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Noth?n like the Feel?n of Ride?n a Fine Horse...,


It's already October, and a long dry summer is coming to an end with cool wind blowing over the powdered ground. On this day I get up at three a.m. and load up the outfit (truck) with my saddle, chinks, spurs and my trusty Carhartt jacket. I head out on the frosty morning down a dark, lonely road past Devil's Tower. I leave Hulett, population 429, to head to an even more remote section of Wyoming. I can hardly keep my eyes open as I drive over the endless dirt roads, listening to Neil Young. As the song sets the mood in the darkness I can almost feel a sense of nostalgia for what I'm doing and where I'm going. It seems in just a few years this day may just be a story and a memory because this part of the country is changing fast.

"I already know what to expect from the coming day. I just soak up the smell of the cold sage, the calls of the night birds, the dust clouds creating a rooster tail behind my outfit and, before I know it, this moment in time is gone. I head down the road over cattle guards, pass open-range cows staring at me, too cold to move, and head out to a little piece of dirt called Oshoto, Wyoming.

"Oshoto is miles of flat, grass-covered prairie as far as you can see with probably more bald eagles than people. I meet up with Stormy Burch and his sons Dallas and Austin about halfway, leave my outfit and saddle my horse. We load the trailer and head down the road to Stormy's brother's place. Stormy offers some coffee and a few jokes.

"We arrive at his brother Max's place, a big ranch with hundreds of thousands of acres of open plains and rough ridges to ride. Several crews are gathering at the same time, and it seems they move fast here-no sooner do the trucks stop than we're mounted and moving at a fast lope for what seems like miles. We ride hard, about fifteen of us riding lined up, breast-to-breast, horse hooves pounding the ground, coughs and puffs of frosty air are all you hear and see. Stormy jokes he is riding his 'fire breathin' dragon' since his horse is always a little jumpy and big puffs of steam rise up as he coughs out the chilly air.

"Stormy rides a beautiful bay-colored paint horse named Cork that has a little 'outlaw' in him. The horse came out of his brothers bucking horse string (his brother raises horses for rodeos, and many have gone to the national finals), and every now and them remembers he is still wild. I've never seen Cork come out of the trailer on all fours. When you try to unload him, he seems to fly out backwards and buck, kick and scream. Cork is always about half un-corked, acting as if he is always ready to buck you off for the littlest reason. A horse like that was strong and could really work all day. That's why Stormy likes him.

"As we ride, someone's tellin' a story of a guy who gets bucked off: 'He got thrown so hard, he kilt the sage where he hit!' We ride on to a ridge that overlooks a large valley, and split up in groups of two or three to gather the draws and check for cows. The sun hasn't risen above the horizon yet, and it seems to cast a strange blue light over the wet, frost-covered sage. As we ride, jackrabbits and prairie chickens jump out, but the horses don't bother too much now.

"I ride with Stormy and he shares stories of days gone by, and points out a few tipi rings. It's an exciting time of the year, everyone is in good spirits, the gathering is the year's work coming to an end, and there is always that barbecue at the end of the day.

"We gather the cows from the tall, sage-covered plains and point them in a general direction. After they decide to move, or take off at a run, we move on to find some more. The sun finally starts turning the sky a deep scarlet red as it cracks the horizon, and the prairie lights up in a way that's hard to relate. The sage goes from fading gray and green to a sharp, crisp orange, with intense long purple shadows. As we near the herd you can hear the whistles and calls of other riders and people you haven't seen for months or even a year. The friendly call-out across the open flats usually starts out with, 'So how are ya, Bob? What've ya been working on?'

"To me, it's a scene that has to be reaching its life's limits; the open ranges are too valuable to land developers and it's a slow creeping death for the West as the land gets developed. The end seems inevitable. For now, though, it's free, big, open and beautiful. I moved here for the same reason others do, and that's the very thing that will eventually make days like this one a thing of legend. I get a sense that even the people working have thought about that as well, and the stories always start with, 'Well, back when we used to?' Someday, that's all there will be left-just stories.

"We all sit on different hilltops, creating a channel for some of the other guys to drive the strays through so they could be gathered in a big group and moved. I love sitting on a mount, high atop a rocky outcropping on a ridge and listening to the wind whistle as it blows across the horse's mane. It's a great way to observe the whole country, the little dots gathering littler dots and horses calling across the expanse to each other. I see something running fast across a hill side, and I think it runs quite different than a deer or antelope, which becomes a common scene as everyone scours the sage for cows. Antelope and mule deer are always running all over, bouncing across the flats, but this was different, and I think I may just be delirious because it is early, but it looks like a big mountain lion.

"As the cows come through the gap that we made, the guys start filing in and eventually everyone is riding side by side pushing the herd towards the other groups gathered, That's when I hear Stormy's loud, excited voice going on about the lion he spooked up, and it becomes a topic for the next few miles.

"The cows start linin' out single file, and the crew starts taking their positions. There's the Boss ridin' point along with what seems to be his best hand, and the swing riders all take an even spacing along the column of cows. Not too close to push them too fast, not too far as to be useless and let a stray turn back. The drags ride up behind the herd in a tight formation, side by side, keeping the quitters in line and making lots of noise to keep 'em moving. Stormy cracks the bull-whip occasionally and the first few times they take off at a run. The cows stretch out and cover several miles, from the leaders to the drags. The herd snakes out and stretches as far as you can see and keep going. At one point, something spooks the bunch, and the herd takes off at a dead run-the lead cows run and the rest follow as about half the crew takes off in a leap to turn the lead cows. It looks like a swarm of bees sweeping down the hillside and snaking through the bottom of the coolies. I can see the guys in front with their slickers flying in the air behind them as they race off to try and turn the cows into one another to get them to stop. Every second the boss loses money as they sweat off the weight they gained all year. Finally the cows settle down and it would be smart to stay away from Max (the boss) for a while.

"The sun is high in the sky and it is great to feel the warmth of the sun, along with a steady cold and crisp wind, blowing across the tall golden grass. We ride along the Belle Fourche River, and the crystal-clear water reflects the sky and the wispy clouds along the cottonwoods and old oak trees. As my cheeks chap in the wind, I ride along, somewhat overloaded with information I'm trying to file away so I can paint this somehow.

"Just then, a large herd of wild horses comes running over the hill wanting to see what this was all about. About 150 of the group run up a ridge prancing around with their noses and tails in the air. Then, like a scared flock of birds, the entire herd just sweeps down the next hill out of sight. We ride most of the day toward our goal: the shipping pens.

"I wanted to create a painting that summed up what it was to be a cowboy-the freedom, the landscape, the teamwork of a bunch of hands, and the sheer vastness of the workplace. This was and is a little piece of my American frontier. A great horse, a great rig, and a beautiful day like this is all you need to create a feeling you'll never forget."

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This product was added to our catalog on Monday 02 March, 2009.

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