Wikimedia Commons/Bill Gillette, Environmental Protection Agency photo

Column: the games ranch and country kids used to play

Regular columnist David Zirnhelt remembers games played on the ranch

In have been musing for sometime about what games we used to play as children growing up in Cariboo country.

Many of our games would go on day after day for weeks, after school and on weekends.

One of our favourites involved teams from the “neighbourhood,” up to a mile in any direction. It was called “lock in the boxstall”. A boxstall is a 16’ by 16’ stall in which a stallion might be kept safe from unwanted breeding and fighting.

Also the boxstall was common for keeping a mare that was about to foal, so a close eye could be kept on her. A mare that has trouble has a short window for assistance, an hour or less, whereas a cow calving needs help before four hours of birthing struggle is up.

In this case, the boxstall was in the horse barn at the 150 Ranch. The teams of kids would range from four or more on each side. The idea was to get as many of the other team as possible into a boxstall and keep them there by physical force.

The idea was to have as few people as possible guarding the prisoners so that the others could try to capture more prisoners. When you had the whole other team in the stall, your team won that round.

Because the game area was played over the whole ranch stead of several hundred acres, the search and capture could take a lot of time.

On one occasion I remember that I was trying to break out one of our team members while the guard was off trying to help her team capture more of us. My plan was to slide down the hay chute from the loft into the boxstall. Loose hay was fed directly from the loft into the manger in the boxstall below.

As I climbed the loft ladder to descend into the hay chute, the loft door flew open and the guard began beating on my fingers on the top rung of the ladder, dropping me to the ground. I was lucky to escape as she was older and faster.

She had been guarding the boxstall using long work-horse driving lines from the harnesses. It hurt to be on the end of this “whip,” which was probably 20 or more feet long. I guess I thought two of us, the prisoner and I, could overpower that show of force.

Wrong. I went off to lick my wounds, ending the game for me for that day. We would pick up the game the next day after school.

Another game of note was called “steal the rag.” This involved as many teams of bareback riders as wanted to play. The objective was simple. Keep the rag (towels are tough rags) in your team’s possession.

The faster the horses, the better to catch the person with the rag and take it away, not falling from your horse. It taught us riding skills, but was hard on the horses. Sometimes the horses would hit the other person’s and that horse might fall.

The other game we played a lot was seeing who could ride some kind of a homemade vehicle being towed by a horse rider (lariat on the horn as a tow rope) through irrigation ditches. If the rider could go across the ditch at a flat angle it was impossible for the person on the vehicle to stay on.

There were some spectacular wrecks, but no lasting injuries. The best vehicle, which my cousin made (his dad had a shop), was a baby buggy with all its springs as the back and a sturdy front wheel and frame of a heavy duty tricycle, which gave him steering ability so he could try to hit the ditch at 90 degrees, thus avoiding rolling over.

None of these games will appear in Wikipedia or Google. They remain in the annals of children’s imaginations.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

READ MORE DAVID ZIRNHELT: Growing in the semi-light


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