I thought I might share this email I wrote to a friend while in the Sandhills of Nebraska recently as it is a different experience than many of us are familiar with.
Having a great visit with B out here in the Sandhills of Ne. Weather has been very kind, slight breezes, blue sky, little rain. The mules and B look great, all in their element. B is well in to the beautiful part of his ride under the open sky.* The Sandhills are rich with grass though the cowboys say it's a "washy" grass and hard to make a horse fat on. I don't know, I wouldn't tell that to Brick and Cracker, they look fatter than when they left the farm and both are shiny.
B's not fat but he is shiny too and seems so happy with life under the sky and with the mules.
In some ways I think this kind of trip is conducive to resting the mind and finding a life in the present. An animal like mind with little concern other than daily survival, sleep, eat, walk, prepare to sleep... then repeat until arrival some point or destination in the future.
Now that he is off the fast moving roads of the East and out under this magnificent sky, I can honestly say I am jealous of him. We are already musing together about a massive tour of the West on horse and mule leaving from this area of Nebraska (some time in a Snookieless future, which I am certainly not wishing for but know is coming around a corner too soon.)
We watched saddle bronco riding last night. We were on the fence right next to where they released them from the gate. One jumped out of the high pen right next to us before the rider got on and almost landed on us. The headline that didn't happen. "Mule-man's 2000 plus mile journey comes to an abrupt end when bronco lands on him at county ranch rodeo."
Man though, some powerful beasts those horses were, cowboys sent a flying. Those horses were big and they were powerful and perhaps they were even furious about the flank strap. You never saw so many cowboys drinking so much beer in a hurry. Oh and I don't think I saw more than one rider who was over thirty. Maybe sometime in a cowboy's life around that age, he realizes that bones break rather easily and mend more slowly than he'd like. Jobs depend on these limbs best to try to avoid snapping them. Ranch work trumps rodeo.
But the mind set? How the hell does anyone even the young, make themselves get on one of those snorting, steroidal beasts when everything in their head is screaming " not a good idea"? That's a crazy kind of balls! It's respectable but perhaps not admirable... although you really can't help yourself.
Eyes staring straight ahead, mind in their own world, like in a trance, the cowboys climb one by one over the fence when their number is called. With determination they, straddle the animal, put their feet in the stirrups and secure their grip. “Let her rip!” The flag man lowers the flag he is holding over his head. The gate is drawn open by men in cowboy hats wearing concerns on their faces. The animal is released into the arena, twisting and snorting so loudly.
You hear not only the horse grunting with effort from where I sit but his muscles working. There is so much effort, fear, and exertion present. It even seems to enter the spectators bodies and fill the arena. The crowd is so still, so quiet, we are all mentally with the cowboy until the moment he is flung off, or jumps aboard the pick up horse and his ride is over. When the cowboy hits the dirt, the crowd is quiet until he gets back to his feet, then they cheer. If he makes a successful ride and dismounts from the back of the pick up horse, the crowd roars. The cowboy goes back to drinking beer and the horse is caught by the out riders. The flank strap is released and the bronc is lead back to the corral holding the other broncs who have already been unsaddled. It's a crazy fast 30 seconds or so, which takes much longer to process when it is all over.
Glad saddle bronc riding has not so far caught B's interest. Maybe B, no-longer a young buck, he no longer requires that kind of an adrenaline rush. Maybe he got it out of his system in his steeplechasing days. Plus I know he's not into the philosophy behind it. There's ways to gentle horses these days without riding out the bucks, far better and far safer methods that last and make for better horses that seek out a partnership with their riders. That's what we are looking for after all, a good horse or mule that will go the extra mile for you not because he is forced into it but because he is willing to.
This all was going on at the Hyannis, Nebraska ranch rodeo while we were there. I did not know what a “ranch rodeo” was until I attended this one. It's a rodeo for cowboys from the various ranches to show off and test their ranching skills against ranch hands from other ranches. The ranches enter as teams and compete against each other. All events show off their talents for roping, working cattle and using their horses.
The cowboy must use the same horse for every event accept the bronc riding where the broncos are supplied by an outfitter. All the events show off practical skills except maybe the bronc riding, which takes the necessary skill of being able to sit a buck to an unnecessary extreme, however thrilling. A more practical skill to show these days would be the ability to gentle a horse, garnering its trust and respect in a round pen(for more on round penning go to my old post, consideringanimals.com/saddle-under-the-stars/the-round-pen-dance) but this simply would not be in the same fast moving vain of the ranch rodeo.
