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Day Four — Cattle Roundup Memories

Me at the end of day four dirty, sun weary, dead tired and happy.

Here is the fourth installment of my five day experience participating in a cattle roundup in New Mexico in 2008. This trip was inspirational in many ways. While I already had dreams of someday opening a ‘cowgirl camp’, this trip solidified ideas. I haven’t done it yet, but the dream is still alive and well. My daily writings were the beginning seeds of this blog, and the trip was the first trip I had ever taken without my family — something just for me; to feed my soul. I now regularly travel alone, with a sister or with my friend on soul-feeding trips.

There are only two photos from this long day, as there simply wasn’t time to take any more.

Day Four at the Ranch

Today was an AMAZING day.


It’s another sunny day here in New Mexico. It was hotter last night than it has been previously. A fire ant decided to join me in bed last night. Three stings before I killed him, but I got a new appreciation for how painful getting stung by a whole bunch of them would be. The wife/owner of the husband-and-wife team owners, Debbie, a somewhat overweight and over-made-up version of a cowgirl who doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of work, was telling us at breakfast how this winter she got stung all up her arm by a scorpion, so I guess I should consider myself lucky with just one fire ant.

Lights out at 9:30 last night. I was definitely less tired last night than Tuesday night for some reason. After an unbelievably heinous breakfast that consisted of orange juice, and a choice of some disgusting looking bran flake cereal of a breakfast burrito (scrambled eggs in a flour tortilla [see Day Two breakfast], I’m now enjoying a few minutes of free time before we hit the dusty trail to find those final elusive 100 cows. Lord knows what we’ll do with them should we find them with only 5 people riding today (and two seem to be fairly incompetent). Lucy, the Mexican woman who seems to do everything here, has packed us an ever-so-delicious lunch again for the trail (see Day Three lunch) that I’m counting the minutes until I get to enjoy.

I sound like a real crab, I know, but I’m actually finding this all quite humorous. This morning though I decided to put my foot down at shoveling the shit for them. I fed the horses and watered the horses, but did not help in raking up the horse poop. Besides the fact that there were only two horses up at that particular barn this morning to clean up after, it just seemed silly for 4 people to be fighting over who was going to rake up the shit like it’s some privilege or something. R.J. (Martha) glared at me and Jean-Francois (who seemed to have a similar attitude this morning), but didn’t say anything.

At 9:30 we hit the trail. Alan, the owner of the ranch, said he’s catch up with us later. So now we’re down to four. ‘Martha’, me, Roy and Jean-Francoise. Jean-Francoise is looking a little tired and scratched up. I play nurse to him. He’s doesn’t want to duck down when we go through bushes (which is QUITE often) because he says he wants to see where he’s going. I keep telling him that the horse knows where to go. Subsequently, his face is all torn up. Anyway, I carry Neosporin with me and apply it to his wounds when we take breaks. Chatty Roy decided to wear a lighter blue shirt today, as the deep blue he had on yesterday practically baked him to death.

There was a coyote right off the path this morning, but was too far away to get a photo that would come out, as he was camouflaged in the grass pretty well. Not too far into the ride we came across 3 cows and two calves. How exciting! And the human/horse to cow ratio was pretty good too. Well, we barely start moving them when two of the cows take off up this hill (dare I say cliff?). Me, being the only one of the paying guests that seems to enjoy this or cared, go taking off after them. I assume Martha is at the bottom trying to keep the one cow and calves together. Surprisingly, Jean Francoise heads up the hill behind me. I’m pushing the cows up the hill and figure we’ll find a way down once we get to the top, as we’re in very heavy bush and trees at this point. NO. Of course not. The cows decide they want to go down again and before I can get to them to stop them they start down this rocky cliff. Well, I know that if a cow can get down it my Poncho can, too. He didn’t want to at first, but he did it and we managed to get the whole herd back together again (can you call only 5 cows a herd?). I’m not sure if Jean-Francoise came down behind me or found an easier, softer way. I think he followed me, as that is where the majority of his morning’s face lacerations came from. From there we managed to move the cows down to the enclosure without any more exciting breakout attempts.

