Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Day's Wages: A Cowgirl's Story

I should probably change my background.  But who's ready to let go of Christmas?

I need to shower and run to the store.  Sadly, I only found three good coupon deals for me this week, and that is not worth the trip.  However, Popcorn has once again shared all of her pencils to never be returned, and Studmuffin asked me to buy him some new socks.

So to the store I will go.

However, as my mom was telling me about cleaning out some junk I was reminded of a situation I faced as a teenager.  And I realized it was a blog that I MUST write.  So, instead of showering, or doing housework, I brewed another cup of coffee and here I sit to write...

I will not disclose who my employer was at this particular time, as I hate to disparage his name.  However, those who know me will know who this is and they will chuckle and shake their head.

So, here's the background:  In my teenage years I was "forced" by my dad to help a certain gentleman with his cattle.  Whether it be gathering cattle, working cattle, whatever.  If he needed help and called to ask for me, I was  pretty much required to say "yes."  I would like to share a sampling of why I did not LIKE to help him.

Example One:

"Andi, we will need to get these cattle gathered on Saturday.  I will be by at 7:00 to pick you up.  Have your horse saddled and ready to go."

At 9am he would finally show.  Only, his horse trailer was empty.  "Where's your horse?"

"Oh, I haven't caught him yet.  I need you to help me."

In all honesty, I found the less I tried to truly communicate with this individual, or understand his thought process, the better things went.  So, I simply loaded my now irritable horse who has been saddled and tied to the corral for two hours, and climbed in the pickup.

We pulled up to his corrals and there is no horse in the corral.  "Well, they won't come in.  I need you to bring them in."  I was dismayed to realize he meant he wanted me to herd his HORSES  in on my horse.  I had never done such a thing in my life!  We always went to the end of the lane where our corrals go to the pasture, shook a feed bucket and yelled, "HEY HORSES!"  And the horses would come running...

So, I tightened my cinch (it's not nice to have the cinch tight until just before you ride.  Especially if you have no idea when your "employer" will be by to pick you up for the day's work) and climbed on Appy.  I am not sure why I was riding Appy that day, but I do remember it was him.  I usually preferred Blue.  Anyway, I climb on Appy and trotted out to the pasture where I see the horses.  I slowed down as I approached and made a kissing sound with my lips and called softly to them.  Imagine my surprise when a horse who I'd never met, but later learned was named "Bugsy" suddenly laid his ears back, and charged my horse full speed ahead, teeth bared!  I don't know if I reined Appy out of the way or if he dodged out of sheer instinct.  I do remember that in the midst of our dodge that a pair of hooves came flying at my head.  And Bugsy ran away.

You will be impressed to know that I did not immediately concede defeat.  Instead, I focused on Star and my employers ancient horse Smokey, the horses that I knew and tried to herd them to the corrals.  Star had no interest in going where I was directing, and he led me on a merry chase over the river and through the woods...Well, except there was no river or woods, simply a pasture with junk in it.  Smokey merely looked at me as if I were crazy and resumed grazing.

As I was unsuccessfully herding Star and cursing under my breath at the idiocy of some people who don't feed their horses in the corral so they'll learn to come, and the sheer stupidity of myself for agreeing, yet again, to help this person I heard a thundering sound.

Only it was a sunny day.

And it was not thunder.  It was Bugsy.  Coming at me full speed ahead.  Again.  At the sight of that big red horse with the white blaze down his face with ears back, teeth bared, Appy started throwing his head and snorting and stomping.  And facing him.

I was not happy with this reaction.

So I gave Appy a good kick in the sides and a firm click in my cheek and we headed to the corrals.

With Bugsy hot on our heels...or hooves as it were.  He and Star both ran behind me all the way to the corrals where my enterprising employer stood at the gate and promptly shut it behind all of us.  I can still remember that shaky feeling in my chest as I cut into a smaller corral and tried to swing the gate behind me, but of COURSE the gates didn't swing easily and that stupid Bugsy was pitching and kicking the entire time like a crazed thing.  I jumped down and yelled at him to get away as I shut the gate, then took Appy OUTSIDE of the corral to be tied up.

Then I fear I may have voiced some displeasure to my employer over the mental stability of his mounts.

"Yeah, well Bugsy has been a little crazy every since he got mauled by those dogs in town."


Well, I don't remember the details of how he caught and saddled Star with the loony Bugsy in the corral with him, but I do remember it was nearly dinner time (which is noon on the farm) when we were unloading to gather cattle.

FYI:  We were gathering cattle so he could pull the calves that were ready to wean off their mamas.

It was hot.  I was irritable.  And hungry.  Never a good combination.

We unloaded our mounts at the pasture.  The plan was to gather the cattle into a corral in the pasture, then my employer would haul them out by stock trailer.  Sounded like a good plan.  It would have been an even BETTER plan if a feed wagon would have been there to help things along.  Instead we had the two of us and my Grandad who was probably there to keep the peace.  (Grandad was ALWAYS in a pickup.  I know he COULD ride a horse.  He just chose to drive a pickup like a maniac through the pastures herding cattle much the same as I did on a horse.  Only scarier.)

