Friday, March 5, 2010

THE PERILS OF COUNTING CATTLE

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy Julie Carter
Comparing numbers
The probability factor for knock-down drag-out fight in corrals zooms to 100 percent when him-and-her cattle counting is involved.
"Differing slightly" is a smooth term for what happens when he expects her to count and she expects him to help or accept her count as correct. Neither of which ever happens.
Counting cattle appears to be a simple process of pointing and starting with the number one and progressing to a finally tally. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, let me say that of all the skills required to work cattle, counting is one that is always taken for granted.
No one ever asks if you can count, they just expect that you will. And it's never an issue, until of course, you've done it wrong.
In every counting situation, it helps to know how many there are supposed to be. It's been suggested by better cowboys than me that the best way is to count at least twice and get an average. You might end up with 37-1/2 but that's a number.
A couple of broke cowboys bought a huge roan saddle horse at a horse sale in Amarillo.
Because neither had enough money to individually pay for Roanie, they partnered on him.
The day Jess got his turn with the new purchase, he was supposed to help his bride count a big string of wheat pasture cattle.
There were about 450 head on three sections of undivided wheat pasture and when they got them pushed to one side, they headed them down the fence.
The cowgirl was counting them at the corner and her able partner was supposed to keep them coming and count anything that went behind her.
When she finished her count, she turned to ask for his to add to the total.
What she saw indicated he'd never even started his job.
The cowboy and his new roan horse had ridden off and were doing little turns, circles, stopping and other assorted horse training maneuvers.
After the fight, the cowgirl hired some reliable help and the next day got a good count on the herd.
Another time, they were riding through a big string of cattle on a couple sections of wheat. He was to count one side and she the other.
Her horse had to stop and water the ground, so she got a ways behind.
When she caught up, he managed to take the time out of his busy schedule to raise hell with her, but in doing so, lost his count.
They managed to settle on a plan. One day she counted and the next it was his turn.
Florida cattle are treasure to count. When they arrive in the West, most of them have never seen men or horses.
Often described as wilder than "outhouse rats," getting them to slow down enough to count them was a feat and if that happened, then they wad up in a ball, all looking at the rider with no intention of stringing out for the count.
Darrell always had a lot of Florida cattle and would gather up everybody within a million miles to come help receive them.
The trucker would turn out the first bottom compartment of the trailer and it was pretty standard that they all had to be roped and tied down because they simply would not stop running.
The theory was that the next compartment would stop to see what was tied down.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
One cowboy suggested that the words women use that don't really mean what they say were created in the corrals during counting.
The definitive use of "Whatever!" "Fine!" and "Never mind!" suggest a few rocky days ahead.
When the boss asked me that dreaded question, "How many did you get?" I categorically always answered with all the sincerity I could muster, "All of them."
Julie, never good at counting, can be reached for comment at jcarter@tularosa.net

HIGH PRICE OF `FREE'

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy by Julie Carter

An alarm went off in Jenna's head. Not a ringing bell kind of alarm, but the one that starts out in your gut, crawls up your spine and sends involuntary shivers to your body.
It was the same alarm you might feel when you realize your mother-in-law is coming to spend a week and the main ranch well just conked out or the sewer backed up again for the third time in a month.
Jenna had just come home from her honest job in town where she made a valiant attempt to support her husband's ranching habit.
On this day, his welcome home news was that their trusty insurance agent had come by and made him a deal he couldn't refuse.
The agent had talked Rusty into "trying out" a $1 million accidental death policy with Jenna the insured and Rusty the beneficiary. Not quite sure how one would "try-out" a pay-on-death accident policy, Jenna mentally listed other options including cancellation of the policy in 60 days if it wasn't used.
It was the "if not used" part that caused her the most concern. Her mind quickly went to all the times, when in the course of helping him on the ranch, her close calls with danger would warrant such a policy.
There were those days of helping him sort cattle in the alley afoot while he was horseback and the subsequent stampedes of cattle she was expected to stop, cut, turn or control.
And the days she had gone alone through brushy, snake-infested canyons riding colts that "needed the miles." Or those long days in the branding pen when calves were drug to the fire and not infrequently over the top of her.
There was the tractor with the cranky clutch that she sometimes drove and the feed truck with no brakes that was hers to use in the pastures with steep hillsides.
She distinctly remembered helping at the chute by giving shots and thanks to a fighting cow, gave herself the vaccination instead.
The more she considered the insurance "try out" idea, the more her level of anxiety rose.
Jenna recalled the years of their marriage and working together. It was her belief that 99.4 percent of the time it had been good.
She allowed that a time or two - surely no more than that - she had inadvertently and innocently gotten something slightly wrong.
At the time she thought Rusty, with his normal good humor, had just let it slide. However, just to be safe, she decided that during this policy "try out" period, she needed to watch her back.
A week or so later, when the policy discussion had faded somewhat, she began to relax again. Then one day, coming into the house through the back door, Rusty jumped out, hollered and scared her.
She screamed as she fell away from him and into the closed door that led to the basement stairs. The impact caused the door to pop open and instantly her life and a $1-million check passed before her eyes.
She managed to catch herself (without his help) before she took the plunge into the depths. Quite contrite, Rusty apologized profusely and told her it was just a joke.
He helped her sit down to catch her breath, re-claim her composure and hopefully, not get a gun. Many times over the years, he pulled similar practical jokes and she laughed with him.
But this time Jenna began telling her friends about Rusty's free $1-million policy on her and the subsequent "trying out" period. Collectively they began keeping an eye on Rusty and counting down the days. Several offered to hang Rusty should anything happen to her.
Rusty is typical of someone who had spent his life in cattle and ranching. His business sense simply would not let him pass up any good deal offered for free.
However, this time his reasonable intelligence overruled the monetary pressure. He called the insurance agent and gave him back 45 days of the "trying out" period.
He also requested written notification of the termination to be sent by registered mail, addressed to his wife. It was to be accompanied by a dozen roses.
Julie can be reached for comment at jcarter@tularosa.net

