The TA is a ranch west of us, that hosts a large branding every year. They actually have several ranches – quite a good-sized outfit. We were able to make it over for one of their brandings this year.
Cliff and I loaded up at 4:30 and drove around the mountain to meet at the ranch at about 6 am. We were there early, and joined the long line of trucks and trailers lining up to park.
The sun wasn’t up yet, when we mounted up and rode down to get instructions. They divided us into 4 groups, and off we went. We trotted a couple miles to the back of the pasture, got behind the cattle and started moving them back towards the corrals. In this part of the country we don’t round up and drive.
We gather and push.
As in: “We’re gonna gather this pasture, and push them to the green gate.”
We were close to the back of the pasture when we came to this deep wash. (or gully, if you’re from the east)
The far side was steeper than it looks in the photo. One guy broke a rein-chain, and we all stopped at the top to get situated, readjust saddles, etc. This is why we use breast collars – because if you don’t, your saddle may end up over the horse’s rump.
We rode a bit further and there they were – the cattle were already starting to move, thanks to another group of riders that had reached the back of the pasture first.
As we got closer to the corrals, the sound of lowing cows and bawling calves grew louder. The circle of cowboys tightened gradually, until we were riding side by side and bunching up to go through the gate.
It was a lovely, overcast morning. Cold at first but warming without getting too hot.The scenery was amazing, and the remote location meant no sounds of traffic or other civilization. Just cowboys, cattle, and horses.
Quite the long line of trucks…
Question: Do you say pickup or truck? I was having this conversation with a friend recently, and I hadn’t thought about it much, but now I pay attention…. and yes, we say truck! 😀 Or at least I do. I guess I need to listen to what other around here call them. I have lived so many places in my life that I never know if I am speaking local slang or just carryover from my childhood.
PS – extra points if you recognize our rig. 😉
Once we had all the cows and calves into the corral, we waited for them to pair up a bit while we got instructions. Well, they got instructions. I offered my help but since there were so many people, the boss told me to just go take pictures. (Thank you Mr. Haskell!)
Firm handshakes ’round here.
Oklahoma buckaroo Cody holds a calf while it gets a brand.
Janet Jordan from Walden, CO throws a nice loop out there.
There were 800+ calves that day. They gathered, roped, and branded them by 11:00 am. There were two branding pots set up, and lots of ropers! Still, that’s pretty impressive. I had so much fun photographing them. Hope you enjoyed this little piece of western life.
The summer heat wrapped thickly around me, causing sweat to run in little rivulets down my back. I heaved the saddle up on my horse, tightened the cinch, and checked to make sure nothing was twisted or pinching. It was an old saddle, dark with age, and the skirts were curling under. I didn’t care, I had a horse and a saddle to go with it – little things like a poor quality saddle and cheap farm-store headstall meant nothing to me. I eased the bit into Sonny’s mouth, and swung up.
We were leaving Illinois for the summer – going away for work – and our friends said they would keep my horse for me. We didn’t have a horse-trailer, and my dad didn’t want to go to the bother of borrowing or renting one. He said it would be easier if I would just ride the horse over, and Mom would come pick me up.
Easier for him, anyways.
I started off briskly. Sonny always started off briskly. He jumped smartly over the deep ditch by our yard, and I liked the little thrill of jumping. He walked up the first hill quickly, head up, ears pricked. I watched the birds darting, and daydreamed about being a true horsewoman who worked with horses all day – riding, maybe racing…
But the further we went, the slower Sonny walked. He was nearing 30 years of age, which is ‘old-folks’-home’-age in human years. He still got around good, not much arthritis or other problems, but in the manner common to old folk, he was increasingly stubborn and balky. He didn’t care much about making you happy – he just wanted to be left alone to eat his grass and switch at flies, without having some kid pile on and make him walk in the 100-degree heat for miles.
The first mile was good. The second was slower, but ok. By the third mile, I was pulling his head back around every few steps. He wanted to go home. He knew every step he took was another step he’d have to retrace, and he wasn’t keen on having to walk back all that way. This is what we call “barn sour”. They just want to go back to the barn.
We passed a little country church, white boards shining in the sultry afternoon heat, surrounded by big oak trees and patches of deep orange daylilies. We rode past a house with two yappy dogs that came darting out, barking their silly heads off. They stopped a few yards away – unsure what to do with this beast. Sonny kept plodding, uncaring of their desperate barking.
Sonny finally stopped trying to turn back, and resorted to plodding. Now, you have never experienced plodding, till you have ridden a 30-year-old horse who is on a forced march. Head down, feet dragging, steps slowing imperceptibly till he was nearly at a standstill. I’d kick him in the ribs, and he’d pick up his feet and walk for five steps. Then he’d slow down. And down. And almost stop.
