May 21, 2012

A True Grit Cowboy Mentor

Branding season makes me realize how years can fly by when in ranching mode and I think back to when I first got here. Luckily I have taken many photographs, or it would all be a blur. I showed up here on the ranch as a total novice - that is for sure. I rode some, for fun, as a kid but was no horseman or cowboy and had not really ridden for twenty years or so. I laugh sometimes when I think of diving in and working and riding alongside long time top hand and cowboy Lyle O'Bryan. Like when I first started roping and we decided to brand without a crew the first spring. If I roped all the calves (along with the winter's worth of work I did) then he would 'pay' me by giving Beau to me (pictured above) as my ranch work horse. Ok, it took a while for me to catch all of them. It was a dry year and Lyle had sold way down so we only branded 150 or so. I would hold them by the back feet while Lyle wrastled them down, by himself, and tied them up and branded and vaccinated them ... the best way to learn is to just do it!

Of course it takes time to learn to rope well consistently, but this was a good start. Another time, that spring of 2003, he tied my rope on hard and fast - meaning tie it in a permanent fashion to your saddle horn - we rode up north to doctor a sick cow. Lyle roped it by the head and said ok get the hind legs - I had never roped a cow before and guess I didnt really think about being tied on ... somehow I got both hind legs on the first loop and was thrilled. Lyle was also tied on hard and fast and stepped off his horse to give the cow its shot then took the rope off the head and told me to ride up and let the hind feet go. I had gotten so used to dallying that I forgot about handling my slack being tied on and got the rope under Beau's leg and down we went - I think I remember laughing about it - now I would probably freak out. Luckily Beau was ok and I didnt hurt his leg but it was a definite lesson on handling my rope. I realize things will never be like that again with everything being so new again. I can now enjoy moments when I realize I am getting better at certain things over the years.

One of the first times I rode on the ranch, in the Fall of 2002, I was helping Lyle work off heifer calves up north. I rode Beau, who was very green, and just the two of us gathered all the cows and worked the replacement heifers off. Beau was drifting to and fro as green horses do - the pasture seemed huge to me - the wind was blowing massively and blowing my hat off. I think at some point we traded horses. It took quite some time to get the job done but Lyle guided and instructed me throughout. I remember falling asleep later, after the ride, in the booth at the local cafe. A good days work for a real greenhorn. I had never experienced such full days until I started working on a ranch.

I rode and worked alongside Lyle - and still do - learning to do whatever he was doing from working cattle, to pulling calves, to doctoring calves, branding, feeding, haying, assisting in breaking a few horses by hazing, riding colts etc ... It would take decades of experience and more guts than I have to reach his level and I, by no means, compare myself to ranch women who have been doing it all their lives. I just do what I do and am who I am. Whatever came up - I wanted to experience it or at least try and learn from Lyle and the other cowboys I worked with. I sometimes remind myself to really listen when I hear him or other cowboys describing things. Such a wealth of information and such a gift -  pay attention and take note.

Landing on Lyle's ranch, as I have mentioned, was a bit like going back in time. It was all cowboy - no shortcuts. And I lived, seven years of my time while on the ranch, without running water ... camp in a simple bunkhouse with only a wood stove for heat and kept it real basic. We scoop cake onto the truck and off the truck to the cattle, we have pitched many large bails of hay by hand, rode everywhere on horseback with no four wheelers on the ranch etc ... It has been a good place for me to learn, being able to work alongside someone while hopefully being of help - big enough but not too big of a ranch for us to handle - well, really what am I saying - Lyle handled it on his own before I got here. And he learned to adapt to doing things by himself. Like tying the steering wheel on the truck then jumping out to scoop cake to the cows - doctoring calves and cows by himself etc ... just takes a little ingenuity and a lot of skill - like many other ranchers in the area.

I definitely didn't land on the set of "Legends of the Fall" or some Robert Redford movie (ha ha) ... no glamour but real true grit all along the way.  It feels good to know I can be of help here on the ranch and to our neighbors. I will never fill Lyle's shoes, or boots I guess, in my new evolving role as 'manager' but at least I will give it a try. Thanks Lyle. ©JEAN LAUGHTON

(Photo: Lyle on Stringy Holding Beau near Horseshoe Butte on the Badure Ranch)