A Socratic Rancher 6-1-09 | TheFencePost.com
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A Socratic Rancher 6-1-09

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

I’ve never been a fan of rodeo, so those of you who are can throw a rope around my neck and choke me down.

It’s been hard to sell me on the idea that rodeo events are, or were, related to necessary ranching skills. To believe that, I’d have to believe early ranchers didn’t know posts and poles could make a corral, or that cattle could be worked without intimidation or force.

Certainly, there are tales from “back in the day,” when trail-toughened, saddle-sore thieves with illusions of becoming cattle barons roamed the Open Range, armed with ropes and irons, acquiring unbranded cows and calves to augment their herds. And cowboys will be cowboys at the end of the day, needing to expend their unwasted energy on the back of a bull.

Maybe there’s no intended connection between rodeoing and bovine husbandry. Maybe the sole derivatives of rodeo are entertainment and recreation, yielding an easy satisfaction to humans in the conquest and torment of a large, but essentially humble beast. Not that I carry a card from the SPCA, but in other contexts we might be tempted to call rodeo behavior bullying, but the word is seldom used around the arena.

It has always struck me as odd that bovines should be chosen for entertainment, mostly because bovines, while massive, aren’t massively entertaining. They’re peaceful, cud-chewing creatures who get their meals directly from the ground, seek shade from excessive sun, a windbreak in storms, and seldom throw their substantial weight around unless provoked. Bovines are, in fact, a species from whom humans could learn a lot if they stopped roping, riding, and choucing them long enough to study their simple strategy for existence.

A story comes to mind … A neighbor, whose name I’ll not mention out of courtesy, came to the cattle business from a nearly opposite end of the business spectrum in New York City, and ran about 600 cows on a ranch with Forest Service permits. One fall, his herd ” well over 1,100 with calves ” became scattered during the roundup. A Man, whose name I also will not mention, was contacted, and contracted, to help with the situation.

The Man arrived at the ranch, reviewed the owner’s brand and studied area maps. His first order to the owner: put the horses, 4-wheelers, motorcycles, and pickups as far from the ranch headquarters as was convenient, but no closer than three miles from the quarter section meadow where the herd was to be brought for weaning and fall treatments.

The Man then told the owner and cowboys to go to town for three days, which, with confused reluctance, they did. When they returned, the entire herd stood grazing peacefully in the pasture. The Man had gathered the entire scattered herd on foot. He remained to help with fall works, which were done with the assistance of only the owner and one cowboy. No horses, no ropes, not even raised arms or voices.

I was fortunate to see The Man in action and it changed my understanding of what it meant to “work cattle.”


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