The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Friday, January 5, 2007

50 Feet of Rope

My friend, Fred, used to pasture steers with care for Idaho farming conglomerate, Simplot, the company that feeds more cattle in the US than any other. He leased a 1200 acre ranch called the Alcalde that runs on both sides of skinny, little State Hwy. 198 just West of the hardscrabble town of Coalinga, CA. He had taken about 700 head a little early one year and then it didn't rain, of course, and there was no feed. Simplot wanted to move the cattle off his ranch and since Fred had taken them all on the gain with an advance, he didn't want them to. He asked me to come and help move them farther back on the ranch where there was some old feed. Fred and I have been friends for about 40 years. In a previous life, he was a horseshoer and shod my horses when I was a kid. It seems every few years we re-connect, usually over horses, and hang out for a while. This was going to be 3 or 4 days of getting some steers out of the cow pasture, getting one slick, fat heifer out of the steers, then gathering and driving all of them some miles to the back of the ranch and doctoring along the way. Fred rides good horses. He always has. He keeps a few brood mares and runs some race horses on the quarter horse tracks. He buys and sells horses whenever he can and when I got to the ranch, he had a few sale horses, a few young horses and Cowboy. Cowboy was a big, stout, plain bay gelding that moved like a truck with 4 flat tires, but was a cadillac ranch horse. The kind that you only ride a few of in your life, if you're lucky. I say "was" because 2 or 3 years after I met him, he colic'd and died. Fred had been at a branding when he first saw Cowboy and had left there with the horse in his trailer. After looking through Fred's string I said I would take Cowboy. He just looked broke. Fred agreed and rode a colt. I had left my rope bag at home not knowing that all Fred's ropes were 50' pasture ropes, about 20 ' more than I can fit in my hand. A nylon blend, right-hand twist, medium-soft head rope is 30 feet long. If I have to use more than that to rope a steer, I need a faster horse. I spent all of the first day trying not to hang myself with my rope. The only flat ground on the Alcalde is at the top and bottom of the hills. The ground was so soft. There had been no moisture, so there was no grass to firm it up. From the hilltops you could see cattle all around you, on other hilltops, but because it took so long to get up and down just a short distance away, that by the time you got to them, they were gone. This was a difficult ranch to gather. The good news was that Cowboy had done it many times and had his feet under him really well. I started up a long, steep hill and got about half way when the ground gave way from under that big gelding and we started down. My horse just squatted and quietly slid all the way down that long hill. I think he'd done that before as well. All I could think was that, if Fred sees where I went with his good horse, he's going to kill me. When we got to the bottom, I stepped off uphill and my horse stood up and shook himself. I stepped back on and went up again, a lot straighter this time. By the end of the day we had doctored a few and got some moved to a new pasture. We would finish the next day. It was so cold when we left the house the next morning. We loaded the horses and drove a few miles back to the pens where we had finished the night before. There was one great, big mother cow milling around, with a bad case of mastitis. Fred wanted to rope her, give her a shot and milk her out a bit. There I was with the same 50' rope tied to my saddle from the day before. I managed to get a head loop on her, but Fred missed his heel shot. This was bad because she was hookin' at me and Cowboy at the time. Next, she stuck her head under my horse's right flank and lifted him off the ground. This made him a little nervous, but, like I said, Cowboy was broke, so he didn't kill us trying to get away from there. Fred could tell that Cowboy and I were starting to worry about his ability to catch, so he tried harder and roped her. It was Fred's ranch after all and he was holding the heel rope, so I got off to doctor the cow. Timing is so important and Fred loosened his heel loop before I stepped back on my horse. I don't know why he did that, but, by now that cow was really mad and headed straight for us bellowing and shaking her shaggy ol' head. I made a strange, piercing sound that I didn't immediately recognize as mine and clawed up Cowboy's side like a telephone lineman. About that time Fred recognized his poor judgement and took another dally. Just before the cow and I connected, her hind feet jerked out from under her when she hit the end of Fred's rope and she flopped on the ground like a shot duck. Thank God for the 50' pasture rope.

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