Judge a cowboy by his horse and his dog

The first full week of September, woke at first light to the sound of horse trailers coming down the lane. They are shipping out cattle. The cowboys are gathering up at the corrals. Towing their horse trailers into the yard holding a "who can be the loudest" contest. Horse trailers sound like loose bolts rattling around in coffee cans, lots of bolts, in very large cans. At the sound of the first one you may as well get up. Others will follow and then the cattle trucks will pull into the yard. You don't want anyone thinking you sleep past dawn on a workday.

The trailers get parked up near the scale by the loading chute. The horses are unloaded. Saddles cinched up, stirrups checked, bits adjusted and hats tightened. The cowboy hats are interesting. There are stiff, low crowned, black felts with wide brims. Soft-sided, high crown felts with rolled tipped brims. Straw hats with decorations stuck in the sweatband. Some felt hats have more Xs for the beaver mark than others. Each hat is a very personal piece of the cowboy uniform, like a coat of arms or a family crest. It is as important as Scottish plaid on a kilt. The hat's shape, color and texture are all part of a cowboy's very persona.

Cowboys have distinct uniforms. When all the crew is gathered at the loading chute the real cowboy, even if forced to be on foot, looks different from the cattle trucker, the cattle buyer or the cattle owner. The cowboy uniform is unique to each cowboy from the type of boot, the brand of jean, the color of shirt, type of belt buckle and the style of hat he or she wears. All very personal choices.

A point of pride for a cowboy is the disposition of his horse. A horse reflects its training, the ability of the cowboy. Everyone recognizes the importance of, and appreciates a well-trained horse. Another subtle compliment to the cowboy is the dog. True cow dogs heel and help move cattle.

Some cowboys have just dog pets that lay in the shade of the vehicles, guarding truck and trailer until the owner's shows up. Some dogs are quiet and still.

Some are nervous and busy, but are still able to go for the ride in the pick-up to another man's pasture because they have earned the right by skill and behavior. The dog can reflect the owner.

Cattle raising is a pretty straightforward business. The lifestyle it offers can be pretty dramatic and interesting, if you know what you are looking at and understand its importance.

Honest cowboys know things can get complicated pretty fast if they don't pay attention. Mistakes can be made and insults taken when one does not respect or recognize the importance of working honestly with others. What is done is as important as how it is done.

A Texas wannabe cowboy hasn't been straightforward nor respectful of individual choices and freedoms. He does not work well with others, and hasn't paid attention to details. Not an effective cowboy. Real cowboys should be asking this wannabe to hang up his hat, get off his lame horse, and call in his ineffective dogs. This is not someone you would want to ride with your outfit.

n Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.


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