A Roping We Have Gone…

The title is a bit of a misnomer. (You might want to get a cup of coffee, this is a bit longer than usual.)

Hudson and I were invited to watch Bella’s roping practice.  Hudson’s been bored, I was thrilled, and he would LOVE going.

I felt some high-school type anxiety: would I fit in (wearing a helmet), ride well enough, do something stupid because I didn’t know any better?  All these people have known Hudson longer than I have.  Would they find me worthy enough to be Hudson’s new owner?  Bella texted me: I didn’t need to bring anything, she had all the tack I’d need in her trailer. A very kind way of saying lose the dressage saddle. Bless you, Bella.

I also had a smidge of loading apprehension: I haven’t loaded a horse into a trailer for years. Never in a slant load.  I’ve always owned horses (with the exception of Mr. Chips) who viewed trailers as the secret club house of all chain saw wielding serial killers.

I leaned on Bella. I handed Hudson to her to load. I could have saved myself the anxiety.

Hudson didn’t walk into the trailer: he jumped into it with glee.  He would have run over Bella to GET INSIDE NOW, if he didn’t know what that would get him. She threw the lead rope over his jigging back and leapt back.  Hudson put his weight on his haunches and launched himself into the trailer, leaping in with both front feet like a hunter taking off for a fence, pulling both rear feet up neatly behind him.

“I see he’s awful to load”, I say.  I’m holding Dinero, who is up next.  He’s standing placidly in front of the open back.

“Terrible”, she says, shoving Hudson’s happy butt sideways so she can close the divider.  Hudson buries his head hungrily in the alfalfa.  I have the distinct impression that given the choice, he’d live in the trailer.

Bella steps aside in the doorway.  “Just throw the lead over Dinero, will you?”  The minute the rope hits Dinero’s back he hoofs himself up past Bella and into the trailer with no guidance.  Bella hooks him up, checks latches and we close to go.

I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.  Two horses loaded, tied and ready to roll in under 60 seconds.  They like it in there.  I need to take Loading 101 over again.

It was a gorgeous drive.  Nothing like living in the middle of California wine country to make you appreciate how good your life is:

We arrive, parking  near a couple of other rigs.  It’s a gigantic working cattle ranch that used to put on full rodeos.  The arena is amazing.  Half the size of a football field, Announcers box, beautiful construction: a release chute between the two “boxes” for header and heeler, and chute extensions, with cattle stops, that create a lane all along the outside of one long side.  The cattle stops allow the steers to push forward, and when one gets through, a flap comes down so they can’t back out, and another steer can’t climb on top of them and panic.  The steers stay very calm.  There’s a stripping chute at the far end of the arena, where the riders can go strip their ropes off the steers, from horseback.  (I didn’t get a clear idea of how this works?)  The stripping chute loads into the lane, creating a continuous circular flow of cattle.

The release chute comes with a remote control.  For some reason, this strikes me as hilarious.  I think of all the “clicker” arguing we do in our house.  It’s slightly more complicated than a TV: one set of buttons opens the back of the release chute to allow the steer in, another set of buttons opens the front of the chute to release the steer into the area.

On the way over, I asked Bella how I could help.  She gave me two tasks: hold the hazing line (??) and walk a steer back to the stripping chute if I wanted. That one I think I understood.  Loose steer in the arena, point it toward the exit.  Right?  How hard can that be?  (Stay tuned.)

We tie the horses to the trailer and start to tack up.  I see the extra roping saddle on the top rack in the trailer’s tack room.  It’s over my head.  I don’t even pretend I can lift it.

Lord.  Bella must feel like she’s babysitting. (She is.)

She hauls the saddle down, hands me the pad, I put the pad on Hudson, and she flings the saddle up over her head and on his back.  Roping saddles are not like other western saddles.  They’re the Monster Trucks of Western Saddle World.

