Left Turn at the Fall Gather

By Erin Stadelman

Cattle Drive on the Dallas Divide, Colorado. © Roger Young

Cattle Drive on the Dallas Divide, Colorado. © Roger Young

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

The annual Fall Gather had come upon the ranch, and I was invited to assist the ranch cowboys in gathering the herd and bringing them toward the hay meadows for the winter. I was very excited and apprehensive at the same time. I hadn’t ridden a horse on the ranch for over two years. I was afraid that I wouldn’t remember the “lay of the land” or the directions to the hay meadow—but I went anyway.

Morning dawned; we were off to gather up some cows and calves that really were quite happy to be exactly where they were. After riding for two hours without seeing a single cow, I was given a task—“Head west from the tree line along the creek bottom. If you find anything, push it to the road, and we will meet on the other side of the dark timber.” I was comfortable… I was confident… I was ready to move cows.

I rode Big Red west along the creek bottom (as directed) and saw no cattle for almost an hour. We found ourselves at the end of the creek, and by God, we found cattle. Not the herd I was sent to find, just two cows and two calves. I was deflated. I had found four—well four is four, and all four needed to be moved.

Next to the creek, there was a small excavator that had been used and abandoned to be picked up another day. The cattle had laid down in the shade of the excavator and were quietly chewing their cud. I planned to rouse them from their resting place, push them along the creek and up to the road. Easy, peasy!! We approached and moved toward the excavator. The cattle rose up and seemed to be understanding the plan. I was wrong. These cattle had absolutely no understanding of anything.

The first calf (we will call him, “Wendal”) found his feet and ran to the left around the excavator. The second calf (we will call her, “Wanda”) quickly followed to the left. Both mother cows gathered themselves up and exited (yes, you are correct) “stage left.” OK, I bumped Big Red into a long trot and around the excavator we went, to the left. I thought they would get above the machine, hit the creek, and Bingo, Bongo, head to the road—job done. NOPE !!

The calves continued around the excavator to the LEFT, with their mothers in tow, at a high rate of speed, for a total of two full circles around the machine. These damn cows only know LEFT turns! It was like following the pace car at the Indy 500: LEFT turn—LEFT turn—LEFT turn.

Unloading horses to help with fall roundup. ©Kathryn R. Burke.

Unloading horses to help with fall roundup. ©Kathryn R. Burke.

I gave chase at a higher rate of speed, hoping to persuade Wendal and Wanda to run off away from the machine to escape me. NOPE !! I pulled Big Red to a full stop, wheeled him around 180 degrees, and waited. Wendal and Wanda made the final LEFT around turn four and came “face to face” with Big Red.

Unfortunately, the 200 laps had not been completed, so Wanda took the lead and, in a move equal to Andretti himself, slipped to the inside position and passed Big Red on the (you’ve got it) LEFT. That was it—no more Mrs. Nice Guy. I bumped Red into high gear and went RIGHT, around the machine to cut them off.

With Red in full gallop, I came screaming toward Wanda and Wendal (literally, I was yelling “not nice words” at them), and they turned away. Of course, they turned to the LEFT to do so.

I finally had them going toward the creek and facing the road. I felt accomplished. I took my directions from the cowboy and completed my task. Just then, out from the dark timber, came My Cowboy directly in front of the “herd” I had worked so hard for. Wanda and Wendal were spooked, made a LEFT turn, and ran back for the safety of the damn excavator.

I didn’t cry—I said some more of my favorite “not nice” words—but I didn’t cry. I had spent enough time on the Indy course for one day. I dismounted Big Red, removed my cowgirl hat, and stood deflated while the Cowboy got them back.

My mother is left-handed, and she is brilliant and kind. My oldest son is left-handed, and he is intelligent and courageous. I’m sure there are many folks out there that are left-handed. They are probably pleasant and shrewd, as well.

These left-handed cattle are as stupid and idiotic as they come. I have never been a fan of Car Racing. I don’t really understand the excitement of racing at death-defying speeds around an oval track for repeated laps making only left turns. After this gather, I will never watch Car Racing, and I no longer wish to make any LEFT turns, ever.