Shortly after continuing on our way Alan managed to find us, and we head up to the one area we had not been to before, way at the end of the property. We’re heading up this enormous ridge and get up as high as 6,000 feet, which had amazing views. I believe that was probably the highest I’ve been this week. But, along the way we come to this solar water well (these are apparently the way to go around here as there are a few scattered around on the property and on the neighbors too), and there was almost the whole herd of horses we were supposed to gather up tomorrow. We continued on our way, as we were still looking for cows, and who should come charging through but Taco, the studdly little miniature donkey! I thought I got a picture of him, but it didn’t come out. He was so cute. That was the closest R.J. said he’d been to him in the two years he’s been on the ranch. As we continued on our way Freckles, Jean Francoise’ horse, got a flat tire (lost a shoe), so we had to stop and get that put back on.

While we were all off our horses we decided to break for lunch. We’re all sitting around eating our lousy sandwiches when, I kid you not, Alan pulls out his sandwich – 3 inches thick, loaded with piles of meat and cheese, lettuce & tomatoes. Now come on here! We’re the paying guests here and the owner is going to pull this beautiful sandwich out of his saddlebag and eat it in front of us? I felt like pushing him off the cliff.

There, at the top of the ridge, where you could literally see everything for miles and miles and there were still no cows to be found, R.J. and Alan decided then that we would go round up the horses instead. This was supposed to happen tomorrow as I’ve already said, but with no cows to be found and the horses just sitting there at the watering hole waiting for us, and R.J. being pretty sure he knew where the remaining three were as we’d seen them yesterday, that seemed like the best plan.

However, along the way, as we’re riding down this ridge, we see two of our cows over on the neighbor’s property. Only problem is there is a huge gorge between them and us, which required us walking down a ways to find a trail to get down (trail would be an overstatement, but as I’ve already said, it’s amazing what these horses can get up and down). Down and up we go only to find no gate in the fence. Down we go again and head down the gorge again until we finally find the spot that the cows must have used where the fence was down. Now, what would possess a cow to want to go down that ravine and up the other side through a little hole in the fence just to go onto the neighbor’s property is beyond me. Don’t they know the grass isn’t greener on the other side?

Well, we hadn’t even had a chance to give our horses a drink from that lovely huge solar powered well water holding tank (which was more like a swimming pool, and at this point even I thought of jumping in), when the two cows took off at a dead run (which is faster than you’d think a cow could run). Alan, R.J. and I take off after them, each in a different direction, because that’s how you get them back on track, and I swear to god I think Roy and Jean Francoise just stood there. Poncho and I are zigging and zagging at a dead gallop through bushes and trees, and I’m proud to say that I am actually the one that caught up with them first and managed to get them turned back in the right direction. R.J. went back to find “the boys”, wherever they’d been hiding from all the fun. From then on, those cows continued down the dirt road fairly happily at a nice walking pace.

Then, my proudest moment of the whole trip came…Alan sent Roy and Jean-Francoise down the mountain with the two cows where they where they were supposed to wait with them at the stream until we caught up to them, and I was to go with R.J. and Alan to round up the horses. I know that this was just a fool’s errand for Roy and Jean-Francoise, as we won’t round up those two cows with the horses, but I hope they didn’t know that. Perhaps there was some need to get those cows off the mountain though so they didn’t head back to the next farm.

We come up to the herd right where we left them, but now, low and behold there’s a whole big herd of cattle there with them! Goddamn it. We were following their tracks from the hillside that we came off of so we knew they were there. Probably watching us all day on the other side of that mountain laughing their asse’s off at us because they’d managed to avoid us all week. Anyway, problem is you can’t herd cattle and horses together. Not only do they move at a different pace, but, with Longhorn cattle they would gore the horses, and that probably wouldn’t be good.