Tacking up: I fumbled with the rear girth and breast collar, was slightly baffled by an unusual roller buckle, and put his bridle on.  The bridle is one I’ve seen her use at home. A regular snaffle, a little thinner, and closely wrapped in thin, flat copper wire.  I’m assuming the copper helped keep his mouth moist, and the slight texture gave the snaffle a bit more Oomph if needed.

It was needed.

Ropers use curb bits for roping.  Snaffles are for home work.  I was grateful for something a little more attention grabbing than my usual fat, ergonomic, 3 jointed lozenge snaffle.

I was SUCH a teenager. (I was in Rome, and wanted to be as Roman as possible.)  I bridled Hudson, then noticed all the other horses had been led into the arena in halters and tied: bridles hanging off the saddle horns.  Crap.  I did it wrong already!

I rush to remove the bridle, halter him, and tie him up in the arena with his bridle on his saddle.  (There must be a reason, right?)

Yup.  The reason would be because these people were actually working, getting things in place, getting gloves and ropes and powder, moving the cattle up the lane into position. Whereas Jane did nothing.  And didn’t need to tie her horse up. And simply looked stupid.

A max preparation point that I couldn’t see was reached, and everyone began to bridle their horses.  Time to warm up. I could easily see 40 horses warming up at the same time. We had five.  Yee haw.  Lotta room to move around.

I knew Hudson was competitive.  I’d ridden with Bella before, and Hudson would try to outdo everything Dinero did.  What I didn’t know was how single-minded he could be. He was out to win the whole warm up thing.  WIN.  He evil-eyed Dinero, pining his ears, and fought in the politest of ways with me to let him come off the rail to the inside, so he could pass everyone.

What’s a dressage princess to do?  I make sure I won’t be in anyone’s way, and we go to the inside, zipping around and around like a psycho merry-go-round.  Let me add: he was a psycho merry-go-round horse that was round, through, and on the bit like I’ve never felt on any horse ever.  He had Grand Prix lift, impulsion and a nice soft swinging back.  I could go all the way to Grand Prix as long as they put a steer in the dressage arena.

Despite that I wore a helmet in the middle of a sport in which to do so screams you can’t ride worth beans, everyone was friendly and gave me the benefit of the doubt.  I don’t think this group cared.

I offered to do anything helpful, including get off, tie up H, and shove the steers through the chute.  (“Um, Jane, we don’t get off our horses to work cattle.”)  Bella shook her head and pointed me back to the baby tasks.  This is good.  Jane likes baby tasks.

Baby task #1: Hold the hazing line.  (I had to ask what that meant and how to do it. Real hard.  Sit on your horse near the box, and yell at the steer if they try to run your way.)  As long as I was holding the hazing line, I also held ropes for Dane, who was switching between heading and heeling.  Different ropes for each (??).  It was the perfect job for a total bonehead: combination coat rack and savage steer-staring.  I was very happy.

Dane is Hudson’s farrier, and we like each other.  We did run into a slight problem: when anyone hollered “DANE” across the football field, both Dane and I would turn and yell “What?”  Dane, Jane.  I thought it was hard to tell who the heck was being called.  Right. Girl who is staring meanly at steers as opposed to guy who can work cattle.  I’m sure I was being called.

Baby task #2: if a loose steer is in the arena, Bella said I could walk it back to the stripping chute if I wanted.  The steers know where to go.  I didn’t think this would come up, since no one was missing their throws.

The remote button for the chute got pushed accidentally, and a steer wandered out the opened chute, with no team chasing it.  Everyone was busy doing other things.  So Jane thinks she’ll be helpful and walk the steer back.

It turns out that walking the steer back is really “we call it walking the steer back”.  I pointed Hudson at the steer and he locked on like a weapon with crosshairs.  He wanted that cow.  Bad.  I was holding him back, thinking I was supposed to literally walk the steer back.  Dane yelled out, “Aw, let him have some fun!”

I thought…Why not? And cued him to canter.

The answer to “why not” would be: because we don’t know how to work cattle Jane, you idiot. You ride stupid circles.

