One sunny afternoon in mid-November, I found myself on the back of a big bay gelding staring out over a field of Corriente cattle and wondering what the hell I was doing there.
I recently took up horseback riding after a 25-year hiatus, and until that afternoon, I had been perfectly content riding slow circles around an indoor ring.
But when my instructor (Roy, a retired jockey and current rancher) said we were going to chase the cows back home, I had little choice but to follow him out into the snowy pasture.
We started out well enough, just as I expected given my weeks of walking Bo around a ring (as though that could truly prepare me for herding cattle). Bo followed close behind Roy’s horse with very little prodding from me. And pretty soon, instinct and training kicked in — his, not mine — and Bo was off, trying to corral some wayward steers just as I was trying to corral him.
Oh yes, old Bo knew his job and didn’t want some greenhorn city girl calling the shots.
Eventually, I gave him his head, only tugging on the reins when he started trotting a little too fast for this beginner. But the cows were happy in the field, hiding in the boggy underbrush where I dared not venture, and I was happy to let Roy take the dogs out later to bring them home.
My first foray into herding cattle ended nearly as it had began, with me wondering what I was doing there — and how I got so lucky in the first place.
Now, I know there isn’t a lot of room for romantic notions in agriculture. The reality is most ranchers can’t, or don’t want to, chase cattle on the back of a horse. But I think there must be something special about the ones who do — the ranchers who choose to follow in a long tradition of herding cattle on horseback despite the challenges that come with it.
And for a greenhorn city girl who’s been riding around a dirt ring for weeks, chasing cows on a horse in the snow was a romantic notion indeed.