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.
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.
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.
Tell me; have you ever made a fool out of yourself? Really? I’d love to hear about it! 😀