“Them cow lots was so sloppy I’se a’feared I was growing webs a’tween my toes like a frawg!“
This conversation took place at my favorite watering hole, a gas station, convenience store, and coffee shop, all in one small shack at the crossing of two county roads. The locals referred to it as “the mall” as in, “We got a probability seminar (poker game) at the mall tonight.”
“Well, the pens was the least of our problems. We like to never have got them ringy cross-bleeds out of that brushy excuse for a pasture.”
“Woulda helped to have had some dawgs.”
“Well the “wheel hoss” of that outfit don’t hold with using hounds; feels like they chouse up the cattle too much.”
“Oh, so that’s why he spent fifteen minutes chasin’ that goofy heifer around the pasture with the John Deere tractor and front end loader?”
This was a fairly typical exchange at six in the morning over “brown poison” brewed in a huge blue speckled pot. By seven o’clock the early birds had shuffled out and crawled into their pickups, most hooked to stock trailers with patient ponies standing saddled in the neon glare of the roadside sign. The “country club” crowd replaced the early birds between seven and eight. Then the whole shebang dispersed out into pastures, barns, shops and thickets. The cattlemen of Central Texas were back in business for another day.
I noticed, watching him work with the colt, that he made a lot of unnecessary movement, as if he was actually trying to upset the colt. That really went into high gear when he started flapping an old burlap feed sack around on the young horse. As time went on, the bay quarter horse reacted less and less to the old man’s actions. Finally, even jumping at him and flinging a lariat toward him brought no response. Then, and at the time I didn’t notice why, the man stopped and walked away from the colt. Now, decades later, having studied Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and John Lyons, I know that the man was looking for the colt to make chewing motions with his mouth and to lick his lips.
“I don’t like to walk on eggs around a horse“ he said. In fact he continued during the first rides on young horses to do a lot of moving in the saddle, swinging his legs around and waving his arms. He believed that the earlier you got them “sacked out“ the less likely they were to “spook“ later.
He would often say “Don’t never let’em buck. All they learn from bucking is how to buck better.” I’ve learned the wisdom of this statement over the years. My pink body doesn’t bounce anymore and I can predict the weather all too well with my bones. So now, most young horses I ride get a whole lot more groundwork than they used to do. Like one old cowboy told me
“If I’d a’known I was going to live this long, I would’ve took better care of myself!”
Pondering what to have the grandkids help me cook for supper, I leaned on the refrigerator door, staring in at the contents like Silas Marner in one of his cataleptic trances. Finally seeing leftover Jamaica jerked chicken and leftover lamb shanks it hit me. Fajitas! I could get out some flour tortillas, some beans, some rice, fry up some green peppers and onions, add cheese and we’d have a meal fit for a… Charro!
This involved helping the kids learn how to use “leftovers“ and still make a fun and healthy meal. They learned to pull the chicken and lamb apart, then fry up the peppers and onions. This involved using sharp instruments, and heat!
Then they learned the finer points of boiling ranch style beans with ham hocks, and mixing onions, chopped peppers, peas and carrots in to the fried rice with a touch of saffron and turmeric to make it yellow.
The key to making all this edible for kids from four to twelve years of age was given to me by my son, their father, who said:
“Put enough salt and cheese on it and they will eat anything.”
We were putting out range cubes, or as we call them mascarote, when it hit me that there was a time, back some years ago, when money was a little tighter and ranchers didn’t pour sacks upon sacks of “cake” (or “ cupcakes” as my four year old granddaughter says) out for a herd of cattle. We were raising cattle when $.35 a pound for yearling steers was normal. My grandfather sold cattle by the head, instead of by the pound.
One rancher pulled his pick-up out in the pasture, and as the cows gathered around the truck he spoke to them saying “You probably wonder why I called this meeting. Well, old girls, things are tough. It’s going to be a long winter. I’ll see you again in the spring.”
Another drove his ‘59 Chevy up to the long wooden feed trough, threw out a single bag of cubes as a hundred and fifty cows ran up. He said “Eat till you bust,” and got in his pick-up and drove away.
My favorite was my neighbor who explained how to winter a set of cattle on a single sack of cubes. “You put the sack over your saddle horn. You ride out amongst the cattle. When you see one laying down, ride to her. If she gets up – she don’t need no cubes. If she don’t get up – ain’t no use wasting cubes on her!”