by Laura Crum
The other day a friend was visiting and I pointed out a silk tree in my garden. “I grew that tree from a seed that was taken from a tree at the Oakdale Rodeo Grounds,” I said. “Back when I used to rope there a lot.”
The friend, who rides but does not rope, looked at me. “Don’t you miss it?” she said.
“Oh, the roping, the competition, hanging out with the cowboys, the whole thing. Don’t you miss it?”
My immediate impulse was to say no, but instead I gave the question some thought. Because no, I don’t miss it, in the sense of wanting to do it again. But I do think of that period of my life (my thirties) fondly, and I certainly am glad that I had that experience.
I’ve written before on this blog of the distaste I eventually acquired for competition, and the love I re-acquired for quietly cruising down the trail. At the present moment no horse event draws me as much as gentle, non-competitive trail riding, either solo, or with my son, or with a friend. But certainly there were many years when I just lived to go team roping—I practiced several days a week and competed every weekend. I was never more than a just-competent low level roper, but I hung out with some good ropers. I was actually better at training horses to be rope horses than I was at winning ropings. But it was all great fun.
I think back to some of the big ropings I went to, with hundreds of competitors and their talented (and not) horses milling about. In those days I was thrilled just to be there, to be part of the whole thing. I always tried to do my best and I was tickled if I placed, but I think the greatest thrill for me came from simply participating in this grand western scene.
And now? Well, I won’t belabor the various negative aspects of competition that eventually drove me away. I’ve talked about this before on the blog. I will say that though I don’t wish to compete, I still retain a fondness for the grand western scene, and I’ve chosen to take my young son up to our local practice roping arena twice a week ever since he was six months old. At first I just watched, with my baby in a backpack, when he was two till five I rode around with him in front of me in the saddle, five to seven he rode his pony, first on the leadline, then independently, and seven to ten he’s been riding his retired rope horse, Henry, gathering cattle and bringing them up the alley, occasionally chasing a slow steer down the arena.
“Are you trying to raise him up to be a team roper?” the same friend asks.
Well, no. But I am trying to give him the part of the experience that I loved and still enjoy—that being together with a group of “cowboys”, all mounted on their shiny cowhorses, ready to go do a job of work. And yes, I’ve worked on commercial cattle ranches with real ranch cowboys and know the difference between them and team ropers, but it’s the best way I can think of to convey what, to me, is really a poetic image. Its an image that always resonated for me, and I want to give it to my son.
So, no, I don’t “miss” being a roper, and no, I don’t so much want my son to become one. I do want him to feel the thrill of the group gathered to work cattle on all their pretty horses—the comraderie and the love of horses and the western spirit that underlies it all. Are these two things in conflict? I’m not sure.
Have any of you ever experienced this sort of paradox? Loving some elements of a horse activity and not others, and not sure how to reconcile them? Any solutions that have worked for you?
PS-I wrote this piece a week ago, and my son and I watched the cutting class at the County Fair yesterday—the same class that I won twenty-one years ago on Gunner. It was a little odd for me to sit there watching it, explaining the rules of cutting for my kid. I was able to accurately pick the horse which scored the highest, so I haven’t totally lost my feel for it.
At the end of the class my son said he’d like to try cutting and could Henry do it? I explained that Henry was a rope horse, not a cutter, and we would have to teach him how to hold a cow.
“Gunner is a cutter,” my son said. “Maybe I could use him.”
“Gunner is thirty years old,” I said. “He’s really too old and stiff to go back to work.”
And I reflected that I had neither the time nor the skill any more to train a cutter, and I certainly didn’t have the money to buy one, or a place to put another horse.
So, another potential dilemma. If my son retains his interest in cutting, shall I try to find a way to plunge back into it? I’m sure I could borrow a horse if I combed the ground thoroughly enough. But just the thought of the hauling, the endless cattle needed for practice, the entry fees, the constant politicking among the trainers and just interacting with all those trainers and their oh-so-wealthy non-pros again makes me cringe. I do not relish the thought of dealing with that world.
At the same time, watching people lope their horses around the warm up pen and walk into the herd brought back a rush of memories. I could almost see myself out there in that same pen on Gunner, all those years ago, and the buckle we won is still in my closet. If my son really wants to do this, surely I should support him?
I’ve got to admit, I really hope my son stays happy with trail riding. But perhaps I’ve sowed the seeds of my own demise by introducing him to these other (competitive) aspects of horsemanship—roping and cutting—all in the interests of sharing the “grand western scene” with him—that world I loved so well and pursued so long. How should I handle his new interest? Any thoughts?