The lunch break at the CCC trail ride in Slick, Oklahoma was filled with laughter, horse talk, and gospel music. The Coalition of Christian Cowboys offered more than just great company and superb food, they pulled out their instruments and played for everyone. The cowboys are the real deal! They can sit a horse and play a tune. Most of all, the make you feel right at home!
We were fortunate to have grown up around some of the old cowboys. They were great teachers and possessed a wealth of knowledge about horses, livestock, and ranching. Cowboys passed their knowledge to the next generation and to their horses by word, action, and letting the student try, fail, and learn from the attempt. They were slow to tell someone else how to do something, but willing to say, “Are you sure about that?” if they thought you were about to make a serious mistake that would get someone hurt or injure the livestock. Watchful for danger, but careful not to micro-manage.
Horses and young cowboys were allowed to make lots of mistakes and then given soft comments and instructions about alternative ways to do it better next time. Sometimes no comment was needed, the horse or cowboy protegé learned from his own mistake. Often, after observing failure, the cowboy simply went to work without saying a word right beside the less-experienced and just did the job. Without saying a word, he demonstrated how to properly do the job so the next time the student would have the skills to do it right.
The wisdom to know when to speak up to prevent a “wreck” and when to let the horse or “newby” as we would say, learn from his own doing provided the perfect learning environment. The concept came to mind a week or so back. We were riding and one of the young horses stumbled by stepping in a small hole. With a laugh and a smile, the horse was told, “better pay attention, it’s your job to watch the trail when we ride”. Some will say the horse didn’t understand the comment. I think he did. Not necessarily the words, but the body language that politely said, I am sitting here balanced and relaxed. It’s your job to keep your feet underneath you so I can ride.
Cowboys were truly spectacular teachers with horses and people. Knowing when to talk, react, or just watch marks the difference between a pro and an amateur. The pro sees what is coming before it happens and has been there before. It doesn’t worry him because he will take action before he let’s a “wreck” happen. The inexperienced inappropriately react to the situation or try to cover their lack of understanding with a lot of words. Sure wish some of those old cowboys were still around!
If you don’t know much about horses and find someone always trying to convince you they know a lot, observe what they do. Watch to see if their horse acts the way you would like your horse to act. Just like the old cowboys, a knowledgable horseman doesn’t have to tell you how to do it, he can show you.
This video shows Chex helping with some yard work. We had some small trees that died from the drought and needed to be removed. The green in the video is poison ivy. Funny, no one wanted to be the one dragging it off. Work around the place can be a great way to train your horse and get the chores done. But, I gotta find a camera man who doesn’t editorialize! LOL! See for yourself.
A trail horse should transition to ranch work without so much as the twitch of an ear. A properly trained trail horse is quiet and calm. Ranch work and roping events should be second nature to a good trail horse. We like to take our horses to some of the local ranch roping events to test their training and make sure the quiet disposition remains in place with ropes swinging, cowboys singing, and calves setting back against the rope. Well, maybe not cowboys singing, but you get the picture. A calf at the end of your rope attached to your saddle horn will create some commotion if the horse hasn’t been taught to calmly accept things.
Our friends at the Northeast Ranch Roping Association let us come and put our horses to work. The association promotes the reata-style roping with heavy emphasis on working livestock without a lot of stress. The old cowboy ways are the standard. A good horse and quick loop ready a calf or cow for vaccinations or treatment without a lot of stress. Ranch roping without heavy stress on the calves requires a well-broke horse.
If you haven’t been to a ranch roping, you ought to come out to one. The next roping at the Northeast’s association is September 7, 2013. If you want more information, give Shawn a call 918-417-9250 and he can put you in touch with the members. Bet they would love to have you attend and show you how real cowboys work.
A trail challenge has been set up in Talihina, Oklahoma in September, 2013. The challenge is an AHCA sanctioned event put on by Horsemen of Arkansas. It will be held at Horse Heaven Ranch. You must be a member of AHCA in order to compete. There is a 50% pay back award structure. For more information and details, call Meg Wills 501-940-2259 or Corry Key 479-567-6454 or go to the website http://www.horsemenofarkansas.org. If this competition is anything like the last one we attended, you will have a great time. The Horsemen of Arkansas have a bunch of wonderful members that make you feel right at home and welcome from the start. They offer all sorts of advice on the obstacles and the best way to compete. Since Oklahoma doesn’t have a local chapter, this is the perfect opportunity for you to take your horse and see how well you can do. We highly recommend it and hope to see you there!
