Playing Cowboy, Days 3-5: Lessons and New Experiences
July 22, 2021

My first morning started out early, 7am, and I felt great.  Woke up to a dude hackin in the outhouse.  I was out of my tent by the time he finished and he looks like he belongs here, kinda resembling the jibberish dude in Blazing Saddles just without the beard.  Who are you?  I tell him how I know Dave.  Oh you're the gamblin' man!  Yeah that's me.  Nice to meet you Mike.  I brew some coffee and watch him walk into a smaller pen than the main pasture where the herd is.  He's carrying two bridles, and I can't figure out for the life of me where he's goin, cause I can't see a single horse in the hundred yard square field.  Check out my video blog touring where I'm staying and you'll know where I'm sitting, drinking my coffee wondering what's going to happen next.

Mike goes behind an old land dam retaining wall make a pond thing and comes out two minutes later with two horses.  He walks them to the (pen where we get the horses ready) by the barn and saddles both of them.  By then Alicia (ah-LEE-shuh) was up and at the barn.  They mounted and walked out into the West pen, the big field where the herd was out to pasture for the night.  About 15 minutes later the herd is galloping over the hill followed by Mike and Alicia, and they lead them all to the holding pen on the other side of the barn.  Turns out this is called a round-up and was cool as hell to watch.

The energy of the place just kept building.  I picked the weekend of the annual rodeo to show up on, so they were sending a couple horses and riders for the parade as well as a horse-drawn buggy, plus we had to get horses ready for a 10am trail ride.  We did all these things and then Dave and I took a father/daughter pair on a 2 hour ride on the ranch.  This place is 3500 acres so there's plenty of room to explore, and the views are just amazing.

Came back, greeted another group at 12:45, one family of three and one grandpa/grandson pair.  Barb and I took this group out, came back in pouring rain from our standard afternoon thundershower, put all the saddles and pads back into the barn, and let the herd back into West pen.

Dave, Mike, Alicia, Barb, and I were standing around chattin about the day and upcoming schedule when Dave mentioned to Barb that I brought my guitar, mandolin, and djembe.  She loves music and wanted to see them, and a jam session broke out.  We spent an hour hanging on the porch and I fell more in love with life on the ranch.  I took a shower in the solar shower house, and we headed off to the rodeo.

I'll admit I ain't never been to a rodeo.  I'll be going back though.  Ton of fun, neat to watch, and the beer was cheap.  They had a dance afterwards, $7 admission, $10 for couples.  It was amazing.  The floor was consistently packed with amazing country dancers putting on a show to compliment the band.  I finally talked everybody into leaving sometime after midnight, because 7:30 was going to come quick the next day.

It did, and I woke up to Mike yellin, "Wake up sleeping beauty!"  I had to take Adam, his nephew and dude I found sleeping in the bunkhouse the day before, back to his truck left at the rodeo.  Adam was super cool and drove around this ginormous F450 rig doing welding.  Dave hired him to fix a trailer and he did it faster and at about 20% of the cost that it would have been in town.  I came back and helped Dave prep for a pack-in trip that we were doing that day.  We trailered 5 horses and headed to Horn Creek Trailhead.  The custies had left all their gear in the back of their truck and started hiking up, our job was to put their gear on our three pack horses and get it the several miles and 3000 feet of elevation up the trail.

We loaded the pack horses and started up trail.  The memories flooded back, this being right smack dab in the middle of where I worked in 2003.  I was ponying Soapstone, which meant that one hand was on the reigns of my horse Mariah and the other was on the lead rope of the pack horse.  I learned a lesson that when the horse you're ponying decides to back up, you let go of the rope.  I didn't until I burnt myself good enough to get 5 blisters and one burn way through the skin.  O U C H.  We made it up to treeline into the basin and met the party.  We dropped off all their gear and I snapped a couple pics.

I turned around to take this one.

Back down the hill, horses in the trailer, and back to the ranch.  They have a fire pit there but it hasn't been used in a while and was overgrown.  I want fire.  Search the tool shed for a gas powered weed whacker and settle for a machette.  After my gardening project I had most of the Lupine and grass hacked down enough for a fire, which I started as the sun was setting.  This place is covered with good sittin' spots.

The next day, Monday, I was the first dude up.  I decided that I was going to do what Mike did on Saturday.  I grapped a couple of halters and headed into the catch pen.  In January, catching horses was a challenge.  I couldn't see Mariah or JD out there, so I checked in the old pond.  Sans horse.  I spot them up the hill to the left standing side by side and looking at me.  They know what's going on.  Now to catch them.  I start walking towards them, and they start walking toward me, still side by side.  I walk up right between their noses, laugh a little, give Mariah, who's quickly becoming my favorite some lovin', and put both halters on with ease.  I walk them out of the catch pen, Mike's up by the time I'm back, he smiles and and we saddle up.  I'm going to do the round-up.

