The Rewards of Cowboying - Part 2
Finding and bringing back stray cattle is rewarding. Cattle can get a long way from where they ought to be sometimes. Binoculars are a handy tool and can save a lot of miles of fruitless riding. Learning to “read” signs is an important skill when hunting for lost or missing animals. The color of hair caught in barbed wire might tell you something, the age of tracks, whether fresh or old is important, and that goes for cow pies as well. The distinct shape of a track can give information or the size of them, and the direction of course. Horse tracks alongside cow tracks may indicate theft, and where cattle have bedded can give you information. Fresh beds smell different and look different from old beds.
My friend John was missing a young steer. We hunted hard for it but could never find it. One evening I was riding alone in an area we had already ridden but there were signs of recent activity there. The tracks and a few beds told me that steer was close by, and still using the area for a hideout. My horse Hondo could smell him, and we finally jumped him in real high grass and brushy weedy cover. He busted out of there at a full run, and Hondo and myself in hot pursuit. The steer jumped a ditch which I didn’t know was there, but my horse Hondo cleared it in full stride before I realized what had happened, and I was able to get one good throw at him before we entered another thick brushy place. I hit my target and pulling the slack and getting my dallies we turned the steer and had him. It was a good feeling. It was its own reward to track, find and capture him, just me and my horse.
Finding the Boss’s cattle and returning them to where they ought to be is satisfying, but to have a rider find your cattle and return them, or vice versa is also very rewarding. It reminds me of the parable of the lost sheep that Jesus told. The truth of that parable speaks for itself.
Another very rewarding aspect of cowboy life is the horses themselves. Especially good horses. There is nothing quite like a good trusty horse. You’ve gotta love ‘em. They get to know you, you get to know them. You know what you can expect from them and they in turn know what to expect from you. When this condition exists, and the mutual expectations are positive, it’s a satisfying and pleasurable association that almost always produces good results and the work gets done. You can’t really say enough about a really good horse. They’ll take you to hell and back and give you everything they’ve got in them. They are honest, they are brave, they are intelligent, they want to serve and do a good job, and they take pride in doing it. It means a lot to them, they won’t fudge or cheat, I should say they can’t fudge or cheat- it’s not in them to do it.
Not all horses are like that, there are varying degrees of these qualities in horses just like in people, but when you’re talking about certain top quality horses you have known and ridden, you speak about them with respect and affection that sometimes borders near to reverence. Sometimes if the moment is just so, you might catch yourself feeling a little lump in the throat and moisture in the eye, that’s how I feel about a certain number of horses in my life. If the name of Hondo is spoken, or DOC or Colonel Bo or Ranger or Skinny is spoken, taking my hat off wouldn’t be out of place to me. Come to think of it, Little Joe belongs there too with maybe a B- or two on his report card- but all in all he makes the list, not right at the top- but close. There are others, further down the list, but they’re still on the list of loved and respected horses, and they gave a lot too. Then if you go further down you get into different territory. Memorable, but not enjoyable. It’s like Lamont said one day in Sunday school. The question was posed in class as to if animals go to heaven. The teacher looked at “Monte” and wanted his opinion, because there was one thing you could always get from Monte and that was some pretty sagey comments or opinions about any number of things. Speaking from his ranch raised background Monte spoke in that gravely low toned voice of his that always made me think he had to be Clint Eastwood’s brother or cousin. He said, “Well, I can’t say for sure if they go to heaven, but there are certain horses I’ve known that are going to hell.”
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of mounting a good strong trusty horse early in the morning and heading out for the day’s work. He’s full of energy and eager to go, and that energy just transfers right into you, and if you weren’t all the way awake, you are now. That cool fresh air feels good as you breathe it down deep into your lungs and you feel it on your face. You see the plumes of vapor blowing out of your horse’s nostrils like a puffing locomotive, and you feel the power and energy of a large living animal moving beneath you, carrying you as if you weigh nothing, and going wherever you direct him at whatever speed you want to get there. The smell of a horse is a satisfying smell that all cowboys love, but it especially smells good just as the sun is coming up and you’re moving out across the hills.
A well-worn saddle feels good too as it warms up, it’s just a down right comfortable place to be, and every now and again you can smell the leather of your chaps and the saddle mixed in with the smell of your warming mount. The fresh early morning air is filled with the smell of sagebrush. The West wouldn’t be the West without that. Ya cuss sagebrush sometimes but the tangy wild odor if it is like no other on the earth. It wakes you up when you smell it, it enlivens your soul, and burns the cobwebs out of your brain. It’s at that magic time of the early morn, as the first rays of the sun light up the tops of the hills and mountains with a golden yellow glow that you realize as Waddy Mitchell put it, “That you’re right where you belong, and you’re glad to be a cowboy.” Waddy pretty much said it all right in that one sentence. Yep, that’s another of the rewards of bein’ a cowboy, or in my case, tryin’ to be.
More rewards of cowboying in part 3.