Even though I live on the plains surrounded by folks who own horses, rarely do I get to see cowboys in action. Thus, I was delighted today to look out my front door and witness a sight right out of the old west – four cowboys streaking across the pasture in pursuit of a large herd of cattle. Then, ever so slowly, they moved the animals across the open pasture and into corrals. Once in a while, one horseman would break away to keep a calf from heading in the wrong direction and gently nudge it back into formation. Suddenly, just as they got most of the animals corralled, I saw two steers break free and make a wild dash for freedom – in opposite directions. It took a full twenty minutes for the horses at full stretch and a pickup at top speed to bring the animals back to the enclosure.
From years of herding cattle myself (not on horses but on four-wheelers and in pickups utilizing specially trained cattle dogs), I can tell you that it is much easier to move 100 steers than it is to move one. When you get the herd heading in the same direction, it seems their minds turn off and they doggedly jog with the pack. Most are caught in the middle and have no choice but to keep moving or get run over. The only ones with a view are the calves leading the pack (who are nervously watching the handlers) and the rest just put their noses down and follow the tail in front of them.
Yet, there is always the steer that doesn’t want to do what everyone else is doing. They see a hole and make a mad dash. Without the crowd blocking their view and hemming them in, they make split second decisions that outwit the cowboys and change course quicker than they can be followed. It is as entertaining for spectators as it is frustrating for the cowboys. Truth be told, I root for the escapees. It is a wonderful thing to see them running free, making their own decisions, changing direction with split second accuracy.
Maybe that’s why I trained my kids to run solo – away from the crowd, the confines, the groupthink. I wanted them to outwit those who demanded conformity and chart an individual course. I wanted them to make their own decisions, not follow someone else’s. I wanted their spirits to soar and for them to make a life on their own terms.
The Wild West isn’t dead. It happens outside my window. It happened in my home.