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Irons in the fire: Be grateful for the idiot horses

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 October 2016

There are a lot of things I love about fall. I could go all cliché on you and talk about the changing of the seasons, the chill in the air and the beautiful colors of the fall foliage. And, to be honest, those things all play a role in how I feel about the season.

As long as I’m on the honesty train, though, I have to admit my home country doesn’t offer much in the way of colorful fall foliage.

Indeed, we do get some nice bright yellow from the quakies in the high country that adds a nice splash of color. In most years, however, if you want a picture of the fleeting fall colors, you have to be quick about it, because the seemingly ever-present southern Idaho wind will certainly be quick about sweeping the color away.

The fall gather is one of the things that always makes me nervously anticipate the autumn comings and goings. Gathering cattle off the mountain creates its own paradox and has its own way of causing angst and joyful giddiness.

Besides the obvious goodness that inherently accompanies riding a good horse through God’s country, there is a unique thrill about gathering cows you may not have seen for several weeks.

It’s not completely unlike the return of the school year for a 16-year-old ranch kid who has to suffer the drudgery of looking ahead to nine months of school but who, nonetheless, is excited to reunite with his best friends from town.

I’m never too excited about the prospect of winter’s arrival and, with it, the endless chores and feeding. Then there’s the frustration and emptiness you feel when the snow’s starting to fly and you’re still short 20 pairs, or when you ride up on the bones of three cows and a calf that found the larkspur patch earlier in the summer.

On the other hand, finding your favorite old cow with her 14th calf that’s just as nice as any she’s raised and trailing her off the mountain with 300 or so of her peers is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for a month of Christmases.

I’ve found myself in a bucket full of self-pity the past little while after a day on the mountain. We were gathering cows, and I found a little jag of the old girls on the wrong side of the fence in the Almo allotment.

My language is sometimes prone to be stricken with profanity when I’m faced with cow-induced frustration, and this particular situation did nothing to aid in my rehabilitation.

I was riding a horse I’d bought earlier this summer. He’s a big old thoroughbred type who can really step out and travel, so he’s a good one if you have to cover a lot of country.

He is, however, kind of a knothead in tight situations. I had gathered about five pairs and had them moving along the fence to where I could sneak them through the gate. Of course, one idiot calf turned back on me and was making a break for the trees.

I tapped Secretariat with the steel and loped after the Cool Hand Luke impostor. Just as I got around the calf, my horse got tangled in a mess of net wire from an old fence that was hidden in the sagebrush.

My steed didn’t handle the situation with much grace. He was thrashing and carrying on like a shark in a fisherman’s net. I managed to get off and untangle the mess, which wasn’t too serious after all. In the midst of my dismount and the horse’s panic attack, however, he somehow managed to kick my foot.

It really hurt, and I tried to let the horse know it with a barrage of less-than-Sunday-worthy words. It’s been three weeks, and my foot still hurts. I’m guessing it could be broken, but it’s a long way from my heart, so I think I’ll survive.

It just struck me that I’ve taken the completely wrong approach to this whole situation and, in so doing, have deprived myself of some joy and peace of mind. I’ve chosen to let myself be miserable when it doesn’t do me one whit of good.

Despite a little mishap, I spent a day doing something that I’d choose over just about any other day. I’ve been dwelling on the crappy minute of the day when there were 1,439 other minutes of that day that were pretty darn good.

I think that gratitude and happiness has less to do with what is going on around us and more to do with what is in our hearts. That’s something we can actually control. So why do we so often choose to make ourselves miserable?

I don’t have the answer, so that’s pretty much a rhetorical question. As Thanksgiving approaches this year, though, I’m going to try to cuss less and be honestly grateful for all the good that surrounds me, despite my inability to recognize it and my unworthiness to receive it.  end mark

Paul Marchant