The End of My Rope
"Ain't This Romantic" is the title of a forthcoming book
by Cowboy and Author Kent Hanawalt.
Click the titles below for excerpts.
It was time to move the cows to fresh pasture. Not a big
deal, but a few hours of riding during a time in the summer
when there was haying and irrigating to be done, and I
really didn't have those few hours to spare.
We had only to gather them from a field of some 300 acres
and push them through the gate into the next field. What
made it a bit more of a challenge was the hills, coulees,
rocks, brush, and trees.
Of course we had to ride the whole field
to be sure we had all the cattle, but most of the herd was
hanging in a bunch high up on the ridge in the direction I
had elected to ride. When I started them off the mountain
they chose a route down through the trees into a very steep
draw with numerous low branches, rocks, and springs to make
travel precarious. My two helpers that day didn't trust
their horses in that rough terrain, and chose to walk down
behind the cows.
A few head tried to run
off in the wrong direction, and my horse had to work pretty
hard to scramble back uphill to get around them. My young
dog sometimes chased them further away rather than running
them back into the bunch. But we gradually got the last of
them worked out of the trees and through the gate.
There was one lame cow and one lame yearling heifer that
were in the back of the herd, and I stepped in and cut them
back before they got away, closing the gate in front of
them. With all the rest of the cattle into the next field
where I wanted them, our main mission was completed. I
circled around the heifer to throw her together with the
lame cow and her calf so I could take the three down to the
corral where we could give them a course of antibiotics over
But the heifer had different
ideas. As soon as I headed toward her she broke and ran for
the brush, blowing right past me and my horse.
I was riding Thunder - a 4-year-old Thorobred / Quarter
Horse cross - and he was up to the game. We circled up the
steep hillside and above the brush, stopping only to tighten
the cinch and build a loop in my lariat. I really expected
her to brush up and sulk, so I was surprised to see the
heifer come steaming out the other side. But I was ready.
Thunder and I built to her, and I threw my loop as she
headed across the sage and rocks, hell-bent for gone.
My aim was a little short, and the loop hung on her nose. I
continued fishing as we broke over a divide and headed down
the other side. In very quick succession, the loop fell into
place, my horse jumped a tall clump of sage, and the heifer
ducked behind us. We spun around hard to follow the heifer
and the rope, but we pulled up quickly at the edge of a big
patch of thornbrush just as the heifer disappeared into a
small hole. I felt the knot on the end of the lariat pull
through my hand before I could dally.
turned the pretty blue sky just a little more blue with a
few well-chosen words. The heifer was gone with my favorite
rope, and retrieving the two was going to be tough.
This was a big and dense patch of brush
with a few trails that only a thick-skinned and determined
bovine could push through. Neither horse nor man, not even a
man afoot, could claw through to the other side. It would
take six riders and 8 dogs to force that heifer out, and I
had hay to bale. I turned my horse and rode away - defeated.
As I baled hay in the field along the river, I looked up at
the brush in the coulee above me and tried to come up with a
plan to retrieve the heifer and the rope. If she were to get
the rope tangled in the thornbrush she would surely pull
back until she choked to death. The only clue we would have
to her demise would be a flock of magpies rising out of the
brush after picking at the remains; her bones would never
see the light of day.
Headed back for the
house at suppertime, I cast one last glance up the
mountains. To my amazement, that heifer was out in the open
and headed back toward the gate through which we had pushed
the rest of the cattle that morning.
My horses were standing in the horse
pasture between the heifer and the house. There was a stash
of grain in the garage, just for catching horses. It was
only a matter of minutes before I had a fresh horse saddled,
with another lariat hanging on the horn. Leaving the gates
open as I went, we quickly climbed the mountain and circled
wide around the heifer, who was still trailing my rope.
The heifer turned toward us and shook her head as we
approached from above her. I pulled up and waited, until the
she turned and took a few steps down the fence.
We followed at a distance until the
heifer stopped and turned to face us again. And again we
pulled up and waited. It took quite a few repeats of this
stop-and-wait-her-out routine before the heifer finally
lined out down the hill at a trot.
She moved right along through the first open gate, out into
the horse pasture, and up to the sagging 2-wire fence around
the yard. I held my breath as she looked it over, and looked
on in surprise when she decided to go around it and out the
next open gate.
I quickly shut the gates
behind us as we headed down toward the flats, and hurried to
catch up. The next gate was open into the corral and we
broke into a run to turn her in.
heifer accelerated as we did. She blew past the corrals and
across the bridge. We raced to get around her and turn her
back, but she took the next gate - which wasn't open - and
kept right on going. The heifer was through one more gate
before we caught up with her, a fresh loop at the ready.
As we pulled alongside into position to rope, the heifer
turned toward us and took my horse. My loop went deep this
time, and caught her around the ribs. I dallied and turned
my horse toward home - the heifer bouncing along behind us.
With the rope pulling around her ribs the heifer wouldn't
choke down like she would if it were around her neck. We
were making good progress, and I stopped to rest my horse
for a bit.
Soon we started out again, the heifer in
tow. The next time we stopped to blow, the heifer kept
coming, and took my horse again. The horse didn't appreciate
the treatment she was getting, and the piles of rocks in the
field added to the peril of this dance.
played chicken with this heifer through several more rounds
until at last she caught us in a compromised position, and I
lost my hold on a second rope!
was thirty-five feet long - and that's as close as I could
get to her. Each time I got near the ends of the two ropes,
the heifer would whirl and charge, and I would scramble for
the safety of my saddle. Would she have turned away from us,
I could have gotten a fresh hold on the rope. But every time
we got within reach, she would spin to face us, snagging the
rope on her hind feet and jerking it away, shortening the
distance between us to 25 feet - close enough that she would
take offense and charge again.
I was tired
and hungry, and I was making no progress. We turned toward
home, beaten again, leaving two ropes hanging on this
I called my son-in-law
and told him my plight, hoping he'd take the opportunity to
come to my aid. But he was too busy with his own work to
come up for a little R & R - riding and roping. My neighbor
Lon was likewise tied up. So I called Phil, who had made the
deal with me to bring in the yearling heifers for summer
pasture. He and his neighbor Jamie would come up at the
The last I had seen the
heifer was in the 300-acre field south of the river. Cattle
- especially young cattle - are herd animals, and I expected
her to seek out more of her own kind. It would not be
surprising to find her through the fence and into a
neighboring herd. But my wife had spotted the heifer hanging
with a lame bull along the river.
Phil and Jamie arrived a couple of days later, we headed
upriver where the bull had been for several weeks. The field
is covered with rocks, and filled with ridges and potholes
among which cattle can hide. (This wasn't named the Boulder
valley for nothing!) But it wasn't long before Phil found
the heifer, looking across the fence at the neighbor's
I had warned them that the heifer
was on the fight, driven by the pain in her foot. We
approached her with caution so as not to drive her through
She moved out quickly as we
closed in, limping markedly, but yielding easily to the
pressure from our horses. Only once did she make a run to
evade us, but she turned back toward the corral as I rode in
to head her off. It wasn't long before we had the heifer in
the corral. I stripped my rope off her neck as we ran her up
the chute and into the horsetrailer for the trip home.
My accomplices were surprised at the ease
with which we had captured this heifer, after having heard
my account of bringing her off the mountain. They made some
snide comments between them about me having used her as
practice for the upcoming ranch rodeo.
But I felt justified in my handling of
that wringy bitch. She had needed a lesson in what happens
when you ignore the guidance of the attending cowboy. And
the repentant attitude that she was expressing today was
living proof of the value of the lesson I had given her at
the end of a rope several days before.
here for a printable version.