BIG arena.  We’re at a dead gallop, Hudson’s ears are pinned and his lips are curled.  The steer, no fool, is heading straight for the chute.  At the last possible second, the steer ducks out to the left.  Guess what happens?

So do we.

I’ve never done a roll-back in my life.  Hudson is locked and loaded on this cow and we are going to nail him.  I’m so shocked that I’m just going with the program.  He’s dogging the cow, and we are spinning, rolling and galloping.  It never occurs to me to grab the horn.  And since I’m just going with him, I’ve kept my eyes on the steer: which turns out to be key to keeping your balance and not falling off.

I find this out when I try to haul him off the steer.  I look down at Hudson, whose every cell is on the steer.  He can’t believe I asked him to quit, because I don’t think anyone ever has.  His ears flick wildly back and forth: What?  Stop?  Are you NUTS?! No way.

He goes with “She didn’t mean it”, and follows the cow. At this point I’m following his neck: big mistake.  It puts me behind the movement and I slip toward his right shoulder. Luckily I catch it and don’t fall off. I manage to straighten up, as Hudson pushes the steer into the chute.  Dane has ridden up to be back up if necessary.

“{Swear word}! You can ride!”, he says. This makes me ridiculously happy.  As if, by managing to stay on, I’d just won the Tevis, or a big eventing cross-country course.   “Why are you wasting that on english?”

“Now, throw your arm up in the air”, he directs.

“Really?” I say.  The steer is already in.

“Yeah” he says.  “Just like, throw it up, you know?”

I do.  He nearly falls off his horse laughing.

I make him explain as we ride the long trek back to the roping chute.  He says “It’s a team penning thing.  All ropers hate team penners, and vice versa. Nah, I didn’t mean to be hard on ya.  Just kidding.”

Um.  That was clear.  I have no idea what he’s talking about.  I’m  not sure if I want him to explain how exactly he insulted me and then took it back.  But none of it matters.  It was good-natured ribbing, and I had a BLAST.

“Uh” says Bella, when we get back. “did I tell you Hudson did cutting (futurities) as a two-year old?  It’s the first thing he learned.  Looks like he didn’t forget any of it.”

I may go over to the dark side.  I LOVED the experience.  Friendly people who want to help me, no one wanted me to die, fun ribbing, and a total rush of horse wants cow.

Cutting, huh…?

I love this horse.

You think you got a nice station wagon in the driveway, and one day you walk out and find it’s a personal jet.

It’s working for me.

23 thoughts on “A Roping We Have Gone…

  1. So….
    My SO is trying to read a serious mystery novel, and I’m here across the room laughing so hard there are tears in my eyes ( and I now have to go to the little girls room, before I wet my pants)!
    I had the same reaction a month or so, when Kate at A Year with Horses sent us all over her for the Mr. Chips adventures. I had no idea that ALL of your writing was so much FUN!
    I guess I’ll have to link to you from my blog, so I can keep up…
    Thanks for the [totally beyond control] chuckle!

  2. wow that sounded like a BLAST! never been on a horse that wanted cow lol, my TBs always practically jumped out of their skins with panic whenever they saw on on a trail! I will def have to try that!

  3. I’m soooo far behind, but – YAHOO! I’m so glad you had fun! And I totally agree that roping saddles are terrible – my first horse came with a roping saddle, and I traded that sucker in on a synthetic with a quickness.

  4. Oh man, I have ALWAYS wanted to try cutting, especially after I got my appendix 20 years ago and discovered the Pied Piper effect a rider has on neighborhood dogs when riding on the road! Some dogs snarl and want to eat your boots (still famous for landing a good one w/my extra long crop–which tells you how close it was, on a big, hungry boxer), and some just want to be included in the adventure of the day. I think it only took a time or two of yelling, ‘GO HOME!!!’ and facing my horse toward the dogs and advancing on them, to convince my little horse that chasing dogs was the coolest sport around! When they’re trying to get to you, or follow you, and before you convince them not to, dogs will feint back and forth, somewhat (to a non-cow-person) like a cow! Damn, that was fun! It also convinced me that my horse would have loved cutting. It was the only time he got to be the chaser, instead of the chase-ee! Can’t wait to indroduce my Saddlebred to this sport– I’ve seen him move cows by himself in the pasture, so it ought to be easy enough—lol!

