Monday, November 15, 2010

Wild West

I grew up in the midwest far from the Wild West. But that never stopped me from having fantasies of horses, cowboys and indians. The woods around our home became a fertile playground for the imagination as I imagined I was a leather-clad indian girl walking silently through the forest, in search of whatever it was little indian girls search for in the woods. Perhaps that would explain why I've always had a soft-spot for cowboys. And married a man from WY, whose grandfather, who had passed away before I met the family, was a cowboy. Despite this connection, I had never actually met a real living cowboy. Until last summer, when we visited Sheridan, WY during the Elk's Youth Rodeo, which Pappa Bear's parents have been organizing for the past twenty years. Their good friends, Steve & Linda Cox, along with the Cox's son T.J. and his partner Kelly run Cox Cattle Company. T.J. runs cattle, trains horses, builds fences and also trains Border Collies while Kelly teaches Western and English riding. The Coxes were all at the rodeo, and I got to watch T.J. herding cattle for the rodeo events using his dogs. I was transfixed. So before our journey to Sheridan last week I asked Pappa Bear's father if he could arrange a visit to the Cox ranch, since I had never visited a working cattle ranch. It turns out all the cattle have been moved off the mountain and the ones that are being shipped have shipped by this time of the fall, so there was nothing much happening at the ranch, cattle-wise. Despite this, Bob managed to talk Kelly into taking me horseback riding. Although it might have been close to 20 years since I sat astride a horse, I was not going to let an opportunity to ride around the foothills near the Bighorn Mountains pass me by. The weather, which had been balmy 70's for the weekend, had dropped sharply in temperature and a cool wind was blowing the day scheduled for the ride. But it did not rain or snow, so we headed out past Wyarno, WY towards the Cox ranch. The scenery on the drive out was breathtaking. The sky was mostly cloudy but occassionally the sun peeked through a crack and lit up the grass covered hills like gold. Here and there a ranch sat tucked in the valleys between the grassy hills, and occassionaly we saw groups of black Angus cattle grazing. Too soon, we had arrived and it was time to catch the horses and lead them over to the trailer where we would groom them before the ride. Kelly caught Vegas first, the female she'd be riding, then we crossed the corral to halter T.J.'s roping horse, a 10-year old male which would be my companion. Kelly explained how things would go as we walked them over to the trailer, where we were greeted by Kokita. Kokita After grooming and getting saddles and bridles on, then a brief time in the round corral getting used to signals and turns, we were ready to head out into the hills, accompanied again by Kokita, who bounded ahead or alongside of us the entire ride. The rest of the ride was, in a word, incredible. I wish I had more pictures. I was reining one-handed, but dared not fiddle with my camera with my free hand lest I get distracted and give the wrong signals to my horse. My horse was calm and steady, his only mischievous behavior was he liked to trot UPHILL. Or maybe I sat too far forward on the uphill and gave him the wrong signals. More likely. At any rate, it was a lovely, lovely ride. We were chilly by the end of it all, and after warming up by a wood fire inside the house, I asked Kelly if we could peek at their new litter of puppies, just one day old, born to first-time mom Tack. Oh, my. Border Collie pups It would have been tempting to slip one into my pocket, were it not for the fact that they were not even close to being weaned yet. And I think that Tack, and T.J., would have definitely noticed. The ride back into Wyarno where my ride was meeting us was pleasant with the heater cranked and our fingers thawing out finally as we finished chatting and I thanked Kelly for braving the cold and patiently sharing her love of horses with me. Until our ride that day, thoughts of Wyoming and the Wild West for me have always been accompanied by a vague longing for a "real" western experience. I might be a novice on a horse, but Kelly never made me feel that way, and the ride at their ranch made it all seem very, very real to me at last.


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