"Ain't This Romantic" is the title of a forthcoming book
by Cowboy and Author Kent Hanawalt.
Click the titles below for excerpts.
There were three of us riding in the
front of the pickup this beautiful spring day. It was
calving time on the Mitchell Ranch and we had just finished
feeding the cow/calf pairs. Doug, Mark, and I were headed
back toward the buildings for dinner when someone noticed a
cow in need of attention.
The cow had not
"cleaned" after calving - the placenta had not been
expelled. This is not an uncommon occurrence, but it must be
treated. A cow left alone will likely develop a uterine
infection that can leave her very ill, and probably barren.
Treatment involves donning a long veterinary obstetrical
glove to clean out the putrid material and insert antibiotic
We were in a big bunch of cows, a
couple of miles from the barn. Doug, the boss, did not
particularly enjoy horses, nor was he a proficient roper. He
considered the time it would take to drive home, catch and
saddle horses, ride back out and find the cow, then take her
back to the barn, versus roping her here and now.
We checked out the pickup for the
necessary supplies: behind the seat were lariats; under the
seat was a box of gloves; in the jockey box was a jar of
antibiotic boluses. We had all the equipment, and the cow
was in sight.
The decision was made. I raised
questioning eyebrows at my brother Mark as each of us took a
rope and climbed into the back. Doug put the rig in gear,
and off we went after the cow.
A good rope
horse will put you right up on a critter, and follow at an
appropriate distance. He can keep the roper within range
wherever the cow chooses to go. A pickup has enough speed,
but nowhere near the agility of an animal. And pickups don't
maneuver well the various obstructions indigenous to prairie
Another advantage of a horse is
in the stability of the rider. Sitting astraddle the horse
and having two stirrups for balance is considerably less
precarious than standing in the bed of a moving pickup.
But Doug pulled in beside the cow as Mark and I swung our
loops. When she saw us coming, the old girl sensed danger
and headed off at a high lope. As the pickup closed the gap,
we each took a swing and a miss, and watched as the cow
ducked off to the left. There was just enough time for us to
brace as Doug swung around for another pass at our quarry.
The cow was onto our game now, and the next time around she
was quicker on the dodge. We weren't as close to the cow as
we'd have been ahorseback, and we were off at a bad angle.
Both our loops came up empty again.
were coming up behind the cow for the third time and
gaining, when Mark hollered and Doug hit the brakes. We were
thrown against the cab as the pickup slid to a stop just
short of an irrigation ditch.
It took awhile to find a crossing
suitable for a pickup, and get over to where the cow was now
standing - time enough for her catch her breath for the next
heat of the race.
We made several more
runs with much the same results. As soon as we were close
enough for a throw, the rig would have to swerve around a
rock or a bush, or the cow would duck off to the side and
lose us. Mark and I in the back were fighting to stay aboard
our wildly gyrating "steed".
connected with a loop. Then we were faced with another
problem - there was no saddle horn on which to dally.
Roping technique has two basic divisions
- "dally" roping, or "hard and fast". Rodeo calf ropers tie
hard and fast: the end of the rope is knotted to the horn.
Team ropers in a rodeo use the dally method - once the loop
is in place on an animal, the cowboy jerks up the slack and
takes a turn around the horn to hold it.
In some parts of the country, all roping
is done hard and fast. "If I catch it, I keep it" is the
rallying cry of the proponents of that method. This allows
the rider to leave his horse and go down the rope to the
The prairie ropers of Montana mostly
use the dally style of roping. The word "dally" comes from
the Spanish "dar le vuelta", meaning "give the turn".
The originators of the dally technique were the old Spanish
Vaqueros. Their rawhide lariats were not strong enough to
take the jerk of a heavy animal, so they had to "play" the
rope, much like a fisherman landing a big catch. Vaqueros
used long ropes, and played the slack around the broad
wooden horns of their Spanish style saddles.
With no saddle horn on which to "give a turn", we scrambled
to get the end of the rope secured to something solid before
it pulled through our hands. Finding the spare tire rack in
the pickup box, we quickly threaded the rope through and
made a knot.
When the lariat was tied off,
we hollered for Doug to stop. After bringing the pickup to a
halt, Doug opened his door to step out. But he quickly
changed directions as he saw the trajectory of the angry
cow. Doug was on his way out the off-side door when the cow
hit. Her weight folded the open driver's door forward into
the front fender, nearly tearing it off its hinges.
Doug kept glancing back at the deformed cab as we worked at
catching the cow's hind legs. But we were again faced with
the disadvantage of being without a horse.
In order to "heel" a critter it is
necessary for the legs to be moving. A horse can pull an
animal in a circle while the heeler lays the trap-loop to
pick up the hind legs.
The cow was hot, tired, and angry. She
was secured to the pickup with thirty feet of nylon lariat.
Whenever one of us would come near her with a second rope,
the cow would charge.
Finally, Mark went
out as a decoy while I maneuvered into position behind the
cow. When the mad mamma charged Mark, I was able to flip a
loop into position to catch her hind legs.
With a critter squirming on one end, the heel rope must be
kept tight. If the loop is allowed to loosen, the animal
will kick free.
From a saddle, a man can take a turn
around his rubber covered horn and let the horse's weight do
all the work. From the ground, holding onto a rope affixed
to the back end of an angry 1200 pound cow is quite a
The process of catching that cow
had burned a lot of time and energy. We had chased her over
hill and dale before the final hand to hand combat. By the
time we had the cow immobilized, the offending afterbirth
had dropped free. We had only to insert the antibiotic
boluses to complete the task which we had begun a half hour
It took some prying to get the
mangled door shut. Doug was quiet as we drove home for
dinner, and we were respectfully sober. As long as that
pickup was on the ranch it would be a constant reminder of
the foolishness of trying to save time by using a pickup to
do the job of a horse.
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