Horsin’ Around 5-17-10
Fort Collins, Colo.
On Dec. 29, some years ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store when a man behind me said, “Real cowboys don’t wear a scarf around the neck.” It had been cold that morning, so I turned around to see if this mouthy creature was someone I knew who was giving me a hard time. But when I got a look, I did not recognize the bulbous nose nor the cowboy hat covered with hatpins. I realized that if he fell off a horse in a river he would sink headfirst. Though a “barstool cowboy” had verbally assaulted me and we were close enough in age to make a good fight an even contest, it wasn’t worth the effort. That’s when I realized how old I’m getting.
The next day my neighbor had decided to move his cows home. I showed up that morning in my long johns, coveralls, winter cap, snow boots, and riding my gentlest horse. I wanted to finish the millennium on horseback the way I had lived most of it. But that morning I didn’t care how I looked because I suddenly remembered why I quit cowboying for a living. I love training horses by working them on cattle because it helps them understand why you are asking for a particular move to be accomplished. But the coldest I have ever been has been on horseback, in a blizzard, a long way from home while trying to find and bring cows home to be fed.
There have been a number of these times because that is the life of a cowboy. But the one time that stands out in my thinking was while helping my neighbor Pat and Doris gather a Wyoming summer pasture late one fall. Pat told me they could use all the help they could get. So I called certain friends who owned horses and I knew would enjoy taking part in a real round-up and cattle drive. They were not cowboys but the round-up was not to be that difficult.
As we pulled into Cheyenne for fuel it began to snow … hard. My friend, Bill, had invited Patrick Bols, a veterinarian from Belgium who was visiting and had never gathered and moved cattle the cowboy way. Bill walked over and said, “I’m going home.”
I could tell he was worried about Patrick as he added, “This is not the kind of weather to be horseback.” But Patrick would not hear of it. Even though neither man was dressed for the weather, this was an opportunity of a lifetime and the European did not want to miss any part of it.
Unloading horses and saddling at the corral, I looked our crew over to see what kind of trouble we could be in. My friends Bruce and Sharon had taken my advice and dressed for the occasion. They had also driven their motor home, which would give us a place to get warm while eating dinner. But I was worried about Patrick and, by watching, could tell that he was not familiar with riding Western style even though he was mounted on a gentle horse.
By pairs, we were sent out in different directions. This is normal when gathering large pastures in order to cover all the arroyos and willows where cows like to hide. I was worried about Bill and Patrick, so I tried to stay within sight of them but the snow began blowing sideways and visibility became poor. Then to my relief, within an hour or so we had the herd bunched and were all pushing them against blowing snow toward the corral.
By the time all the cattle were corralled we were all wet and cold. Then it took another hour or so to help the brand inspector look at the brand on each cow to be transported back to Colorado. It was a cold and wet job but I noticed Patrick stayed with us even though he was shivering and his teeth were chattering. After the last cow was checked, everyone headed to the motor home for coffee and hot chili. As the bodies began to thaw, a bantering of jokes and laughter returned to the group. It had been rough, but everyone felt good that we had “Cowboyed Up” and completed the job in fine style.
At my age now, I only have memories about what I once thought were good times and it is sad to watch myself, as well as my horse and dog reach this point in our lives. I don’t know if they think about this like we do but I can see it in their eyes and demeanor. Especially when they hobble up to me and look me in the eye. That makes me wish we had a way to end it all at once like in the movies, and just ride off into the sunset. I know this all sounds rather harsh to most of you but it is the thought that runs through my head and I know there are those of you who understand what I am saying. Maybe I should be content to just write about the good times, if there is anyone out there who will read about them.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.