In today’s guest post, David Neason from Through the Eyes of a Cowboy explains how modern-day cowboy earns a living – and it doesn’t sound easy.
My name is David Neason. I am a modern day, working cowboy. I make my living on a horse all day, every day, doing whatever cow work needs to be done and sometimes it makes for some really wild stories. You can find some of these stories at Through the Eyes of a Cowboy. There are no blazing six guns or train robbers as Hollywood would portray it. It’s much more exciting than that. I am not a rodeo cowboy or a ranch hand. I work for whoever hires me from day to day to care for cattle, which may include doctoring yearlings, dragging calves to the branding fire, catching stray bulls, sorting dry cows (cows without calves) out from wet cows (cows with calves), or as simple as moving herds to better grass.
Nothing gives me more of a thrill than to see a cowboy quietly maneuver his best cowhorse through a herd of 400 mama cows, never break out of a walk and push a dry cow from somewhere deep in the middle to the edge of the herd. Once at the edge, the cowboy will drop his rein hand, signaling the horse that he is through directing the upcoming dance. It will be up to the horse to finish this job. There is no yelling, bull whip or wild, frantic waving of the cowboy’s arms. It is simply a culmination of training, instinct and years of experience that allow the horse to match the cow move-for-move as she tries to return to the herd. The cowboy will sit still, stay out of his horse’s way and wait for the cow to yield to the horse and leave the herd to join the other cuts. He will repeat this over and over, until all the dry cattle have been cut out of the herd. This is cowboying.
I am rejuvenated every spring during branding season. It is a time of camaraderie, when the crew comes together for the “works.” Most of us will have been working alone or in small groups during the fall and winter, and it is great to see all my buddies, but the work is what is cool. There is nothing more artistic than watching the first man ride into a nervous wad of calves in the branding pen, quietly set up a heel shot, take the shot without stirring everything up, turn his horse and ride confidently away from the herd at a walk, as the calf comes sliding out of the bunch on the end of his rope by two back feet. This is cowboying.
Often during branding season, we are away from home for a week or more at a time. Rarely are there any accommodations. We live in our teepees and sleep in our bedrolls. There are no showers or bathrooms, and every meal is cooked on the ground in Dutch ovens. I enjoy living like this in camp. There is purpose in what we are doing. It’s funny, because my wife and son love to go “camping.” They get excited about traveling to some park and pitching a tent with 10,000 other people, all at arm’s length away from you. There is usually a bathroom and shower within walking distance and even electricity. Then they just hang out at the tent with little, if any, itinerary. They are just “relaxing” and waiting for the next meal. I go crazy. This is not camping and far from roughing it, in my opinion. There are more people closer to me than when I am at my own house.
I often hear and read that it’s an attitude that makes a cowboy, but it takes much more than attitude. It requires self-sufficiency because we often work alone and when finding ourselves in a tough spot, have to rely on the trust we have built with our horse, the good Lord above and ourselves to get out of that situation. To quote Tim O’Byrne in Cowboys & Buckaroos, “Cowboying is about observation. An acute awareness of surroundings, occurrences and the subtle relationship between living creatures, water, plants and weather are fundamental to being a cowboy. The land, the cattle and the horses all have unique lessons to teach the willing student. Those who observe nothing experience nothing. Those who observe everything experience it all.” The reason cowboying is so difficult to learn is because it is an art not a science. A + B = C does not explain how to handle cows from the back of a horse. There are no exact answers to the problems that arise every day. Cowboying is a complex topic that covers decades and took generations to evolve. The best cowboys I know will tell you there is always something you can learn.
Frequently, when starting work in the morning, as we trot out while the sky is still dark, regardless the weather and sometimes in spite of it, someone will muse, “I wonder what the poor folks are doing today?” It is followed by knowing grins and one or two chuckles because there are few people who make less money than a working cowboy. The word “poor” has nothing at all to do with money, but instead with your circumstances and outlook on life. It may be raining straight down on us, but we aren’t stuck in traffic or in an office. We are doing exactly what we love and we feel like the richest people on earth!
David Neason, Neason Ranches, Through the Eyes of a Cowboy