We walk out into West pen and he tells me all the things I need to know.  I was pretty dang overwhelmed.  My total galloping on a horse time is less than five minutes ever.  He's telling me about how to cut and herd horses, all the while watching out for holes from the prairie dogs and ground squirrels and snakes, because if they hit one we'll both crash and they might break a leg, then I'll have to shoot a horse and might break my own leg.  You gotta be kidding me.  In way over my head we head find the main herd in the far pen, he tells me to go along this fence line and I should find them in the trees, he heads left for that half of the herd.

Turns out that Mariah is the queen of round-ups.  She knew what was up.  She breaks into a gallop without me asking along the fence line, headed for a copse of Aspens where I can see some horses hanging.  She tears through the trees, responding to my commands to turn and avoid low hanging branches, but otherwise she did the rest.  We came up behind the small herd flying through the trees, I started whoopin and yah-in and the horses take off toward the barn.  We wrap around the rest, and Mariah is tearing after them.  I work with her to keep any of them from slipping off, and she's intent on driving them home.  I see about half a dozen others way off in the corner by a few houses, I think they might be ours but Mariah is on a mission, and Mike says that they're not ours.

When we crossed back through the fence the herd broke left into the trees, and the barn was straight ahead.  I tried to get above them in the trees, and we were flying.  It was so intense zipping through those trees on a fast horse in a fast gallop.  The herd broke out of the trees and headed straight for the holding pen, Mike behind me chasing his herd, and I got my group into the pen except for two.  A quick cut and a burst and we're in front of them, finishing the job.  Mike and I got the rest in, and with a big grin I dismounted.

We start pulling out horses for the pack trip and 2 hour ride going out that morning, and we quickly realize that we're missing several horses.  I know where they are.  And I have no problem going to get them :).  Mike drove them out and I went down to a lower grove of trees by the highway where apparently they like to hide too.  No horse, and I see that his herd slipped him and broke right heading for a water trough.  I think Mariah knew this too, and without too much askin we were flying along the highway just inside the fence line.  Chase them off the trough and we repeat the chase through the trees.  If I get to do this every day I'm gonna be a happy (and sore) boy.

I headed up to the trailhead with everybody to help however needed, and the amount of work and precision that goes into pack trips is amazing.  Seven custies.  Two staff.  9 riders and 4 packers.  One dog.  It took us about 90 minutes at the trailhead, and then disaster happened.  I am with the 15 passenger van and am waiting for Dave to finish parking one of the truck and trailers and hear him yell, "Oh shit!"  I see the truck and trailer rolling downhill.  Oh shit.  By the time I get there I hear many more oh shits until the front of the truck slammed into the rear of another horse trailer, jackknifing the truck and trailer a bit and our truck comes to a rest against the trailer.  I was thrilled about this.  From where the truck started rolling, straight downhill involved a steep drop down the hill, one small tree, one big tree, and one in betweeen area that would have resulted in a much longer roll.  But the tires were turned to the left just a little, and the driver's side hit the driver's side, and the trailer being bent absorbed much of the energy.  Oh, and the truck and trailer belongs to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  But it saved out asses there, if it wasn't there, and we didn't hit the left side of the trailer, things would have been much worse.  Seriously of all the possible outcomes of a runaway ranch truck and trailer at a the trailhead, this was the best possible result.  We bent the bumper back out with the van and a chain, the trailer was fine just a little stiff on the hinge and a few dents.  We still left a note and filed a report, and headed back down the hill.

No afternoon ride so I finally had the opportunity to run some errands that needed runnin.  The first stop was the auto shop to look at my frame.  It's been damaged for years since I spun out in the Raton Pass, but I realized it was an issue when I asked Adam if he could fix my hitch and stuff.  I hadn't looked under there in a while, and thank God I did cause one of my leaf spring shackles was almost completely torn off.  When I pulled into the service station, it was.  Literally hanging on a frame bolt.  Errands cancelled, I call Mike at the ranch at 2:15 asking for a ride.  He said yeah, be there in a bit.  An hour later I call him again, no response.  20 minutes later I get sick of sittin and walk to the street to try and hitchhike home.  I stand in front of the place for another 20 minutes, finally get a lift, and see Mike driving into town just as Myron and I were headed out.  I wave and he don't see me, Myron offers to turn around, and I decline saying he'll figure it out and that's what he gets for waiting forever and not answering the phone.

Around 5pm I call Dave's house to see about finding a vehicle to get to town.  I get Michelle and she tells me that there's people looking for me in town.  Apparently Mike and Dave were driving around looking for me, because the service station guys told him that I "walked off", and Dave doesn't check messages (who doesn't read text messages?!?), so didn't see me tell him that I was startin to hitch and needed a ride. I laughed but feel a little bad now, sitting at the bar they looked for me at three hours ago writing this blog.

Peace and good luck,


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