Vermont Goes West


“Are you crazy!” I said to my friend.  “Do I look like Roy Rogers to you?”

“Well, I’m doing it,” she said, a small woman with a deceptively timid demeanor, who is actually very determined and courageous.  

Only one of us knows what we're doing.....

“No way, absolutely, not me,” I said with emphasis. 

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This whole discussion was unseemly anyway, I thought, for two women on the far, far side of fifty.  We had met fairly recently but soon discovered our mutual love of horses.  Becky had grown up in the country and had ridden as a child and then well into adulthood.  She had a history of horseback riding lessons and some years of experience riding western saddle.

I had been spawned in New York City and despite the fact that my four siblings were afraid of horses—the only reasonable way to feel if you have been brought up in an apartment in the city—I, who had never dabbled much in reasonable, was drawn to horses and loved them.  Until my early twenties, I had been on a horse just several times.  In those days, you could still rent a horse for an hour or two in Central Park—even a person like me, who stayed aloft purely by good luck.

And then, a few years later, I participated in a week long pony trek in the Scottish Highlands.  Even decades later, a wild gallop down a country lane with ancient elms on either side, their limbs arching overhead to form a canopy, is still a peak experience of my life.

The Scottish week was organized in a remarkably casual way.  We were introduced to our ponies and told to mount them.  There was an implication that we should stay on them, but this was never actually stated.   Not really knowing how to ride, I tumbled off the pony’s back when we climbed up a hill;  then I fell over its head when we progressed down the hill; and at fairly decent intervals, I slipped off the right side or the left side of the animal.  I just loved it.

And so, with our combined but unequal horseback riding experience, my friend and I decided to go west to a ranch and ride.  We had no preconceived notions except thrift as we scouted the web, but when we came across a ranch in Montana which relied on the principals of Buck Brannaman I cried out, “That’s it!”

Buck Brannaman is a latter day horse whisperer, one of a cadre of remarkable men—like Monty Roberts, Tom and Bill Dorrance—all of which I had read about, who have studied the horse, learned its language, and developed a communication based on respect for the animal, and body language, the horse’s and rider’s.

We studied the description of the ranch.  It was a working cattle ranch and offered, in addition to its riding clinics based on Brannaman’s horsemanship methods, trail rides and cattle wrangling.  It was this last thing which stopped me in my tracks.  Cattle wrangling?  What were they thinking?  I was a small woman, well past middle age, fearless with horses but adept only at falling off them.  A herd of cattle and me were surely like oil and water.  If they didn’t immediately stomp me to death, they would certainly ignore any of my efforts at handling (I couldn’t even bring myself to use the word ‘wrangling’) them.

“Not me!” I said, horrified.  I could see disaster looming in all kinds of ways.

“Well, I’m doing it,” said Becky decidedly.

And so we set off for the old west in a pocket of Montana, our priorities set and clear, with little prescience that we had gotten it completely wrong:  I would be wrangling cattle and Becky would not.

                                                                    Joan Jaffe      1/18                       

   To be continued......

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