Friday, July 8, 2011

Hard and Fast

            I get regular phone calls from people who dream of the cowboy lifestyle and are looking for a job on a ranch.  There are precious few ranch jobs available, however, especially for the inexperienced.
            One fellow who called did have plenty of experience on Montana ranches - and on ranches in Texas as well.  He said he had just returned to Montana because he didn’t like the way they did things in Texas: always “hard and fast”.
            To a roper, ‘hard and fast’ means that his lariat is always tied off to the saddle horn.  I understand that most cowboys in the brush country of the Southwest use this style – they figure that if they catch it they want to keep it.
            In the northern states we mostly use the dally-roping style.  This term comes from the Spanish 'dar le vuelta' – give the turn – and refers taking a couple of wraps around your saddle horn after you have made a catch.
            But this fellow wasn’t talking about what you do with the end of your rope.  He said that’s how those folks in Texas work their cattle: hard and fast.  They seemed always to be in a hurry, and often caused wrecks among their livestock
            It’s an old adage that “the fastest way to work cattle is slowly”.  Especially when you have cows with small calves it pays to handle them gently.  (Read “Cutting Pairs” at .)
It’s easier on both the cow and the cowboy to open up a hole and then slowly apply pressure until the animal moves toward it.  Crowding any class of livestock causes them to try to escape the pressure in whichever direction seems the weakest: around you, through the fence, or into the brush.
            During the trail drive days of the late 1800s the cattle were eased along slowly so that they would graze, and the cowboys took pride in how much fat the cattle put on as they were moving from their home range to a railhead.
            There are times, of course, when a fellow has need of a fast and sure-footed horse, and those are the times that make good stories.  But the mark of a real stockhand is his ability to handle the cattle “slow and easy”.

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