8 miles of southern Illinois summer heat and humidity, sweat pouring off me, bugs and flies annoying me and my horse.
My family was not a ranch family. Not even a farm family, really, although we had a varied menagerie over the years. My dad was a logger, mainly, with a lot of travel and seasonal work thrown in. He grew up farming with horses, and grew to dislike them immensely. Said he’d looked the backside of a team too long. But he loved me, so he told my Amish cousin to find me a horse. Well, one day my cousin showed up at my door with this old nag.
Sonny was a gelding whose entire life purpose had been to give kids rides at a big tourist park. He was trained to walk nose-to-tail with other horses, and completely ignore the kids who were bouncing, yelling, and kicking on his back. He was good at that. As long as we had him, we could put little kids on his back – as many as would fit – and set him loose with a halter and lead rope. He’d wander around the yard a bit, then go stand with his nose to a tree, as if tied there. No amount of them kicking and yelling would make him go. He was great at babysitting!
But for me, an awkward 14-year-old kid who was dreaming of Derby races and barrel racing, he was far and away too slow. I had no boots, no hat, no jeans. Just a long flowing dress, tennis shoes and a Mennonite head-covering. I didn’t know tennis shoes could be dangerous, I didn’t know flowing things can spook a horse, I didn’t realize just how odd I looked.
But it really didn’t matter. I was riding through farm-ground, down dusty country roads where only the occasional house broke up the fields of corn and soybeans. The heat rose in shimmery waves from the ground, day lilies lined the road in many places. Delicate Queen Anne’s Lace nodded in the sun, and honeysuckle vines tumbled thickly over sagging fences, filling the air with sweetness.
I would have enjoyed the ride more, had I not been kicking and coaxing Sonny the entire time. The last few miles were almost torture. Turtle-speed, we finally made it to the friend’s house. I was starting to feel sorry for Sonny, but when he saw a barn and other livestock, he came alive. Suddenly he was full of vim and vigor! I was cross with him. All that long, slow ride, and here he was; nearly trotting to the barn!
I had been sad to leave my horse behind for the summer, but after that frustrating ride, I was just glad to climb in the van with Mom and go home.
As a parent now, I look back at these kinds of things and realize why me and my siblings are pretty independent. This was before cell phones were a thing. I was 14, and my dad sent me off through lonely country roads on an 8 mile ride. I was expected to find my way, even though I wasn’t totally familiar with that route. I was given basic directions and sent off. I had no water bottle or snacks. I simply climbed on my horse and rode away. Mom was waiting when I got there. (she went the faster route by the main road.) If dad or mom were worried about me, they sure never showed it. (I really don’t think they were worried.) Therefore, I wasn’t worried. If something happened, I was expected to figure it out.
We pass our fears and concern along to our kids. We are worried, so they are worried. They are more able than we think. Give your kid a bit of rope, mama! Don’t hover. Let them try new things and experience a little freedom! They might surprise you! 😀
Last week was the TA branding. For many of the buckaroo guys in this area, it is the highlight of the year. They have lots of calves to rope, and they head & heel them. There were people from as far as Texas and Nebraska and Colorado, this year.
Cliff surprised me by setting up a babysitter and hotel so I could go with him! It was my first time to the TA, but hopefully not the last. I’m sorry to say I did not react very well when Cliff told me that he was taking me along. I immediately said: “I don’t want to go!” He looked at me like: ‘what is wrong with you?’.
“You will be riding and I will be sitting in the dust”, I explained.
“No, you’ll be riding with me – I’m taking a horse for you.”
“But you will ride over a hill, and that’s the last I’ll see of you! Then I’ll have to figure it out alone with strange people I don’t now!” I was verging on panic. My heart was racing just thinking about it. I’m not the most rational when I am faced with the terrifying thought of being left alone to look like a dunce in front of talented people, I admit.
“No, you just ride with me. Go wherever I go,” he said calmly.
It sounded nice – kind of like Ruth loving her mother-in-law; I’ll go where you go, and stay where you stay, and all that. I relaxed a little. Maybe it would be ok. Surely he wouldn’t leave me stranded in a strange country.
We started out about 5 pm, then stopped at a neighbor’s to pick up his horse, so he wouldn’t have to drag a trailer over there, too. We headed up through the tight little valley road between Chugwater and Bosler. The sun was beaming its golden evening rays over the grassy hills, the road was nearly empty of vehicles, and the occasional homestead nestled among the willows and cottonwoods like a child curled up in a cozy blanket.
