Monthly Archives: April 2017

Naming Pastures

In ranch country I find that most outfits name their pastures. It helps communicate from one “agricultural worker” (cowpuncher) to another whereabouts things are happening. Instead of “You meet us five miles down the road, and turn right across the cattleguard to the long narrow pasture” it’s just simpler to say “meet us in the Costilla.” (It’s called costilla, the Spanish word for rib bone because it is long and narrow, like a rib bone.) This naming can get pretty descriptive, and border on poetic, like; “Persimmon Hill”, or “Frog bottom”, or the “Willow Crossing.” Then, names can have historical references like the “Mexican hole” pasture, named in honor of a now unknown Mexican boy who long ago rode off into a deep hole in the creek and drowned. Of course that was long before my time. It was back when Moby Dick was a minnow. Then there are descriptive terms like “Pecan Flats”, the “Headquarter’s Trap”, the “Old Horse Trap.” Then some are named for their shape liked the “Costilla”, while some are named for their function, like the “Bull Trap”, the “Calving Pasture”, or for the crop grown there, such as the “Clover Patch”. But I guess my all-time favorite was a small area we used to keep cows in during artificial insemination season. We just called it the “A.I. Trap”. We still do, even though we now use all natural service by bulls. One time we had a young man building fence there. He announced that he had finished the “I.U.D. Trap”. I asked him to explain, and finally figured out that he meant the “A.I. Trap”. I laughed when he said “Well, I knew it had something to do with sex!”

About Dewberry Cobler

My daughter and granddaughter have been picking dewberries. These are wild berries of the same general family as blackberries and raspberries (I can’t give you the scientific name). The vines grow in humps all over the pasture, in the fence rows, and along the railroad. The fruit is tangy, sweet and acid. They’re good to just eat’em as you pick’em. That is if you don’t have some scheduled activity to attend right away, because your mouth, and your fingers will be stained purple. They come with other problems, like the maddening seeds that get stuck in your teeth, requiring gymnastics of tongue and toothpick. Worse still, if you don’t take precautions, they harbor “chiggers”, a type of itch mites. Of course we don’t have that problem because the fire ants eat the chiggers. Maybe it’s better to deal with the devil that hurts for an hour than the devil that itches for a week! Especially considering the part of your anatomy where they choose to set up housekeeping! Another occasional problem emerged the other day when my eldest granddaughter confronted Mr. No Shoulders in her dewberry patch. As she sprinted away from the snake she scattered blueberries all over the caliche lane. After she went back to retrieve them and pick some more, they made a cobbler. That’s a wonderful way to end a spring evening. Boil down dewberries with added sugar and a little cornstarch. Then there are two approaches to make cobbler. One is simple, just dump a box of white cake mix into the cast-iron pot with the bubbling dewberries, put the lid on and cook! The berries blend with the cake mix and it’s done in less than half an hour. I prefer to make a pie crust and layer it over the top of the cooking dewberries, then bake it with the lid full of coals until the pie crust is golden. Sure helps to put a little butter, cinnamon and sugar on the piecrust!

Your Left Handed Horse 

We all know some folks who find themselves living in a mirror image world, a world made for right handed folk! They are sentenced by their genetics to be called “southpaws”or left-handed. In our family we find the left-handed are often the more inventive and problem-solving and creative! Contrary to humans, among the equine race it appears that the opposite is true, and the majority of horses are left side dominant. They just seem to come from the factory that way! They bend easier to the left and they naturally take their left lead at the canter. There are many theories as to why this is, but as horseman we are much more concerned with what to do about it in order to balance our horses and make them straighter and “both sided.” Since it appears that their legs on the right side are slightly weaker than the left, horses often will drift to the right when moving. This frustrates Mr. Horse Trainer, so he figures out a set of calisthenics to build up his horse’s right legs. He spends longer asking his horse to bend to the right with a soft rein cue. Little by little, day by day, so as not to make his steed’s muscles sore, he gets equal bend to both sides. Before the horse even starts get sore, he quits. No one ever convinced a horse of the “no pain, no gain” concept. With horses it’s “if there’s pain I’m not doing it again!” Additionally our horse trainer’s “seat bones” and legs need to get into the act and apply light pressure at the same time as the right rein bending happens. Over time and with patience and judgment and careful, but insistent, application of hand, seat and leg, we can usually get our left-handed horse to bend nearly the same on both sides. Mainly, as my friend Ramon says “We don’t work with them, we just play with them!”

Cowboy Iron

When the Spanish conquistadors begin exploring the lands north of Mexico City, the land they called Coahuila, for the local indigenous people,now called Texas, they carried iron tipped lances, steel swords, and wore steel armor and helmets. They controlled their horses with iron bits, and the horses were shod with iron shoes. And, by the way, their spurs were also forged of iron. Before long, the Coahuiltecans began to “acquire “(read: steal ) horses, which propelled their own technology into a new era. However they didn’t have the the science of making tools out of iron. So Mr. Indigenous Texan made out the best that he could by fashioning horse gear the same way as his other tools, from dried animal skins. As time went on, European settlers began to move into the area from the eastern colonies. Now, both red and white men deployed a technology for handling horses based on items manufactured from untanned cowhides– rawhide! Over the centuries this has come to be known as “cowboy iron.” Rawhide is incredibly durable. It resists chafing, pulling, breaking and even weathering. It can be made into items of equestrian gear nearly as hard edged as iron by the technique of braiding, or plaiting. As the Spaniards explored the area, they brought soldiers, many of whom were of Muslim extraction, escaping the Spanish Inquisition. Among these were men who were skilled at the ancient art of rawhide braiding which they brought with them from their north African culture. From this fusion we get the rawhide hackamore, with its heavy, plaited bozal, used to train colts. They produced the beautiful intricate braided rawhide romal reins, the quirts, and even the sixty foot long four strand braided rawhide reata so famous among the big loop cowboys of the western slope even today. The strength and durability and beauty of these items earned them the name “cowboy iron.”