"Ain't This Romantic" is the title of a forthcoming book
by Cowboy and Author Kent Hanawalt.
Click the titles below for excerpts.
pul lethər/ v
disparaging term used to indicate that an off-balance rider
has been forced to grab his saddle with his free hand in
order to prevent falling off his horse.
Sitting a well-broke
cowhorse when he is working is always a joy. But it can
sometimes be a real challenge stick with him, and no cowboy
wants to be accused of having to pull leather to stay
aboard. One day, however, I had to grab my horn – not once,
but twice – in order to maintain my seat atop my horse.
First, a little background:
Working cattle on the open range has little resemblance to
the competitive cutting competitions which take place in an
arena. In these events a yearling steer or heifer is cut
out from a group and the horse given free rein to swoop and
dive, dramatically demonstrating his skill at holding the
animal away from the herd. The arena is small and open, the
footing is clean and level, and the critter is allowed to
return to the herd after being played by the horse for a
Out on the ranch, the cow is being cut away to be moved to a
different location. There are rocks, holes, and brush to
contend with, and there is always more than just the one
animal to be managed. Guiding the horse through the process
can be poetry.
But note that I used the word guide, rather
than direct. It is the cowboy’s job to let
his horse know which cow he wants and where he
wants it – also to open and close the gates. Especially
in rough country, you want to let the horse exercise his own
judgment as to his footing. Some sage advice in this regard
was given to one young cowboy early in the last century:
“Nine-tenths of being a good horseman is learnin’ a horse
what you want of him. Half the other tenth is in leavin’
him free to do what you learnt him”, said Watt Bendt.
nothing to (cutting) if you take your time, watch you don’t
throw your horse off balance, and leave him have his head.”
Ralph Moody recounts in his book Home Ranch, that
advice from his foreman on a ranch in Colorado in about
leave yourself foller along easy – the way your best girl
does when she’s dancin’ with you.”
the girl that counts, and ‘tain’t the dancin’. It’s more
like keeping time with the fiddler. Lose track of it and
you’re a goner; stay with it and you can’t go wrong –
leastwise less’n you go to watchin’ your own feet.’
And so it is, even in the new millennium. I had taught my
Kentucky Colt what I wanted of him, and I gave him his head
to do it.
Although bred in Kentucky, Thunder was born and raised in
the rough country of the West Boulder. He was big and
powerful, and he had taken a feather-light rein. It required
only a barely-perceptible cue from the rider to bend him in
any direction. He was an eager horse, and his long
Thorobred legs carried us all across the ranch at a
We traveled for miles at a time on a slack rein, with me
offering only vague suggestions as to the direction. I let
him pick his exact path through the sage, amusing myself by
guessing which way I thought was
easier. He was the one who had to do the work, and
he was entitled to choose where he put his own feet.
It was with the same barely-perceptible movement that I
would indicate to him a job at hand. He could infer his
assigned task from my balance and from the position of his
quarry. And when he was pointed toward an errant cow, he
showed his rider no mercy as he pursued her over, under,
around, and through whatever terrain unfolded before them.
On this particular day, Thunder and I went out after a
misfit handful of odd cattle that had been grazing on the
Elges Creek bench. It was a small field – only some 160
acres – and only ten head of cattle. The ride was made
interesting by two things: among these ten head were three
different classes of livestock, and the terrain coming off
the bench was steep, with large patches of knee-high sage.
There were 3 cow/calf pairs in this bunch, 3 dry cows, and a
bull. Each of these three classes of cattle handles
differently: they travel at a different pace, they require
different amounts of pressure to move, and they are drawn
towards different features of the terrain. Holding that
little bunch together required some lively riding.
The three pairs were willing to move right along, following
the trail down off the bench and out the gate. The bull was
willing to follow the cows, but it took repeated urging to
keep him moving. The three dry cows, however, wanted
nothing to do with any of it. They were all old, two of
them were lame, and the third one was just plain mean – she
continually turned to charge my horse whenever we approached
The pairs led out as I started the bunch down the mountain,
and I occasionally had to ride up to the point to bend them
in the appropriate direction. Then I headed quickly back to
the drag to get the bull moving again. In the meantime one
of the dry cows would trot off on a tangent away from the
other cattle and toward the shelter of the trees and
A lesser horse would have been tired by the climb up to the
bench and the continual darting back and forth and up and
back to hold those cattle together and moving in the right
direction – but not the Kentucky Colt. We were uphill and
downhill and around the brush and over it. We brought one
cow back to the herd from her attempted escape to the left,
only to have a different cow blast out to the right.
The trees and thornbrush were heavier as we started down a
steeper pitch from the grass and sage-covered bench. One
old cow decided to make her break downhill while we were
holding things together on the uphill side. Thunder was
watching her, and waiting until I turned our attention back
I don’t know if I nudged him, or reined him, or merely
leaned slightly toward her, but she already had a good lead
on us and was headed for heavy brush, and the colt knew we
had to beat her. As usual, I gave him his head to get there
in whatever way he felt was best. It was when he went
airborne over a big patch of sage that I first
grabbed leather – I had made the mistake of looking at the
route of my horse’s feet, rather than staying focused
on the movement of the cow.
Thunder circled wide around her to come in between the cow
and the thornbrush. Then he cut hard toward her and chased
her back to the others. But these three dry cows were
determined to scatter. In the time it took to get the bull
caught up with the pairs, those 3 drys were off again in
three different directions.
The closer we came to the gate, the steeper and brushier the
terrain. And those 3 cows knew that in this field was their
last chance at escape.
As the 3 pairs walked placidly toward the gate, one of the
drys bailed straight downhill toward the creek and we had to
bail straight down on her flank. The colt paused at the top
of a cut bank just long enough to look back and ask if I
indeed wanted to drop directly down from there. I replied
with a squeeze of my legs, and over we went.
I leaned far back in the saddle as his front feet lit on the
road six feet below us – our profile would have looked
exactly like a saddlebronc with his hind legs kicked high in
the air behind him.
The cow hesitated only a second before she dove off the road
and continued toward the creek, and we dove off beside her.
We jumped the creek to stay on her flank, airborne for
another eight feet.
The rest of the cattle balled up together near the fence as
we turned the old rip back toward them; then they began
looking for another escape route. The colt read their
intentions and bolted back up the steep bank to cut off
their escape, and again I grabbed the horn to keep from
being thrown over the cantle and left lying in the brush.
I have no doubt that the colt would have finished the job
without me, and maybe would have returned for me when the
job was finished. But I preferred to stay with him on that
Back up on the road the colt stood heaving and dripping
sweat as the cattle glared at us and decided on their next
move. Finally they turned and filed through the gate and
down onto the flats. Then we had to go back up the hill for
He wasn’t in a hurry like the dry cows, but he chose a path
through heavy brush, hoping that we would overlook him. The
bull bellowed his defiance a few times as he crashed through
the brush, but he was soon through the gate behind the cows.
Once the cattle were all through the gate, the excitement of
the ride was over. We did have to lope around them to the
left and turn them back; then out to the right to turn them
away from the lawn - but this was all on relatively flat
ground with only foot-high hay to contend with. I could
have accomplished that part of the ride on a
The colt and I were still grinning at each other as I leaned
from the saddle to latch the corral gate behind the cattle.
We had just spent the better part of an hour whirling and
spinning together to the music of the West, each of us
enjoying the cowboy dance. I’d pulled leather a couple of
times, but had never thrown my horse off balance. We’d come
in with all of the cattle, and with both of us upright,
uninjured, … and together. It just doesn’t get much better
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