"Ain't This Romantic" is the title of a forthcoming book
by Cowboy and Author Kent Hanawalt.
Click the titles below for excerpts.
During calving at Yeager's Y Slash H
ranch, I drew the job of doctoring calves. I couldn't quite
understand how I was selected, but I wasn't complaining - I
never complained about any work that got me ahorseback.
I'd been riding Prince all winter. He was
a big sorrel Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross that Harry had
taken in trade on one of his purebreds. Yeagers had a
registered Quarter Horse stud, and cutting horses.
When I first started riding Prince he
made me nervous. The horse was big and powerful, and cut
into his turns a little harder than I trusted him. But I was
assured that he had never gone down, so I learned to relax
and lean into the corners with him.
Prince had a stance that was reminiscent
of a football lineman; his hind legs spraddled. As I got
better acquainted with him I learned that he was an
excellent cow horse, and I suspected that it was this
base-wide stance that gave him such stability. He could cut
cattle in the worst of footing without ever losing his
balance. Prince was big, strong, intelligent, and athletic.
I liked him.
We'd moved all the cows from the upper
place to the home place for calving, and I'd taken Prince
along to use in the spring work. He'd been my horse all
winter, and I continued to use him doctoring calves.
I timed my "house calls" for just after
feeding. For about two hours after the hay had been spread
out in a long line through the field the cows would all be
gathered along the row with their heads down. I could ride
slowly up the line, looking over each calf for signs of
Prince understood the game and walked
quietly through the herd. When I'd find a calf to treat,
we'd ease him out of the bunch toward the open prairie. The
calf would generally be 20 feet away from the feed before
the he realized that he was alone with a horse on his trail.
When the calf made his break, I had a loop ready. Prince
needed no guidance put me right up for a throw, and we
generally had the calf caught within a few jumps.
My scours boluses and balling gun were in
the saddle bags along with a paint-stick. I could give the
calf a couple of pills, mark him, and turn him loose without
disturbing the rest of the cattle nearby. And so we worked
up the line until we had seen all the cattle and doctored
anything that was sick.
As with any antibiotic, it is necessary
to give a full course of treatment of scours medication. If
the treatment ends before the bugs are all dead, the
remaining bacteria develop an immunity. And sometimes one
medication doesn't work on a particular animal and another
type must be given.
So I used different colors of paint in
different places on the calf to document my medical history.
A red stripe for Terramycin down the face on Monday; across
the nose on Tuesday, across the forehead on Wednesday. On
Thursday I could use blue paint-stick and start all over
again. For Penicillin I might put a circle around an eye, or
an X on the nose. And so I could read the course of each
One day Harry said to me, "You can't keep
camping on just one horse. You never know when we'll need
more horses, and we have to keep them all hard. I want you
to ride Trigger every other day." So the next day I left
Prince in the corral and saddled Trigger - a registered
Quarter Horse - to make my daily round.
One of the things I learned about
genetics in college is the effect of "hybrid vigor". Anytime
you cross one purebred animal with one of another line of
breeding you get an automatic 10% increase in performance.
Practically speaking, the only reason to have pure breeds is
to have separate genetic lines from which to cross.
Since my intent was always to have a
horse to ride rather than a horse to breed, there was never
any reason for me to have a purebred. And besides, I'd never
had much use for paying the premium for a registered horse.
As they say, "You can't ride the papers".
But Yeagers had some pretty good horses,
bred for cutting. This was the first papered Quarter Horse I
had ever ridden. And I wasn't given a choice.
Prince and I had our system down pat. We
could get our job done with a minimum of chousing and fuss.
But when I nosed out the first calf to catch and doctor with
Trigger, it quickly became obvious that I would have to
teach this new horse how I worked.
We began as I always had, right after the
cattle had been fed. Trigger and I started up the line
looking for signs of sickness. So far, so good.
When we came to the first calf that
needed attention, I turned him away from the bunch. He had
taken a few steps before he understood that a horse and
rider were in pursuit. When the calf broke and ran, I nudged
my horse and prepared to lay on a loop.
But the calf was pulling away. I kicked
the horse harder in an attempt to get close enough for a
throw, but the calf had already circled back and gotten lost
in the herd.
As Harry had said, we needed to keep all
the horses hard. Trigger was out of shape physically, and he
hadn't had enough riding to keep his handling in shape
either. It would take awhile to tune him up.
As we again tried to work our way up the
line of cattle, Trigger was fidgety. The adrenaline rush
from the little run had gotten him hyped up. The horse's
agitation was sensed by the herd. The cows got nervous and
began to pick up their calves and take them away from the
feed and toward the safety of the brush.
The next day I was back on Prince. If
anything, the rest had done him good. He was quick and
eager, and we made up for yesterday's lost time. Prince
could feel which calf I had picked out, and in just a few
strides I was in position to rope. I was able to take my
mind off of guiding the horse and concentrate solely on the
aim of my loop.
Prince and I had a lot of fun with the
job, and we did it together in a very efficient manner.
But the next day it was Trigger's turn
again. He didn't seem to have learned anything from our last
go. When I started a calf out of the herd I would have to
use my rope to "over and under" him to get within range of
the calf. It took a lot more running and a lot more
commotion for each calf we had to doctor. I was aggravated,
the horse was aggravated, and worst of all, the cows were
aggravated. The extra chousing was hard on the calves, and
it caused the cows to quit the feed before I'd had a chance
to see all the calves.
Swapping horses made the job harder for
me. On Trigger, I had to keep a firm hold on the reins and
always be aiming the horse. My roping suffered from my
divided attention. If I ever kicked Prince, like I did
Trigger, as we moved out after a calf, he would really jump
out, sometimes throwing me over the back of the saddle.
Some horses understand the game, others
don't. Trigger never did get the picture. More times than
one I would leave the herd behind a black calf, circle clear
back around before I could catch him, blow through the
feeding cattle, and emerge following, a red calf.
No horse is tops at every job, but I
never did find out what really suited Trigger. I've since
ridden more papered Quarter Horses and my opinion has never
changed. Like one old horseman told a tenderfoot who was
aghast at riding a horse whose lineage had never been
documented, "You can just take those papers and wipe your
ass with them, then get on this horse!"
here for a printable version.