But the tranquility was not to last. About halfway through the valley, our truck lost power. We pulled over on the grass at a wide spot in the road, and shut it off. Cliff looked under the hood and couldn’t find anything wrong. We let it set a few minutes, then started it up again. Yep. Ran ok, so we continued. But the peace was gone. When you have a trailer full of horses on a winding narrow road, and it’s nearly dark and no phone service – well, it bids fair to be a long night.
After a few more minutes of driving, we repeated the scene. Lost power, stopped, sat, re-started. At this point we knew we weren’t going to make it another 2.5 hours that night without help. We turned south to Laramie instead of north to Bosler. We found an auto parts store, and had the guy read the codes with his code-reader. Then we called our buddy (whose horse we were hauling) since he was just behind us, and he came and hooked onto the trailer. Cliff replaced the fuel filter right there in the parking lot. (Shout-out to handy men who know how to fix their own trucks!) While the men tinkered and fixed and talked; I sat in the truck and read a book. I was glad I had tossed in a book as an afterthought – I had an entire 2 hours to read uninterrupted! (Yes, I am a mom, why do you ask?! 😉
Anyways, they finished just as the sun was setting and a massive thunderstorm was rolling in, obscuring the remaining light behind giant brooding clouds. We fueled up and grabbed a burger before continuing on. Our friend Tim followed us, to be sure we made it ok. Just after we started out again, the heavens opened, and it poured buckets of rain! Lightening lit up the sky, turning the low clouds a soft pink.
Cell phone lightning
We made it to the ranch about 11:30 pm, instead of the 8 o’clock we had planned. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and we unloaded the horses in the dark. By the time we got to the motel, it was midnight, and we had to get up at 3:45 to make it back to the ranch and saddle up by 5:30…
The landscape was wide open, as it always is in Wyoming, morning sun streaming over the clean prairie, birds swooping and jackrabbits sitting quite still – pretending to not exist as we drove past. I soaked in every piece of it, from the tiny wildflowers to the high, long plateaus in the distance. We were driving over an hour through Wyoming’s back country, over knotty dirt roads and winding two-tracks.
As we rounded a final corner, the old ranch homestead came into view, nestled beside a stand of aspens, and surrounded by tall, lush grass, dotted with black cows. There were cattle panels set up to make a branding trap, and trucks with their trailers were lining up just beyond the trap. The guy in charge of parking stopped us to tell us where to park, but he didn’t realize we were in a very mushy spot in the grass. We got stuck. And the 4×4 wouldn’t kick in. Of course. So we jumped the horses out (to make the trailer lighter), and still we were stuck. They had to pull us out.
Soon we were mounted, got instructions, and we were off. Mind you; I had knots in my stomach the size of baseballs. I hadn’t ridden since last September, and this was a horse I hadn’t ridden before, and I was in a group of more than 50 of the best horsemen in this area!
I started off about the middle of the pack, and my horse was fresh, as expected. As we picked up to a trot, my hat flew off. Of course. Cliff picked it up for me, and I literally wadded it up and stuck it inside my jacket. I knew the wind would blow it off again.
Then I began to feel like I was falling. I wasn’t, not really, but it sure felt like it! Here I was, in the middle of a pile – I mean a pile! – of great riders, and I am hanging on to the saddle horn! These guys swing into the saddle and trot off as smooth and easy as riding in a car. They re-coil their rope, check the horizon for cows and the best place to cross the creek, and they never mind their horse.
Then here I am, kerflopping along like a schoolgirl on a draft horse, hanging on with both hands and panicky yelling over to Cliff; “I can’t do it! Something isn’t right! I’m gonna fall OFF!” I truly thought I was gonna fall off my horse right in the middle of all those cowboys. If I had – I hope I would’ve been run over and please be knocked unconscious, because – oh the shame! My horse was happy to be going, and she wouldn’t slow down for me, I was scared to stop her completely, for fear we’d get run over, and also, I was worried I’d get left behind and I didn’t dare go on alone, my first time to the ranch, and all. But I didn’t fall off. I finally realized what was wrong – my stirrups were much too long, and trust me; too-long stirrups are the worst. After we got out of the pack and everyone pulled up a bit to go separate directions, we stopped and Cliff adjusted them for me. Whew. Much better!
I managed to drop back to the back of the crowd, so as to avoid being watched. I was having a hard time choking down my slice of humble pie. It was better from there out.
