Our Adventures -

Cowboy Up

(Me and Barry standing in front of one of the cow camp cabins we called home for part of the summer.) 

We had been married just over a year when our cow camp adventures began. With the adventures came lessons I will never forget. One of the first was how to get on a horse "without wallerin' up there like an old, fat lady". (Barry's words) Another was learning to trust my horse to get us back to camp safely on a night that was "blacker than the inside of a cow". One of the first lessons that comes to mind, though, was the day I had to doctor a horned Hereford bull...

We spotted him on a small rise in the treeless, sage-covered pasture we were riding through. He was moving slowly across the landscape, favoring a hind leg. We rode over to get a look at what may be causing him to limp. Barry rapidly determined the bull was suffering from a case of foot rot, a.k.a. an infection in his foot. This is something that needs to be treated with medication, and it was our job to administer it.

The horses I rode that summer were the older, experienced horses, for the most part. They belonged to the ranchers we were working for, and had spent several summers as cow camp horses. They knew the drill, but not all of them were good rope horses. Barry, on the other hand, being the skilled horseman that he is, rode colts and saddle horses that needed a rider who knew what he was doing and showed no fear. The horses we rode that day became an issue, as the situation with the lame bull progressed.

Barry quickly came up with a plan on how to get the bull doctored using what little help I was going to be to him. My horse for the day was not competent with any task involving a rope, so using Barry's horse for the job was our only option. The plan went something like this:  After Barry roped the bull and dallied the rope around the saddle horn, he would dismount and I was to get on his horse to keep the rope tight, no matter which way the bull may travel. Barry would walk up to the bull and inject the medicine it needed to fight the infection. A simple plan, but I instantly thought of several ways it could go very wrong. The job had to be done, though, and I was the only help Barry had. It was time for me to "cowboy up"! I found some comfort in the fact that the bull seemed to be in enough pain that he was reluctant to move much at all.

After easily roping the leg with the infected foot, Barry dallied up and dismounted. I then climbed aboard and took a death grip on the dallied rope. Barry took the syringe and medicine from his saddlebag and drew a dose out of the bottle. He then repeated to me the importance of keeping the rope tight, if the bull suddenly became more mobile than he was letting on. I tried to ignore the silent alarms going off in my head.

As Barry approached the bull, he instructed me to back the horse up enough to put a little more pull on the rope. This would raise the bull's foot a bit further off the ground. I did as instructed, but did not get the intended response from the horse. Instead, the horse crouched to its stomach and stayed there. With a calm urgency in his voice, Barry instructed me to undally and gently urge the horse forward. The horse stood and calmly stepped forward. After a deep, calming breath, Barry instructed me to re-dally and try again. Needless to say, this greenhorn's heart was beating quite rapidly, and I had to dig deep for the courage to continue. I dallied up and again asked the horse for some back-up. Once more, I found myself in a very precarious situation. The saddle horse could sense my fear and had decided to take full advantage of it. He knew I didn't have it in me to make him do what I was asking of him. I undallied and stepped the horse forward, once again.

At this point, Barry formed a new plan. "Get off the horse," he said. As soon as I was safely off, he climbed aboard and rode a few yards from where I stood. After giving his horse a short "tune up", he rode over and asked me to hand him the rope, which was still attached to the bull at the other end. "You're going to have to doctor the bull," he said to me, as I handed him the rope. The relief I had felt when I got off his horse left me instantly and was replaced with a new wave of fear. "After I pull that foot up off the ground, shoot the medicine into the pus pocket between his toes." I had a hard time wrapping my head around what my husband had just told me to do. This was a two thousand pound animal with horns on its head and a sore foot . . . and it was now my job to give it a shot in the sore foot?!

I walked toward the back of the bull, who stood stoically, facing away from us at the end of the rope. As I found an untapped supply of courage, Barry offered some words of wisdom, which would also prove useful at times in our future cattle workings. This was an important part to the lesson at hand. "If the bull comes after you, run away from me. If you run towards me, the rope will go slack, and I can't stop him."

At that moment, I felt myself surrender to the situation. "No worries," I replied. "If I don't get tangled up in my spurs, I'll trip over a sagebrush and it will all be over anyway."

Barry asked his horse to apply some more pull on the rope, and it did so without hesitation. With syringe in hand, I crouched down behind the bull and reached out to administer the shot. My hand was shaking so badly, I had to use my other hand to steady it enough to hit my target. As I injected the medicine, the bull did not even flinch.

I retreated with a great sense of relief and pride in my accomplishment, only to have it squashed by the next words that came out of Barry's mouth. "Now you have to give him a shot in the butt," he said, in a very matter-of-fact way.

"What!? I have to do it again!?" I asked incredulously. He told me to work fast, as there was no reason to try the bull's patience any longer than needed. Only because the bull had not acknowledged the first shot did I have the courage to go in for a second round. With shaking hands, I quickly reloaded the syringe and approached the backside of the bull, again. At this point, things became very surreal to me, and I had an out-of-body experience. I was looking down at myself, in the situation I was in, and asking myself, "Am I really doing this? Am I really in the remote wilds of Wyoming giving injections to a two thousand pound animal, with nothing to keep it from attacking me but the rope pulled tight around one leg? No wonder my parents worry about me."

I then focused on the task at hand, stabbing the needle through the bull's tough hide and into his muscled butt. The bull turned its giant head and looked back at me. I emptied the syringe as quickly as possible, thinking all hell was about to break loose, and I was going to have to run for my life. Barry encouraged me to stay calm, feeling confident in his ability to keep the bull from doing me harm, if the situation digressed. The bull continued to stay calm, allowing me to finish the job without incident.

Neither Barry nor I recall how or who loosened the rope from around the bull's leg, but it must have been easily done, since we have no recollection of it. I do remember wasting no time in getting back on my horse, which had stayed ground-tied with a front row seat to the whole show. I found comfort in being up in the saddle again and was anxious to put some distance between me and the bull. As Barry recoiled his rope and returned it to its place on his saddle, he smiled and congratulated me on a job well done. To me, this had been a good test as to whether or not I had what it took to be a cowboy's wife. I was pleased and relieved that I had been able to be the help Barry needed to get the job done. I was also convinced that the good Lord's hand had been upon that unusually docile bull.

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