Sometimes you don’t realize the things you take for granted. Words for instance. We don’t think twice about all sorts of words and terms that not everyone uses. It hadn’t really occurred to me until stumbling across a Cowboy Dictionary. It caught my attention and I scrolled down through the list of terms and definitions thinking why wouldn’t anyone know these. But, then it occurred to me that many people in big cities would have no reason to know the meaning of many of the words.
If you read this blog and see a word you don’t know, the Cowboy Dictionary might help. Most of the words listed are pretty well-defined and it gives some background if you hear or see a word you that isn’t familiar to you. The author also did a nice job with some photographs to illustrate what things look like.
One of my favorites is “cattle guard” If you bounced across as many as we have, you forget how easily the phrase leave someone who had never seen one with a completely different impression. After you think about it, how many people use terms like bosal, hackamore, green broke, chaps, chinks, cold-backed, and a bunch of others. Hope it helps if you didn’t grow up around cowboys.
You may have noticed we have been focused on ranch roping and cowboy work here of late. Well, it’s because the old guys have a wealth of information that is quickly slipping away and part of what we do is educate. You don’t learn how to work livestock or train horses watching T.V. or reading books anymore than you learn how to do brain surgery. The only way to really learn is to do it. That said, it doesn’t mean observing a professional or getting some instruction isn’t really helpful. Bet that brain surgeon didn’t put his medical book down and go to “cuttin’.” Sure hope not anyway.
A real cowboy is usually quiet, hard-working, pretty much does his job, and keeps to himself. Handy in almost every way in ranch work, most aren’t authors or writers. They pass on what they know by mouth or sometimes demonstrating. If a young person comes along with a good attitude and a willingness to learn, they will spend untold hours teaching for no more pay than a big smile and a “thanks”.
We respect the cowboy because he figured out how to do things the right way, often the same as the “easy way.” Not because he was lazy, but because he was smart. No reason to get someone hurt or risk losing a good horse or a cow if it could be avoided. No doubt, there were wrecks waiting to happen. Working around big animals was a challenge and had certain inherent risks that still exist today. The cowboy learned to limit the risk to man and beast while achieving the goal.
We aren’t opposed to rodeos and the competition of these events, but they aren’t true to the way a cowboy really did his job. Sure there were cows that had to be chased down and roped in the brush, but not until it absolutely had to be done. The first step was to try to ease up to the cow or calf and toss the rope over it. No reason to run off weight or make the job harder than it needed to be.
Years ago I used to help a rancher with branding and working his calves. With several hundred calves to vaccinate, brand, and castrate, it usually took four or five of us the better part of a day. When the calf was caught, one of us would “throw ’em.” If you haven’t ever seen it done, you stand next to the side of the calf and lift them up in the air while flipping them on their side while suspended in the air. When the calf lands, he is laying on his side on the ground. If done correctly, the calf lands on his side without any significant impact. You sort of control him so he lands softly and isn’t hurt.
I can still recall the old rancher yelling, “Don’t throw ’em up high! You’ll kill ’em’ if you do!” You see as the day wore on, we started getting tired. When you grabbed the calf to throw it down, you could over compensate and end up with the calf higher off the ground than you really intended. When the calf hit the ground, it could injure it to the point it would die later. The old rancher, a cowboy, was pretty aggressive about making sure you sure we did it right and the calf didn’t get hurt. The first time you messed up was a lot of words we won’t repeat here. You didn’t get a second time without someone being asked to leave. He had waited all year to get those calves to the age they were and wasn’t about to lose a bunch of them by rough handling.
Now don’t get us wrong, when you work livestock, “pretty please” doesn’t always work either. We had a few momma cows that had to treated rough by today’s standards of what some folks think should be done. Of course, these tend to be people who haven’t had a hot, mad, 1300 lb. animal charge them while trying to put her horns clear through you. Once you have felt the snot and the hot breath on the back of your shirt collar and barely escaped to the top of the corral, you can develop a different perspective as to what might be considered “too rough.”
