by Baxter Black, www.baxterblack.com
There’s not a piece of black rubber around their saddle horn. Their nylon rope is as limp as boneless chicken. It hangs from a rope strap girded in a way that allows them to have it loose and in the air in less than a second! It is the equivalent of a pistolero, strapped down tight, loaded and cocked. They probably shod the horse they are riding, they wear light leather gloves. The bat wing chaps are broken-in and well-scarred. The long-sleeved shirt was put on clean this morning. A piggin’ string is looped through the gullet.
Saddled, we ride out, me and them. We’re headed for the brush, the scrub, the mesquite…el monte, they call it. Cool this morning even though it will reach 96 degrees by 11:30. We’re on the hunt for 3-4 week-old calves to brand. We do it a couple times a week. The extended calving season results from leaving your bulls in year round. Spring and early summer is when most of them calve. We have the first option of easin’ up on a calf, calmly tossin’ a soft loop around the neck and brand him on the “outside,” meaning in the pasture. However, the harder-to-catch calves often need to be trailed the two or three miles to the corral. The latter isn’t necessarily the easier way. There are lots of exits along the trails for them to duck in to.
By 7:30 a.m. we had managed to rope and brand two calves within half an hour! Things went right. The cows stayed calm and we could get within 10 or 12 feet from their calves on a horse. Even a middlin’ roper can catch’em sometimes. We finished them, mounted and headed deeper into the 12-section pasture. We made a big‘vuelta,’ translated: circle, rodeo, paseo. The word dally comes from dar la vuelta. The three of us try to stay within sight of each other because it’s a lot more difficult for only one cowboy to keep one or more pairs together and drive them to the corral.
Over the next couple miles we ran into a dozen cows with at least one “orejana”, no brand. We get behind them and spread out. The cows line out in a trot. The ‘broncas’ begin lookin’ for places to escape. Through a mile of 20 ft. tall mesquite and three arroyos a football field wide we lose half of them, but we’ve still got the orejana! By the time we get to the middle drinker and turn toward the corral half a mile away, the cows have got a second wind.
In and out of the sandy little arroyo the cows, horses and vaqueros are divin’ into the thick brush at a gallop, pushing and breaking limbs, covering your face, hangin’ on to your rope…suddenly the arroyo widens! I swing around to locate the mama and baby! Franciso is ahead and to my left, Poncho is comin’ out of the brush from my right.
There was a micro moment, an explosion! I saw the brush rattle, Francisco’s rope sail, Poncho crash toward the scene and Francisco’s rope come tight as he surged into the sandy arroyo. Like an Irish Steeplechaser, Poncho cleared the brush swingin’ his rope. He caught one foot and dio la vuelta! Francisco turned and faced.
I’ve seen many spectacular performances in sporting events. Some leave you hooting and hollering, others take your breath away, still others are hard to believe. Lookin’ at these two vaqueros in that indescript arroyo on a Thursday morning at the top of their game made me think, “Ya know, if I was anywhere else I would be hearing applause.”