TACO THE BORDER HORSE

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy by Julie Carter

Hola, amigos. Mi llama es Taco. I had another name before, but when I got a new home, I got a new name and a new profession.
I am in training to be an ace speed-demon team roping horse on the heels end of the roping steer.
In order for you to understand who I have become, please allow me to establish my credentials from my previous employment and adventures.
When I was a colt, starting out in my working life, I was known as Chapo Bueno. In the language spoken in Mexico where I lived, that was a quite a compliment. It means "good pony."
I was born of Hidalgo bloodlines, purebred Spanish grandee horses. This is evident in my beautiful light grey coat accented by a black mane and tail. It is even more evident in my kind, intelligent eyes.
At an early age, I was partnered to Jose Maria, the top vaquero on a large cattle ranch.
Jose Maria loved me and taught me patiently the ways of cattle and how to work them. We worked hard, made mucho dinero for the patrón, and I became known as a top mount.
As it was in ranching everywhere at the time, grass became short in Mexico. The patrón asked Jose Maria to do a little night riding, taking wet cattle across the river to Texas to sell.
Of course, Jose took me, his top horse, to help get the cattle from the ranch across the river.
We pushed them hard by moonlight, laid them up by day, and in the seven days it took to get across the river, we had no trouble. In this fashion, we shipped all the cattle
belonging to the patrón.
At the end of the cattle drives, the patrón thought that since Jose and I were so good at being border bravos, we should continue our night riding with a little different contraband.
Jose was reluctant to be on the other side of the law, and I was insulted to be asked to carry a packsaddle, but it was work and we needed work.
Our good luck deserted us on our first run with the contraband. La Migra gathered us in at the border.
Jose patted me, told me goodbye, and slipped off into the night.
The other horses and I were taken into possession, the drugs taken to the police station, and then we were taken to auction.
When I was arrested, I was wearing a packsaddle so no one knew of my history as a top cow horse. For this reason, I was sold for a pittance to a kind man who could see only my plight.
This man had a good friend in Texas, and soon after, I was sent to Dan the Team Roper. Fortunately, Dan speaks Spanish and has taught me the basics of English. We are getting along fine.
When I first arrived, I made a few mistakes. One of those was that I ate all the briars along his fence line. He explained that in Texas, it was customary that would feed me hay and grain.
Another time I encountered an armadillo and spooked until Dan explained that it was just a hard-shelled possum.
Dan has been teaching me to be his team roping horse. He is beginning to understand that my cow horse athletic abilities and training are an advantage for us both.
My royal heritage has afforded me the perfect conformation to be outstanding in this new profession.
There are still a few mysteries about this new life that I have yet to understand, like why Dan named me Taco. but for now, I'm happy to have a home. He can call me anything he wants, as he includes the oats.
I am beginning to understand my job and am considering this sport to be great fun. We will win the world someday, and as you follow my career in upcoming year, I wanted you to know my story.
I send Happy New Year greetings to everyone on both sides of the border, but I'm glad to have a home on this side.
Julie can be reached for comment at jcarter@tularosa.net.

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