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Rojo

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FrogAbroad

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It was while I was recovering from a broken leg I had the bright idea of riding in

a cattle roundup.

 

A few weeks earlier I was installing a light fixture for my mother-in-law and

literally fell victim to a cheap wooden Walmart stepladder. My foot slipped

forward on the bottom rung and I fell backwards into the kitchen floor. I thought

it was a bad sprain, and I limped around the rest of the afternoon and evening,

but the next morning there was more swelling and unabated pain, so I went to the

ER to have it checked.

 

"Tibial plateau fracture" was the diagnosis and I was in surgery before lunch. A

six-day hospital stay and $22,000 later I was wheelchaired through TSA and three

airports to get back home with an immobilized, fully extended left leg.

 

As soon as the local traumatologist would permit I began physical therapy. It sort

of reminded me of my freshman year at TCU on Elmer Brown's student trainer staff,

except this time I was the guy hurting when my leg was flexed more than five

degrees.

 

And that's when I decided to sign on for the cattle drive.  

 

It became a combination goal and reward, a measurable desired outcome: able to

spend all day in the saddle by mid-March. I worked and sweated and hurt and came

to appreciate Oxycodone almost as much as morphine. I was driven to be saddle-

ready, and whenever the pain was at its worst I focused on riding again.

 

A week before I was to fly to Texas the traumatologist said "you're good to go."

My physical therapist said I wasn't.  But MD trumps RPT so I flew to Midland-

Odessa and drove to Presidio in a rented car.

 

The next morning I was introduced to Rojo, a dark bay gelding, my mount for the

roundup. The first day we gathered the longhorn cattle from their winter pasture,

from the rocky hillsides and patches of prickly pear and honey mesquites. There

were some veteran cow-critters with horns an impressive five feet tip-to-tip, some

younger bulls and heifers, and of course a few unbranded calves.  We herded them

all to a holding pen where we ate supper and I crawled into a hot roll on the

ground for the night.

 

The following day we moved the herd to the branding pens at the main ranch

house. Youngsters were vaccinated, tagged and branded, and when they were released

and went bawling back to mama we noted who belonged to whom. I mugged and branded

longhorn calves, the leg was holding up fine.

 

On the third day we moved the cattle to their summer pasture. There was a caliche

road running through the ranch and the old stock--they'd been through this a few

times before--stuck to the road. But the younger animals, feeling adventurous I

guess, they tended to wander away from the main herd. I'd begun the morning riding

drag on Rojo, the place with the most dust and the worst view. So when I saw two

or three yearlings head off to the right I turned Rojo off the road, kicked him in

the sides a couple of times to convince him, yes, we ARE going through the brush

again, and took off in pursuit.

 

We caught and turned them back in toward the herd, but to keep them from running

off again Rojo and I now rode flank, through the brush and occasional dry creek

beds.

 

Now Rojo's background was mainly as a trail horse, and he didn't especially like

where I took him. I had to keep him away from the road where he wanted to be with

his cayuse friends.  Eventually, though, the reality sunk into his little walnut

brain that I was serous and we actually made a pretty good couple of hands.

 

I mentioned the dry creek beds. Those were the things Rojo hated most. He'd slide

on his hocks down one bank, then pick up speed to climb up the other. We crossed

three, Rojo straining and sweating but doing an altogether good job of it. And

then we came to the fourth creek bed.

 

I was relaxed in the saddle, admiring the view and counting my blessings when we

came to the next creek bed, and I felt Rojo's muscles tighten under me. In one brief moment

of cowhand clairvoyance I knew what was going to happen next. I knew Rojo was not

going to slide down one side and scramble up the other. Rojo was going to jump

that creek bed.

 

In an instant we were airborne, Rojo's hindquarters launching us up and forward,

his forelegs landing us gracefully, safely on the other side.  I had no time to

think before it was all over. I reckon I surprised Rojo as well as myself when I

hollered, "Yeehaw, Rojo, let's do that again!"

 

It was the shortest flight I've ever taken. Also one of the best, the one I'll

remember for always. I looked around, and evidently no one had seen the feat. It

was our secret, Rojo's and mine, a secret shared between a pretty good cow pony

and an old cowboy with a busted leg.

 


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4 Comments


FA,

 

I am glad you're here to share your stories with us. I thoroughly enjoy reading them. Reminds me of a Cowboy poet I once had the pleasure of listening to out in the small West Texas town of Marathon.

 

A group of 4 of us went camping out at Big Bend over New Years 99-00. We joked and said that if Y2K was going to be the end of the world we'd rather be out in the middle of nowhere than in the city.

 

We were heading back on Jan 1, 2000 and the only place open for lunch was a little cafe run by a Cowboy Poet and his wife. We had no idea what to expect. The four of us moseyed on into the cafe, 5 days worth of Big Bend coating our bodies, and sat down. We were the only guys in the place and were treated like royalty. Was definitely a great way to come back to civilization. 

 

Anyway, your stories always take me back to that hole in the wall cafe and remind me of one of the best camping trips I've been on. 

 

Thank you. 

 

 

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On 5/28/2016 at 1:12 AM, frogtwang said:

FA,

 

I am glad you're here to share your stories with us. I thoroughly enjoy reading them. Reminds me of a Cowboy poet I once had the pleasure of listening to out in the small West Texas town of Marathon.

 

A group of 4 of us went camping out at Big Bend over New Years 99-00. We joked and said that if Y2K was going to be the end of the world we'd rather be out in the middle of nowhere than in the city.

 

We were heading back on Jan 1, 2000 and the only place open for lunch was a little cafe run by a Cowboy Poet and his wife. We had no idea what to expect. The four of us moseyed on into the cafe, 5 days worth of Big Bend coating our bodies, and sat down. We were the only guys in the place and were treated like royalty. Was definitely a great way to come back to civilization. 

 

Anyway, your stories always take me back to that hole in the wall cafe and remind me of one of the best camping trips I've been on. 

 

Thank you. 

 

 

 

Thank you for your kind words.  I've been to Marathon, stayed at the Gage but ate at some little cafe nearby, possibly the same place.  My goal in life is to live in the Alpine-Marathon area. I love the country and the people there. By the way, my cattle drive adventures were on the Big Bend Ranch State Park. They do (or used to do) two roundups a year, March and September, I believe. If you're an old hand or a first-timer they will make a place for you and see that your experience is top-notch. I can highly recommend it. (By the way, do you and your friends ride motorcycles on these trips?  If so, there's another question or two I'll have for you.)

I don't write enough nor well enough to get paid for it, so your enjoyment is my pay. And if my words can bring back good memories of good times with good friends, then I consider myself very well-paid, indeed.

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I remember the Gage, our host mentioned it several times.

 

We weren't on motorcycles, we piled into an 1975 VW Microbus that was named "Urge". 

 

That part of West Texas is gorgeous. I look forward to the day I'm able to return to Big Bend country again. 

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