And that’s what we like about the old cowboy ways; do what you have to do, nothing more and nothing less. Work the animal as easy as you can without anyone getting hurt. Not many cowboys left today and the ones left are sometimes misunderstood by the media and the television industry who accuse them of animal abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. We tip our hats to those men and applaud their skills and ability in handling horses and cows. They do it the right way!
Real cowboys understand working livestock is not just about speed or competition. Genuine cowboys recognize working cattle quietly and safely is critical to the health of the animals and the ease of getting the job done. In the spirit of ranch roping, Oklahoma is fortunate to have a group of folks working to maintain those skills.
“The Northeast Oklahoma Ranch Roping Association was founded in 2008 by Iain Davis and Ryan & Rebecca Brand, as a means of promoting reata-style roping in the area. The directors are all working ranch cowboys, cowgirls, or buckaroos, and know the benefits of practical roping skills for low-stress cattle care. We have tried to organize a group of like-minded people who truly care about the humane treatment of stock, and who wish to learn, improve and practice with one another.”
One of most interesting aspects of ranch roping is how easy it looks as a spectator. The cowboy just sets on that horse and flicks the rope. It all happens in the blink of an eye and when done right is hardly noticed. The cowboy is quiet, the horse is calm, and the cow or calf isn’t even sure what happened. We appreciate the hard work these folks have put into trying preserve these skills and to educate others that want to learn. If you are interested in the ways real cowboys did their work, you should check these folks out.
Ranch roping is nearly extinct. It is an art that few know anymore. Once a way of life for many a cowboy, it is rare to find one who knows how to use a rope while quietly working cows and livestock. The Buck Brannaman clinic coming in March describes the seminar as “As the name implies this class is designed to refine and improve rope skills – for both horse and rider – with regard to ranch related activities with stock from horseback. This class is not about timed event roping; rather it is about perfecting a variety of roping shots as well as proper positioning of the horse. Aspects of working cattle outside as well as arena roping are practiced with the ultimate intent of creating a calm and skilled approach to handling stock with a rope. Rider’s relative adeptness with a rope is a plus, but not required.” If you want a chance to see how it’s done, here’s your chance.
Billy Cook Saddlery makes a moderately priced western saddle that works well for trail riding. We like Billy Cook because the saddles are a working saddle that will take a fair amount of use without breaking down. The saddles tend to fit quarter horses pretty well and make a comfortable ride for the horse. Comfort for both the horse and rider are important when you spend 10 – 12 hour days in the saddle. Billy Cook saddles are used by a lot of working cowboys. If you get interested in a Billy Cook, it is important to confirm it is a genuine Billy Cook from Sulphur, Oklahoma.
You can’t purchase a saddle direct from the maker; instead you have to go through a reseller. We have bought many of ours from the Allen Ranch Saddle Shop. Stanley Allen, the owner, is a straight-up, hard-working saddle maker that will treat you fair and square. Stanley also builds custom saddles if you want something extra. He can make or get you anything you need.
If you are going to ride horses, good equipment makes a world of difference. In our experience, if you cut corners, it will usually cost more in the long run. Cheap saddles break and wear out pretty fast. A poor quality saddle that breaks while you are riding is inconvenient. It can also result in accidents.
Many of us grew up wishing we could be cowboys. Most of us never made it. The cowboy way of life is a hard one, full of challenges and obstacles. You gotta be tough to be a cowboy. While we completely and fully respect cowboys and adopt many of their ways and methods with livestock and horses, we don’t claim to be cowboys. As you read our blog, always keep in mind we don’t claim to be real cowboys. We don’t deserve to be cowboys and don’t pretend to take credit where it is not due.
My grandfather was a cowboy. He served in World War I and took a bullet in the leg near the knee. The army doctor told him it would have to be amputed when gangrene developed. As they were about to put him under to remove the leg, he grabbed the doctor by the shirt collar and let him know he’d kill him if he woke up without that leg. When he arrived back in the U.S., the leg never bent again, but he still had it. Back to work as a cowboy, he couldn’t ride so he drove the chuckwagon.
Real cowboys are tough inside and out. We respect and honor the American cowboy!