Wild Horse Catching

During the early years of the twentieth century, the increasing number of farms and ranches in Western Canada sparked a demand for horses. For many young cowboys, the wild horses found in the remote areas of the Interior looked like easy money during slack time at the ranches. The horses were considered fair game; as long as they did not carry anyone’s brand, they were “slick ears,” a name that more properly referred to calves with no earmark or brand. However, it was not a task for an amateur. Catching wild horses in the rough backcountry required a sure-footed saddle horse, knowledge of the terrain, and a combination of determination and luck.

A photograph of a corral for wild horses west of 100 Mile House. Click to enlarge,
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Wild horse corral west of 100 Mile House. C541 - Courtesy Historic O'Keefe Ranch.

The accepted time for wild horse round-ups was just after the snow had melted in the spring, before the tough little animals recovered the strength they had lost during the winter from pawing through the snow for feed. The drive began at daybreak when the horses were in the open. During daylight hours, the animals usually sought protection in the timber to avoid flies and predators. A large group of cowboys, mounted on sure-footed cow ponies that had been well fed all winter, would surround one of the small open valleys where the horses were feeding. This had to be done with the utmost caution, as the mere breaking of a branch would send the spooky horses into the timber where it was impossible to move them. While the main group of men appeared at one end of the valley, other cowboys were placed at the heads of trails into the timber to turn the horses back into the open valley bottom. Then the chase would begin. Everyone would ride at a full gallop as the wild horses were headed into an open area where they could be surrounded and held until they settled down enough to manage. The whole herd was driven towards a huge log corral where they could be sorted out. The branded horses were either taken away by their owners or turned out to range again. The “slick ears” were held for breaking or driven to stockyards where they could be shipped to buyers.

Media Files

V1999:10/001.04 – A trip through the range lands of British Columbia – 1930? “Ponies”
Old black and white silent movie showing horses on an Interior BC range.

A flash player with a video showing Old black and white silent movie showing horses on an Interior BC range.

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V1995:1/006.002 – Flying U Ranch “Wild horses”
1930s black and white silent footage of wild horses at the Flying U Ranch at Green Lake (near 70 Mile House, B.C.).

A flash player with a video showing 1930s black and white silent footage of wild horses at the Flying U Ranch at Green Lake (near 70 Mile House, B.C.).

You need the Adobe Flash Player to view the above video. You can get it by clicking here.