Till we hit the creek. The first few crossings were ok, the paint horse jumped over easily. But then we came to a wider spot, and at this particular spot, everyone was waiting till we all crossed. I came up almost last, but they were sitting there watching. Of course now my horse decides she doesn’t like to jump creeks She gingerly stepped around by the edge, until I finally poked her a little with my stirrups. She instantly LEAPED across, nearly leaving me behind! I hung on – I didn’t fall off! But it wasn’t pretty. I sure hope those guys got a little chuckle out of it, because I was sure not feeling amused. I was rather grumpy with the whole proceeding at this point. Wondering why on earth I even tried to ride… a new place, a new horse, a crowd of 50 strangers – I only knew 3 of them – what was I thinking?!
The cowboss told me and Cliff to stay at a certain spot to guard the creek crossing. OK, he asked Cliff to watch it; I just ‘helped’ because I wasn’t leaving his side for anything! So we’re sitting there, waiting for the cows to cross the creek. After they get across pretty good, Cliff tells me: “Just stay here, I am gonna go check something.”
And there he went, trotting up over the hill.
That was the last I saw of him.
I sat there till the last of the cows crossed, then trailed slowly behind the cowboys as they pushed the cows up the hill toward the branding trap. I couldn’t see Cliff anywhere. I kept brushing my bangs out of my eyes, (stupid hat!) searching for him among the spread-out crew. But men look amazingly alike when they are all wearing the same type of clothes, wearing the same type of hats, and riding brown horses! The Paint horse had figured out by now that I wasn’t Cliff, and she decided she didn’t want to do anything. So I went from hanging on for dear life, to kicking her in the ribs to even walk. She was just moseying along, taking her sweet time and disdaining my gentle guidance.
I saw a few guys glance back at me, straggling along there in the back, like: “What is she doing back there?” So I trotted up closer, and pretended to act like I knew what I was doing, by riding the flank. Finally I did see Cliff, but he was busy pushing the slow calves, so I didn’t bother him; just kept meandering along the flank.
When we had pushed all 700 cows and their babies into the branding pen, Cliff helped hold them, while I actually did something useful for the first time all morning; I ran after a few calves that squirted off. I was hanging back to stay out of the way, but ended up being in the perfect spot to run after the calves. Thankfully, my horse is pretty cowy, and she liked to run after the calves, so I basically just pointed her in the general direction and she’d dash after and turn it back. I just had to hold on.
Well, eventually they had them all calmed in the pen, and held with a solid line of cowboys. At that point I tied my horse to the trailer, and dug out my camera. The rest of the day was spent taking photos and talking to a friend that was also there with her husband and family. It was such gorgeous weather, the breeze kept the hot sun bearable, and it wasn’t very dusty.
Ranch mommas unite!
I enjoyed myself – after those first crazy minutes running in the crowd. The thought that kept running through my head that day was: “just another chance to humble yourself, Kay. You’re really not that great of a horsewoman, are you? Just humble yourself and ask for help. Stop being so proud.”
I talk to myself a lot.
I also told myself: “Well, it’s your own fault for not crawling on a horse in the past 8 months. Get out there and start riding!”
Sure, I had a foster baby the past 6 months, but still. Now I don’t.
Now I need to ride.
Still madly in love with this man after 15 years!
Tell me; have you ever made a fool out of yourself? Really? I’d love to hear about it! 😀
Sunday afternoon I went riding with my man. It was a lovely afternoon. Not too windy, and quite warm. First, my husband wanted to pull a reata through a post.
I know! It sounds weird. But he drilled some holes through an old fencepost, then planted said post firmly in our backyard. He then threaded his reata through the holes, and pulled it with his horse. Honestly, I forget exactly what it is supposed to accomplish… I know it smooths it out and stretches it a bit to get kinks out, but beyond that, well, you’ll have to ask a buckaroo. 😉
At any rate, I helped by adding one layer of kidney fat to the reata as it went through the holes. Then made sure it didn’t kink. He pulled it approx 20 times.
(Note: the kidney fat we rendered ourselves. And boy is it a good hand-conditioner! 😀 )
Big loops and slick horns…
My buckaroo and one of his hand-made reatas.
After the reata was greased and pulled, we loaded up the horses and trailered them to the heifer pasture to ride through the pairs. There’s been some sickness among the calves, unfortunately, and we wanted to keep on top of it.
Confession: I don’t know how to doctor cattle. I am learning to spot sick ones, but I have yet to learn what meds should be given and how much. So I ride along and take pictures while my man does the doctoring. I also run errands for him, like: “Ride down along that ditch and make sure there’s no calves hiding in there, will ya?”
Sure. I can ride along a ditch. I’m good at that.
I sure enjoy being a partner to this man. He is my favorite.
My husband giving a sick calf a shot.
Oh Cisco! Why must you stick out your tongue at the camera?! You have a pretty easy life, you know.