Hope all is well with you guys and on the home front. I leave B tomorrow afternoon and start back for Rapid City then fly out from there early Tuesday morning. Lots of love from me and from B too.
Note: B has also posted on this ranch rodeo to read his post go to riverearth.com/ranch-rodeo-saturday-night
* For those of you who are new to my blog, B (Bernie) is my husband. He set out from our farm in Western, NC early in April of this year and has been riding a mule, packing one and sleeping under the stars. He is on his way to Hailey, Idaho. I had just visited with him in the Sandhills of Nebraska when I wrote this post. We had not seen each other in four months. To learn more about Bernie Harberts and his adventures, including the current one go to riverearth.com.
We can’t quite know our future. People try. They plan everything. Well, it sure seems like a lot of people try to plan for a lot of things. We are caught by surprises less and less often these days. For example, most people, when on holiday, know where they’ll sleep each night. This sometimes wisely prevents a certain amount of panic and frustration as one looks for a place to lay their head for the night as darkness closes in around them.
But what this constant control over our lives through planning everything out ahead of time does is prevent us from the growth of serendipity, stumbling in to opportunities and experiences we could not have planned if we had wanted to because we had simply not a priori ever known they existed or were possible.
I believe that by planning a little less, increasing our faith that things will work out, and finding our pluck, our lives will become greatly enriched. The more something is controlled the less you learn about yourself or the world around you.
My husband Bernie (B) has lived this philosophy for much of his life as he has traveled solo around the world in a small boat, crossed countries by bike and mule wagon and traipsed 3 times across this country on mule backs, almost never knowing his plan for the night ahead of time. I am newer to this philosophy, though I have traveled some distance on mules with Bernie spending the night wherever we were loosing the light and am eager to do much more.
Bernie has now been gone for 4 months from our farm. Four months ago when he was set to leave from our gate with mules Brick and Cracker was the last time I had seen him until 2 days ago. We are now reunited in the Sand Hills of Nebraska catching up with each other and resting the mules for a quick week before B continues on to Hailey, Idaho and I return a rented car to Rapid City and fly back home to my dog Snookie.
B has now spent 115 nights on the road this trip and has not had one night in which he had any trouble finding a place for him and the mules to stay.
Mostly it has been the generosity of American families that have provided his quarters. B has met so many nice people and families from all the 8 states he already crossed through on this trip. He has seen the different places and ways they all live, an experience he would have never had if he’d pre-planned his trip.
Our rendezvous in the Sand Hills has been the same. We agreed to meet up in the Sand Hills. I’d fly in to Rapid City and rent a car and come and find B and the mules in a little town called Hyannis, about a 4 hour drive from Rapid City. Other than knowing we’d give each other a massive hug upon our eyes meeting again, little was possible to envision how or where we’d spend our week together with the mules.
I brought only a small knapsack with me with a very thin sleeping bag folded up in it, a change of underwear, sweatshirt, a pair of shorts, a small stick of deodorant, my toothbrush plus a rain jacket. That was it because the ticket I purchased said I was only allowed one personal item 12” x 9” x 17”.
If I really thought about it though, for one week, what else would I really need anyway?
We could find a campground or someone’s yard to pitch the tent. We could stay in a little motel if we found a place close by to keep the mules. Or, possibly, if we were really lucky, find a cabin or bunk house on a nearby ranch where we could be with the mules for the week. The important thing for me was spending the week catching up with B and the mules.
What ended up lining up through serendipity was way beyond my wildest dreams, a charming cabin built from rail road ties on a lake with a picnic table out under a cotton wood tree. The cabin looks across a reedy lake at the town of Hyannis and among the first buildings you see looking toward the town is the Hebbert’s sale barn where the mules have found quarters in corral pens meant for Charolais bulls. They spend their days out eating the lush grass around the sale barn on their pickets then they go in to the corral pen, drink water at night and sleep safely inside the secure high panels of the corral.
As for us I found the first day of my vacation fulfilling an old dream of being a cowboy working cattle on big land under a wide open sky. It so happened that the couple B rented the cabin from are horse trainers and cattle ranchers. B and I were invited to help Seth Adam (cabin owner) and his brother Doug move and doctor cattle for the day on their family’s ranch. This day was a highlight I shall never forget, an unplanned gift of having faith in the power of serendipity.