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Irons in the fire: Just let go

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 22 September 2017

It was a little after midnight after the last day of the county fair. I was worn out and ready for the week to be done. A couple of my fellow fair board members and I were trying to wrap up some cleanup projects and prepare for a barrel racing the next morning.

As we were adjusting the pallet forks on a loader so we could move some panels, I moved my hand up a couple of inches too high at just the wrong moment. As the fork smacked down on the front of the loader, a sickening sound other than the familiar steel-on-steel clank squashed through the midnight air.

I jerked my hand back, shaking it in rhythm with the little dance I was performing to hopefully take my mind off of the intense pain concentrated in the tip of the middle finger of my right hand.

It took me a second or two to figure out why my partners were backpedaling like seventh graders caught in a lie about their homework. Every shake of my hand sent a spray of blood in every direction. My fingertip had split like a squished grape on both sides.

Somehow, I avoided a broken bone. However, several shots, a thousand-dollar bill and four long emergency room hours later, my wife asked the obvious question, “Why didn’t you just let go?”

Several days later, we were moving cows on the forest allotment from one unit to another. We’d ridden 2 or 3 miles from the trailers and were just starting to gather a bunch of cows scattered across a south-facing hillside. I was near the top of the ridge and had just started to climb to the top to pick up a couple of cows I could see on the skyline.

The skies were overcast, and it was still unusually cool for an August morning. The horse I was riding still seemed to have a pretty high level of spit and vinegar in his attitude, in spite of the hills and the distance we’d already covered. This particular steed is far from my favorite, but he can really cover some country.

I figured this would be a good day to take advantage of the high-energy-to-low-intelligence ratio of Old Sorrely.

The dry, dusty heat of a late high-desert summer seems to bring out the worst in a variety of critters. The bald-faced black hornets that hang their nests on the underside of low-hanging sagebrush branches are at the head of the line of miserable, cantankerous creatures.

On this particular morning, I’d already spotted a couple of nests and had made it a point to try to steer clear of them. I noticed one of the nasty, villainous little buggers buzzing around my horse’s head. I took my hat off and attempted to swipe it away. Just as I did so, Sorrely busted in two.

He whirled downhill and piled me like a sack of rotten spuds in two jumps. Now, I’ve had horses get a little wound up when confronted with the fury of a hornets’ nest, but this idiot horse took crazy to a whole new level.

He continued bucking and bawling for a quarter-mile down to the bottom of the draw until he had bucked my saddle off. He then turned back up the hill and disappeared over the ridge line.

The good souls riding with me gathered up my saddle, and I played like a sheepherder as we gathered the cattle from the bottom of the draw. An hour or so later, we found my horse waiting at the top of the ridge.

He was still pretty goosey, and I’m not ashamed to admit I only rode him for a few more minutes before I decided to be content to spend the rest of the day on foot as I led the crazy cayuse until I got back to the trailer.

Later that day, my neighbor, who had gathered up the pieces of my saddle and helped me round up the horse, grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eye and admonished me, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to get rid of that horse.

“There are too many good ones around to keep ahold of one like that,” he sternly told me.

As I watched the annual end-of-summer tradition of ranch kids in rural counties from northern California to central Florida go through the heart-suffocating experience of loading their respective project steers, hogs and lambs onto the trucks as they head to slaughter, I again gained a new perspective and deeper understanding of what it takes to let go.

It’s not always easy to know just when the right time to let go is. Sometimes you have to hang on. Sometimes, though, you need to let go before steel hits steel or the rank pony rolls over the top of you in a pile of rocks. Sometimes it feels like letting go will rip your heart out. But sometimes letting go is the only right thing to do.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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