Now, I know from conversations this week that rounding up cattle and rounding up horses is completely different. Horses will try to get away from you just like the cows will, but they take off at a complete gallop and don’t stop until you’ve reached your destination. They were right. We barely had those horses in sight around the bend from the cows and they took off running — and so did we. Honestly, we were galloping so fast and you’re trying so hard to not rip your head off on a tree limb or your face up on a pricker bush that’s rushing by you, that I had absolutely no idea where Alan and R.J. were, just that the horses were ahead of me. But, at some point I’m left there with two mares and Taco, the little donkey! I also know from past conversations that we don’t need Taco or his three mustangs with our group. But, it doesn’t appear to me that the mustangs are with little Taco. I know from experience that all mustangs have a government brand on their neck, and we’d just been talking about it at lunch as well. As far as I could tell the rear mare was NOT a mustang, and I really couldn’t tell with the one ahead of her. Taco was leading the charge. Thank goodness things slowed down to a trot at this point, and the rear mare was dodging and weaving and giving me a general hard time. I kept managing to get her back with the other two until one point when Taco and the lead mare broke off and I decided that since I knew the rear mare was not a mustang, to stick with her. Of course at this point I had NOOOO idea where Alan, R.J., or the other horses were. We were still pretty high and I could see all around. I also had NOOO idea where I was. But, I just stuck with this horse and low and behold a little while later I see the big herd on the ridge above us. We all re-connected and continued down the mountain. All the horses at this point were pretty damn tired, so the pace had slowed to this incredibly painful and horrendously fast trot. Had I known we were herding the horses today I would have put the “big guns” on the saddle (the full saddle and leg fleece pad). Poncho and I managed to find a slow lope (canter) which was MUCH more comfortable, and I was the lead horse for the rest of the way, as the other two horses were pretty well pooped out. We get the horses down to the valley floor and start heading them in the proper direction. R.J. went to find the boys babysitting the two cows (I honestly couldn’t tell you how long they were there – probably two or three hours waiting at least) and Alan and I continued with the herd down the valley. Once R.J. found the boys, they were supposed to go round up the last three horses from the different herd we saw yesterday and catch up with us.

When Alan and I got to the part of the valley that their was no escape for the herd except where we wanted them, Alan sent me back to see if I could find the men and their herd. I get down a ways and three horses come crashing out of the brush followed shortly by Roy. R.J. and Jean Francoise are nowhere to be found. Alan seemed to be so relieved to see me he just stopped, so I took off with those horses and fed them down the canyon to the rest of the herd. Now mind you, again I am at a dead gallop over rocks, through rivers, bushes and trees. These horses are really amazing.

It was a successful day in the end. We came charging into the farm with me leading the way. Alan and I got the herd turned in where we needed them, and we even got the night off from feeding the horses and shoveling shit!!! We got back to the barn at 5:15, so we were in the saddle the better part of 8 hours today and Alan and R.J. estimated we covered 25 miles, with 15 of it at a run.

Dinner tonight was brisket…again, with baked potato and iceberg salad – same as Sunday night, but no bread. I saw it there on the counter, but we were all too damn tired to care to put it on the table. Now come on. The guests are only here for 6 dinners. Do you think they can manage to come up with enough options so that you’re not repeating a meal? Please.

I was a little worried about Jean-Francoise, as he was kind of slumped over his dinner plate. I thought for a minute he might fall asleep at the table. Even I went to dinner tonight in my pajamas because I knew I was too damn tired to change twice

Whatever else happened this week, today made it all worthwhile. What fun. My arms are all scratched up and I have a scratch on my forehead. My body aches, but nothing is hurt. Dinner was a quiet affair. Apparently Jean-Francoise DID NOT enjoy this afternoon. I guess he’s glad he wasn’t with us for the big herd then! It was a really hard day, but the time sure flew by. I will have no problem sleeping tonight, but that hasn’t been a problem any day. If there ever were a Budweiser night, tonight would have been it. I celebrated with a delicious iced coffee, and didn’t worry that it will affect my sleep. Nothing will tonight.



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