Why Watch a Western When You Live in One?

I am not a big fan of westerns. There’s no sense of wonder for me, since, well, I live in a western. I grew up on a ranch. I know all about branding, calving, trail rides, lead cows, stubborn mules, and greenhorns. When a “city-fide” relative turned up one day to help brand in sandals, as a know-it-all nine year old, I had to clamp my mouth shut. Instead of commenting, or sticking around to smell the scent of burning hair and bawling calves, I took my cousins down to the stock tank for a swim. On the way back, we were scared “near to death” when we discovered the bull was out. (Sam was as nice a bull as you could ever meet, and fairly gentle, but little girls are not rational about things like that. We high-tailed it for home!)

My first horse was an Arabian with an attitude problem similar to a problem I also have: he didn’t really care to work. If he had a choice between being saddled and ridden over the hill or standing out in the pasture under a tree swatting flies with his tail, he’d choose the pasture every time. And if I dared to try and make him behave (my heart in my throat, I might add… I never have been good with “asserting dominant behavior,” which horses need), well, if he couldn’t take a chunk out of my blue jeans, he’d give bucking me off in the nearest cactus patch a real shot. To this day, I don’t know if me only falling off once was a testament to my unusual balancing skills or to the strength of the white-knuckle grip I had on the saddle horn.

Then there was the time Dad was gone for the day and a cow needed help calving. Mom, an aunt and I, as well as a local vet, were all in the cattle chute attempting to “pull the calf.” None of us had fun and it took the cow several weeks to recover from the trauma.

You might assume I have a bad attitude about ranching. At the risk of sounding like a ranch hand, that ain’t true. There is nothing cuter than the first steps of a baby calf, all furry and bright-eyed on spindly, wobbly legs; or more beautiful than a summer sunset across a piece of pasture, the light fading through the windmill; and even though it’s hard work, there’s something nice about going out at 6am on a winter morning, putting out hay for appreciative cows; and I really don’t think anything, not the majesty of ancient cathedrals or the finest fashions in Paris, can compare with the sheer heart-stopping grace of watching a horse frolic across the prairie.

Outsiders don’t understand what it is like to live on the prairie. They don’t have the first clue about ranching. Heck, the last western Dad and I watched, I don’t know what we enjoyed more, the stupidity of the plot or pointing out one inaccuracy after another. Outsiders think we are hicks clinging to our guns and religion. Well, you’d have to be nuts to run a ranch without a gun, since firing in the air is good for sorting out all kinds of messes. And many of the cowboys I know are fine, good-natured, godly men. Religion hasn’t done them any harm so what’s wrong with it in general? If you live as close to nature as most of us do, you have a real respect for any Force that can control the elements.

If you’ve lived in the country, you know what I’m talking about.  ♥

Monthly print editorial, posted on blog.

3 thoughts on “Why Watch a Western When You Live in One?

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  1. I have issues with westerns… and I also grew up on a farm. 🙂 I always thought that Louis L'Amour's books were the best for portraying real cowboys. Kind hearted, unwilling to kill, wonderful to the ladies and a big respect for nature.

    I have one question about your post: was that calf breech? We had a couple of those… It took about 6 of us each time to get the poor things out. 😛 😦 The worst part is when the mom cows end up in such rough shape from the experience. As if giving birth wasn't enough!

    Had to laugh about your horse. 🙂 My sister had an Arabian/QH cross and he was a stinker. Lydia got along quite well with him but he disliked men. In fact, he would go to great lengths to make their lives miserable. For instance, our farrier was trimming Zayn's hooves and Zayne moved his foot just slightly so he was standing on the farrier's toe. 😛

  2. Wonderful post! I have never been a rancher, alas, but I have been fortunate enough too meet some people who were via my riding lessons. They are often indeed lovely people.

    As for the portrayal of such people as hicks, I think it's just a sort of “rural” version of the condescension shown toward inner city working class people.

    Fantastic post as ever!

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