Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Time I Was A Cowgirl...

Rodeo has just ended in Houston.  Visiting the livestock show, seeing families' hard work pay off as kids and adults win competitions of all kinds, and smelling 'ranch' stirs up so many good memories for me.  It's bittersweet as I'm indefinitely stuck in the suburbs for the foreseeable future (thanks, NASA).

I love ranches.  I (gasp!) adore hard work.  I enjoy being far enough from town that staying on the ranch for a few days in a row is just normal.  I love animals (just don't mention to me that the animals I touch today might be on my plate next week, and we'll stay friends).  I really don't mind sweating til I see salt on my clothes, having achy limbs, and funky tan lines.  All of this fell into place that one time I dated a guy whose mom owns a small ranch.  The guy was good, the mom was great, but the ranch was better.  For months on end, I got to play cowgirl, learn more than my brain could process about cattle, and totally live out all this poor city girl had dreamed of doing, but had yet to have the chance to experience.

Working cattle was my favorite part.  The three of us would get them penned and then start the process of vaccinating, tagging new calves, and deworming.  I loved being so close to these giant brangus cattle.  There's a thrill in taking care of something and having to work fast, but be careful all at once.  I built my fair share of fencing too.  Let's just say I learned that's a much more pleasant job in winter than summer.

The bonus of ranch life is the horses.  There was only one horse left on the ranch when I entered the picture, but for the rest of her life (she was old, and I mean OLD), I was allowed to claim her as my own.  Dixie was the most precocious Appaloosa I've ever met, but she stole my heart.

Her picture still sits in many places around me.  Dixie wasn't much good for riding anymore, though she did treat me to a few gallops across the 77 acre ranch on occasion.

Mostly, Dixie followed me around.  She adored me, probably because I fed her strawberries, blueberries, and carrots like they were going out of business.  Still, it's fun to see a horse bounding from over yonder when you pull into the drive.

Dixie wasn't in the best health in her last months on earth, and fighting to keep ticks off her during a South Texas drought was a daily chore.  It made for fun bath times.  Best way to bathe a horse?  In a swim suit and rubber boots.  Don't judge.  That girl and I would bake out in the sun with the hose and talk it up for hours while picking off ticks.  Dixie's favorite 'game' was to rile up the cattle when they were penned.  She would stare down the older cows until their nerves got the better of them.  We all know the phrase, "better move quick...the natives are getting restless".  This was a perfect description of those poor penned cows if we didn't move Dixie first.  I swear Dixie did it just to keep us on our toes.  Don't ever underestimate a sage old horse.

 Victoria, TX is a hot place for a ranch.  Until the Christmas it snowed 14".  No lie.  I didn't get to stay to see all 14" fall, but the pictures that were being sent to me while I traveled on to Kentucky took away my breath. 

Rodeo always makes me miss ranch life.  Someday, when the need to not be near work is less, I hope to have enough land at least for a few horses again.  Ranches will teach you a lot:

~Fence climbing in swim wear is totally kosher.  Really.
~Fence climbing four weeks after abdominal surgery to try to calm a distressed longhorn is never worth it.  The longhorn won't suffer nearly as long during the brief time her calf is penned as you will later .  Trust me on this one.
~Cows are dumb.  They just are.  No amount of horn honking, prodding, hollering, or dog barking will get one to move if it doesn't want to.
~Nothing is softer than newborn calf coats in the winter months.  Oh, velvet!
~The bond animals have with each other is pretty special.  Don't mess with it.
~In a horse's mind, there's no such thing as too many treats, especially when her teeth are worn down and pulling up grass is a chore.  Bless it.
~If you really want to see me mad, put a tick on a month old calf.  I dare ya.  See what happens.  I will win any tick war any dumb tick wants to start with me.  I think by the end of the drought summer, it was Laura 37, ticks 0.  So there.
~Bulls don't like to be penned when they know a brand new shipment of heifers are on the property.  That was a fun fence to fix, let me tell ya.

I'm glad I married a city boy, because he's a great guy, but someday, I'll turn him into a rancher, not with any thanks to NASA, but this girl doesn't shy away from a challenge.  Gig 'em!

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