Brian, and I found some of the missing cows up the right fork of Withington Creek. As we were bringing them down I saw one of the missing bulls with a group of the neighbor’s cows that were departing swiftly over the hill. Ed and I galloped up the mountain and got the bull sorted off. But he didn’t want to leave those cows and kept trying to outrun Ed and go with them. Ed was galloping down the steep hill, pushing that bull and had to keep heading him off as he tried to evade us and go back to the departing cows.

Ed gave it her best try and we kept outrunning that bull and turning him. We ran down the mountain full speed, ramming into that bull every time he tried to turn past us, and I was thankful that Ed never lost her footing. Brian held his breath as that old mare and this old grandma went racing down that rocky slope full speed chasing that bull, but we got the job done.

Ed continued to be my main cowhorse until we bought a 5-year-old mare and a couple Morgan fillies — a weanling we named Willow and a 2-year-old we named Dottie. I started training Dottie the next year, and my 8-year-old granddaughter, Dani, started riding Ed, who was 20-something by then, to help Grandma ride range and check cows. She and Ed got along nicely and Dani was proud to be able to ride with Grandma. Dani was my right-hand cowgirl helping move cows and check water troughs and fences. When I started riding Dottie later that summer, Dani rode along with me on Ed as my “baby-sitter horse.”

By the next year, at age 9, Dani was even more confident, and she and Ed were a good team. Today, at age 12, Dani is an old hand — catching and brushing Ed, cleaning her feet, saddling and bridling her. She also loves to ride Ed bareback around the barnyard with just a halter on when we’re not moving cows.

I hope Ed goes on a long time and continues to be a good cowhorse for Dani until young Willow is ready for Dani to ride.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email