  5. So cool! As a fellow wannabe dressage princess, the last few months I’ve toyed with the idea of taking up some sort of western sport when I get my next horse someday (current horse: 17hh TB who is not the most athletic horse ever). It sounds like so much fun! And this post was a total advertisement for that idea 🙂

  6. Hmmmm. Jane can be corrupted? Excellent.

    (wheedling tone): Jane, I wonder if you would be a dear and just come to one teeny-weenie little endurance event to help with some baby tasks? Bring Hudson, he might enjoy a day away from the arena and all those circles…..

      1. Jane NEEDS to try endurance: any saddle is fine. Any bridle is fine. Any human attire is fine. We encourage helmets but don’t require them. We encourage new riders, too.

        We are nice, and we are friendly, and often there is good food.

        C’mon, Jane. You know you want to join us here on the dark side.

        1. I do! I’m equipped too. I have a bridle, halter, and a saddle. I have a horse that likes to…oh. I was going to say “likes trails”, which is very true, but he may feel the teeniest of needs to OUT RUN every horse in front of him? I’m guessing this would be good if he were an actual endurance horse?

          1. You probably don’t want to OUTRUN everybody at your first event. But we can help you set a comfortable pace.

            C’mon Jane. If you finish the course, you get a PRIZE. Prizes are nice. You don’t have to finish first. You get a PRIZE. I will bring you chocolate…..

    1. Total. Blast.
      I’m leaving the actual roping to actual ropers. H is supposed to be retired, it would be bad for his body, and while I enjoyed (read: fell head over heels in love with) running after a steer, I have no desire to combine the above with a swinging rope with a loop big enough to rope myself and my horse. I could easily kill us both. (But I might sneak in some practice on Bella’s cow-headed hay bales, see if I can rope a “steer” from 3 feet away while standing still.)

      Is your site up yet? Sorry, but it’s been driving me nuts. I need my Halt Near X fix.

      Garotcha. I’m tellin ya, we gotta start it up here.

      1. I hear you — people at my barn have been practicing roping the past couple days. I’ve watched enough to convince myself that I would be deadly at 3′ — to myself. Probably rope my own neck then trip over the fake calf.

        So Hudson will get a *cutting* saddle, then? He might like to go back to his first career now that he’s retired and all…. 🙂

        And yes, as you’ve seen, the blog is mostly back & I’m working on the rest of it.

  7. Oh yea, there is nothing like riding a horse that get’s after those cows. I’m as far as you can get from a dressage princess and still be on a horse, but you’re right – if you watch the cow, you can stay on!

    It’s way, way too fun. Of course you’ll need to learn how to throw a saddle (there is a trick to it I learned. I’ve got the upper body strength of Rex from toy story), but other than that you are good to go!

    Can’t wait for your next trip on that rocket!

    1. shhhhh…don’t tell anyone but I’m not actually a dressage princess. I fall firmly in the wanna-be category.

      I forget to put on makeup, and I have actual dirt on my clothing and skin. Occasionally I ride in jeans (gasp!), bareback, with a halter, and yes, have been known to say To Heck With Circles, I’m ripping up some footing!

      I had some fun on the rocket today: he was bombing along in this huge trot, trying very hard not to eye the wild turkey herd too closely. If I could just get them into the arena…

    1. I so get it now. I’ve always scratched my head at (pre-apology in here) xc eventing, and a few other things I couldn’t imagine having the desire to do. Mea Culpa: The Rush.

      I just finished reading “The Wave”, and couldn’t help but identify and understand why big wave surfers risked so much just for…the chance…to catch a monster wave.

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