Back at the ranch, we’d go out and move a couple hundred head of cattle from sunup to sundown, from one end of the ranch to the other, likely traversin twenty people-miles to get ‘em all sorted and moved where they needed to be. Movin cattle from one part of the ranch to the other was slow, steady and purposeful, much like myself. Recently, I got loaded into the rollin white horse-box, and I went out and I worked cattle again.
Only this time, we moved ten head. One mile. For three hours.
We moved ten cows that was already properly tagged, branded, castrated, penned AND gentled, back and forth, and then back again, from one end of one tiny pen to the other, for a County Island cow game that’s called team sortin. The most important part of team sortin as far as I can tell is what the people call shootin the breeze, and also trash talkin. The second most important part of it’s called braggin rights. The third most important part may be beer, or maybe it’s the second most important part. I ain’t even sure the cows is a necessary part of it, to tell the truth. Us horses are, ‘cause our saddles give folks a place to sit rather than standin on their own legs while we take a break from pointless cow punchin. Without us, since there IS cattle involved after all, they’d never know which cow to chase or when.
I know how far we worked the cattle for the team sortin game and for how long on account of a horse knows such things from the moment he’d foaled, and also on account of the lady inside the tiny telephone that lives in the bucket gal’s back pocket said so, too. I ain’t never met her, but I’m told she’s got an App. I still don’t know why a person needs to consult with a tiny lady or her tiny Appaloosa inside a tiny telephone to tell ‘em how far and how long they rode a horse, but I guess horses ain’t meant to know some things. How the App got so tiny and inside the telephone to start with, I couldn’t begin to guess. I’ve heard stranger stuff since I came to the County Island. People need their tiny telephones with their tinier Apps to tell ‘em things, and that’s all there is to it. Plus Apps got their App ways.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell the story. But the whole, entire tale of it is movin cow tails, as it usually is. People like to account for things a lot, so they account for the cows by puttin enormous numbers on ‘em in order to tell ‘em apart, rather than tellin ‘em apart the more sensible way, which is to say, big brindle cow, little brindle cow, black cow, spotted cow, other spotted cow, red cow, other-other spotted cow, and so forth. And then they can hardly see the enormous numbers with their tiny li’l people-eyes, anyhow. And no matter how many times we sort the same damned cows in the same damned number order, the people still often get the numbers wrong. The cattle know which numbers they’re wearin, and they can count as well as horses can. But cows don’t care. They ain’t gonna help, when they know as well as us horses do that there ain’t no point to cow games.
The trick to team sortin is first, not to fear the cattle. A lotta County Island horses ain’t never worked a cow a day in their lives before they get brought to cow games day. Some spook real bad. Some got owners who’re so afraid they might spook real bad that they tie ‘em to the fence to let ‘em think about cows all day before they’ll even place a foot in the stirrup. Some horses appear to stand quietly, but you can tell they’re quakin in their horseshoes at the sight and smell of them ten bad bovines, such as the real sweet western mare who was raised up wrongly to be an english-ridin hunter horse. Despite her rough start, she came around right quick back to her roots when she realized a cow’s got to move the second a horse tells it to move. I likely’ve said it before, but the way the order of the world goes is cows got to take orders from horses, and horses got to take orders from people. I don’t make the rules.
We came in second place, by the rules. We got the most cows, me and the real good Quarter Horse geldin I got partnered up with. Another team got the most cows, too, but also in the least time, and so they got to claim the braggin rights and do the trash talkin. Ya got to go fast to play cow games by the people-rules. On the ranch, speed generally sets cattle into a commotion, which leads to stampedin, which leads to more work and a much longer day, which makes the people, horses, ranch dogs and cattle all grumpier, which ain’t never gonna win nobody nothin.
But as the great cowboy Mr. Ricky Bobby once said, if ya ain’t first, you’re last. I’m entirely comfortable comin in last at cow catchin games. I still got it. I just ain’t got to go fast to prove it to nobody.