When ramrod Gary Hallows invited me to participate in the annual spring roundup, I was flattered–and also terrified. Fact is, I’m a city boy who doesn’t know how to drive a horse, let alone cattle.
“What if I get thrown off?” I asked. “Or stepped on?”
“Don’t worry,” Gary assured me. “The horse won’t know you’re a dude unless you tell him.”
Gary fixed me up with what he insisted was the most docile horse in the cavvy, a 9-year-old sorrel by the name of Gomer Pile. Is my horse’s handle an allusion to tailpipe emissions or the painful medical condition that calls for Preparation H? I wondered.
Both, I soon found out. Gomer was forever pausing to relieve himself, then trotting joltingly forward to rejoin the formation. Such stop-and-go driving is said to waste fuel; however, I detected no indications that Gomer was running low on gas. Gomer had another annoying tendency: whenever he spotted a low-lying juniper branch, he headed straight for it.
Twice we had to stop to retrieve my hat, much to the disgust of my fellow drovers, who by now had taken to calling me John Wayne. Like me, they explained, Wayne never let go of the saddle horn—except for the scene in Rooster Cogburn in which he rides with the reins clenched between his teeth. Which is also something I occasionally do. So I tried emulating the riding style of my companions; i.e., reins held lightly in one hand, free arm dangling loosely to one side, like the mortally wounded Alan Ladd riding out of Jackson Hole.
But how to look cool when your horse is forever stopping to take a dump? I put the spurs to Gomer’s flanks; he lurched forward. Once again, my hat flew off.
“Pull it down hard like this,” instructed Jim, replacing my hat on my head with such force that the crown popped up. For the duration of the ride I resembled the Duke’s cantankerous sidekick, Walter “Stumpy” Brennan.
Presently I heard a metallic clink, looked down and saw that I had just dropped a ten-dollar Nikon lens cap. Did I stop to pick it up? I did not! By now I was a man on a mission, determined to stay in the saddle until each and every last dadgum dogie in the county had been rounded up.
Later that day, as the sun set redly over Canyonlands, we turned back to camp. Gomer, empty at last and eager to get back to his haystack, galloped to the front of the pack. “Yee-haw!” I shouted. I would have slapped my hat against my thigh, if only it wasn’t stuck fast to my head.