I caught a flight to Salt Lake City last Sunday morning, a few hours away from La Barge, Wyoming where I would be working on a ranch with a cowboy named Chet. Chet's wife, Billy, picked me up from the airport. We then drove about an hour to a neighboring town where we met Chet and his friend Cody. I was quickly immersed into the Cowboy lifestyle.
About 15 minutes into our drive, Billy explained, "Sean, we're going to throw you right into it - we're going to a roping today!"
I had no idea what that meant, but I was excited nonetheless. It's not everyday your reality changes so drastically. Only several hours earlier I had woken up before sunrise in a Los Angeles suburb, now I found myself on route to a 'roping' in rural Wyoming.
Learning the Ropes
The roping was organized in teams of three. Each goes out into the enclosed area with about 10 calves. The judge announces one of the calves numbers and the team of three cowboys has to successfully rope the front and back legs of the assigned calf in the shortest time possible. (I won't tell you how I did).
Afterwards we made our way to the ranch where Chet and Billy currently work. The ranch is located in a a beautiful setting - a valley surrounded on both sides by steep rock faced mountains. A green river flows from the nearby mountains through the ranch splitting at one point to create a small island.
For some reason I forgot that it would be cold this time of year in Wyoming, though the thin layer of snow simply added to the picturesque scene. I can imagine the landscape must be equally impressive with the change of season.
It is calving season at the ranch - for the next couple of months everyday they are new arrivals. Chet's main priority is to make sure everything is going smoothly, that there are no complications with the birth, the calf is feeding properly, and each one must be tagged.
It's an around the clock job, Chet would wake up a couple times a night to go check on the heifers (female cows that have yet to give birth for the first time, usually around 2 years old) to make sure that everything was okay.
I didn't realize this until my last night there, so I was able spend my nights sleeping soundly.
Riding Into The Sunset
My horse for the week was named "Hiccup." He was very gentle, though in his old days he has become a bit lazy and somewhat stubborn. He was the boss, he walked as fast as he wanted, when he wanted, where he wanted... he managed to comply just enough so you couldn't really get mad at him.
One thing that I have always wanted to do is gallop on a horse. Good ol' Hiccup helped me out in small bursts.
I didn't have much control of where we were going, but we were going, and going there fast. The power and sheer strength of horses is something that has always amazed me.
Unfortunately, Chet never says "yeehaw" or "giddy-up," not even "heyah" when he wants his horse to go faster. I guess I wasn't all that surprised. These sayings have been so ingrained through pop culture that it's hard not to whip them out when you are in such a setting.
I found myself giving ol' Hiccup a good John Wayne style "heyah" when I wanted to gallop and certain no one was in ear shot.
I had a great week as Cowboy. Chet and Billy were a lot of fun and I was able to do many activities I had never done before: go to a roping, visit Wyoming, gallop on a horse, tag calves, sort bulls, ride a tractor to feed cows...
During the summer months I was told it's a different experience. For the most part the cows will graze on government owned undeveloped land in their natural environment and a Cowboy will ride out to meet them and check on them daily.
I hope someday I will be able to return.