I realize not all of my readers are country folk.  So please allow me to explain how this scenario would have played out if Dad were in charge.  He would have been planning to bring in the cows to sort off calves.  Even though it was summer with plenty of food to eat, he would have been feeding them a smackeral or two of  feed daily with the feed pickup so that they would come to him.  The system is to pull into the pasture honking the horn on your feed wagon, which is an old beat up pickup with the regular bed removed an replaced with a flat bed where you put a bin of feed and a hay fork on back for winter time.  The feed bin has a chute that you lower down and a lever inside the pickup that you flip and drive forward as the "cake" pours out so you can scatter it.  (Before we had a caker, Dad would stand on the back of the pickup with bags of feed while one of us kids would "drive" as he poured it out.  He did the same thing when we still used small square bales.  He stood on top of the stack of bales and scattered out the bale to the cattle while he trusted his offspring who's feet may or may not reach the pedals to drive him.  Did I ever tell you Dad is brave?  Or crazy?)

Sorry, I veered there for a minute.  Back to topic:  Dad would have been feeding the cattle even if it wasn't necessary in anticipation of gathering them.  He also would have instructed his hired hand (that would be me) to ride through them several times early in the morning so they would be used to the sight of a horse and not go berserk.

Well, my employer of that day had done none of that.  He simply planned for the two of us to show up on our horses, herd the cattle to a gate they'd probably never gone through, into a  corral they'd never been fed in, and all of this was to be done starting hours later than it should have.

Well, I'm sure you can imagine all did not go as we would have liked.  The cattle bolted at the sight of the horse.  Once they all reached the far corner of the pasture, we decided to drive them along the fence to the corral.  My employer at drag, me along side as the wing, and Grandad there for moral support. 

And to scare the dickens out of me.

You see, drag is an easy job.  You simply stay behind the cattle and keep them moving forward, which if they're scared of your horse is pretty easy.  The job on the wing is to make sure any cattle who might like to deviate from the course chosen are quickly stopped and herded back with the others....

The problem was that when one would try to break off, I'd have at least one other trying to break free at the same time.  So I would try to head off one, and Granddad would chase the other, full speed ahead, and make me nervous as a cat that I was going to collide with him in our highly disorganized state of chaos.

Not to mention Appy had an unfortunate habit of deciding to pitch in the middle of pursuing cattle at least one time every time.  It was maddening, as he would kick up his back hooves in the middle of chasing a calf and it would just tick you off...He also liked to jump over things instead of go AROUND them.  I hated that tendency.  Especially considering he may not jump the next bit of sage brush, but instead cut sharply around it, making it difficult to maintain a dignified seat if one weren't on guard.  Again, I have no idea why I'd chosen to take Appy that particular day.  I'm getting annoyed with him just thinking about it.

After what seemed like hours we finally got some but certainly nowhere near all of the cattle in the corral.  But not until Granddad had a blowout on his pickup from running over a piece of junk in the pasture in mad pursuit of a cow...

My employer began to yell from his position atop Star "Close the gate!  Close the gate!"  I quickly dismounted and went to grab the panel that was the "gate" and drag it closed.  I say drag, not swing because on old corrals that are found in pastures, the gate is seldom still on a hinge.  Instead it is held up by baling wire and it drags in the dirt all the way closed.  One must physically lift the panel (an old wooden one in this case) and carry it closed.  I was closing the gate and the cattle are running circles in the pen as I'm dragging and shooing at them each time one darts toward me to escape.  Just as I was trying to wire the gate shut with the ever helpful baling wire hanging on another panel, a large charolais cow came charging at me.  I waved my arms and yelled at her to "Get outta here!"

She completely disregarded my gesture of dominance.  Instead she chose to smash into the gate, knocking it completely down and all of the cattle went running out as my employer, finally dismounted and now tying his mount up begins to yell "Stop them!  Stop them!"   Only there were many, MANY more adjectives that were thrown in that are not suitable for blogging...

I didn't get a single one stopped.   And somehow it was all my fault.  By now it was blistering hot.  The cattle were hot and mad.  Appy was staring at me with ears pricked forward as if I should be better than this.  My employer was yelling.  I was mad and trying not to cry.  Granddad was yelling at him because he was yelling at me, and it was just a lovely day.


When all was said and done, we loaded our horses BACK in the trailer because Granddad insisted we were not going to accomplish anything good that day and we went home.  I was not at all secretly relieved.  I think my relief was quite apparent to anyone who had an ounce of observation skills.

And he failed to pay me...

I was madder than an old wet hen... But I didn't say anything.  I just took my horse to the corral and unsaddled him...

You would think that would be the end, wouldn't you?  It's not.  I have more to tell you.  But that will be tomorrow's post.


Sarah Kamolz said...

Haha! Good story! But wow that would be extremely irritating! But knowing who it was, I'm not surprised.

Paula said...

Even more irritating was when he would ride drag and push them up a fence that hadn't been fixed since who knows when. Nothing like crossing barbed wire to gather your strays on one side and avoiding Grandad's pick up and possible death on the other side. He didn't yell at me more than a couple of times because at some point I couldn't take it. I yelled back, and once I turned my horse and left...then got yelled at by Grandad. Oh and the fact that there might have been an option for pay for you was huge. I don't remember him ever paying for anything I did when I worked for him.

Dawn said...

Umm, no pay here either. Some employer...hmpff.. And no improvement with age either. And I don't know if any strangers were as entertained or as annoyed by this story as we are.... But its a great one which must be told and someone may benefit.

Crazy Sister said...

This story made me madder and madder as it went on. What a USELESS guy! Love your descriptions of Appy, he sounds like a character!

Crazy Sister said...

By the way, my uncle used to feed his cattle by himself, climbing from the driver's seat to the flat bed and back in again. I don't think he bothered to stop the vehicle while he was doing this. And that's how he broke his pelvis. And, of course, kept right on doing the same thing.

gianna said...

aaah! You're leaving me hanging!
THERE's MORE? How can there be more?

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