ROUND UP ON THE HAYTHORN RANCH
In the mid to late 1960’s, I think it was, the judge of the Quarter Horse show of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was a man named Waldo Haythorn from Ogalalla, Nebraska. I first met him early in the show as the judge of the Youth Horse Show. A week or so later, he judged the AQHA Horse Show.
Waldo had been described to me as a rancher, owning a large, if not the largest ranch in Nebraska and a big steer roper. That information led me to believe that he would like a big, strong horse, so I made sure I brought a horse to the Quarter Horse show I knew he would love, Penny’s Rojo. Rojo was a 3 year old and would show in the junior gelding class. He stood a little over 16 hands, was a bright red sorrel and looked like he could pull down a barn. I was also showing Busy San, a gorgeous 4 year old gelding by Leo San and out of a Joe Reed mare in the senior gelding class.
I had already won everything but the grand stand, including the Junior Western Pleasure, but arrogant me wanted both Grand and Reserve Gelding. Well, Waldo did use Busy San as Grand Champion Gelding but did not use Penny’s Rojo as Reserve Champion. Good sportsmanship prevailed and I remained gracious and polite, but I was still ticked off.
The next week, we went to New Orleans to the annual AQHA Convention where I ran into Waldo Haythorn at breakfast one morning. I joined the group and everyone at the table proceeded to swap horse stories. Out of the blue, Waldo, looked at me across the table and said, “You thought I should have used your junior gelding as Reserve Champion in Houston, didn’t you?” “You knew he was my kind of horse.” I agreed that I had been more than a little surprised and had not been happy with his selection.
He answered, “I’m going to buy that horse from you and it would have looked bad for me to make him Reserve and then buy him.” My mouth fell open and I waited for the rest of his proposal as I had not had been trying to sell the horse. Waldo said he had some 30 brood mares of Eddy and Joe Hancock breeding that would not foal until late May or June.
He proposed trading me his entire filly crop, regardless of the number born, for Penny’s Rojo. As he said, there might be two fillies or there might be 20. I thought about it for a few minutes and stuck my hand out and said, “Deal.” I shipped Penny’s Rojo out to his son, Craig, who was attending Texas Tech in Lubbock and waited for weaning time on the Haythorn Ranch in Nebraska.
We arrived at the ranch in October to pick up 13 prime weanling fillies, plus one or two yearling fillies Waldo threw in for good measure. I should point out that Waldo traded fillies because they only used geldings for their ranch work and really had no use for the fillies. Today, the ranch has a much larger herd of brood mares and a production sale each year.
It just so happened that a cattle buyer had contracted for 150 head of yearling Hereford steers to go in a feed lot and Waldo and the ranch hands were preparing to round up about 1000 head from which to select the 150 to ship. I was invited to go along. Within a day or two, my husband and I, Waldo and maybe four ranch hands along with a remuda of 40 or so geldings, the chuck wagon which was on a bob-tail truck in those days, left the head quarters ranch and headed west, I think. In the sand hills, there are not many landmarks, so 40 +/- years later, I’m not real sure.
We rode all day before pitching camp. In that part of the world, you can cross anybody’s ranch, as long as you stay on the section line, should you know where it is. The fence is taken down, the horses and equipment cross over and the fence is replaced in the same condition in which it was found. I don’t remember how many fences came down and went back up that day, but we rode a long way to the campsite.
All the cowhands slept in bunks built in the chuck wagon/bunkhouse. My husband and I tossed a tarp on the ground down under the chuck wagon and unrolled our bedrolls. The range cubes used to feed the horses were under the wagon with us and sometime during the night, I woke up to find myself being dragged across the ground by a horse that thought I was a sack of feed. I had put so much air in my mattress that was in the pocket of my sleeping bag that I couldn’t get my arms out to unzip myself, so I had quite a ride before the horse realized I wasn’t a sack of feed. By some miracle, the rest of the remuda did not stampede over me.
The next morning before sunrise and the sky had not even started turning gray, the cook was up putting on the coffee. The cowboys rolled out and fed the horses. After a great breakfast of eggs, bacon and freshly made biscuits, we all saddled up and rode out to different sections of the ranch in pairs. I rode with the boss, Waldo Haythorn. As he and I were returning to the chuck wagon for lunch, I asked him how far we had ridden that morning. He told me we had covered about 50 miles.
I will never know if he was pulling my leg or not, but our horses had been in a “stand in the stirrups” long trot all morning and my bum sure felt like it had been in the saddle for 50 miles. I need to take a minute to tell you about sand hills horses. It is impossible to whip, drive or spur one over a hill they cannot see over in case there is a “blow out” where the wind has blown the sand away.
After lunch, the boss caught and assigned us all a different horse that we saddled and rode during the afternoon to give the morning horses a rest. We continued to gather steers and drive them into one pasture. I really can’t remember how many days we gathered cattle, but we rode down two horses a day.
When we had gathered about 1000 head of steers, some of the neighbors came over to help hold the herd in the corner of the 640 acre pasture while 850 head were cut out and 150 were held in the corner of the pasture for the buyer. Only Waldo and I were on cutting horses. I was riding an old guy named Spider that Waldo’s son, Craig and daughter, Sally, had shown in youth cutting events. I’m almost sure he was a son of Eddy. Anyway, back to the story.
Waldo didn’t cut more than a half-dozen head of cattle out of the herd that entire day. He just pointed and told me which ones to cut. Every time ole Spider really got down and did something hard, he would come up, look back at me and nicker. A couple of times I caused Spider to charge the cattle and scattered them all over the herd holders. Waldo yelled at me to just sit still and let Spider do his job.
I will tell you that each time Waldo pointed to a steer, Spider very quietly started moving toward the selected steer before I could make a move. I swear he could read Waldo’s mind and knew which steer he wanted. The day wore on and so did my behind. Since I was the only woman there, I was really trying to hang tight and not whine about anything. When we had cut something over eight hundred head out,
Waldo rode along side and, with a huge grin on his face, asked me if I was keeping a good count. You have no idea what a good count I was keeping. While cutting the last 30 or 40 head, I was having trouble staying in the saddle. Waldo road over and said, with a grin on his face, “I thought you liked to ride cutting horses”. When the 850 head had finally been cut out, released back into the pasture, cattle trucks arrived, cattle were loaded and we rode back to camp, I had to pour water on the inside of the knees of my levis to get them off. The seams had rubbed huge holes (I still carry the scars) in my knees and the resulting blood had dried, sticking my Levis to my legs. It was an unbelievable day that I will never forget.
The next day, for the ride back to ranch headquarters, Waldo had a pretty young palomino saddled for me. On the way, he had one of the cowboys challenge me to a horse race. I was a little tentative due to the blow outs in the sand hills. I didn’t want my horse to run up on one and plant all four feet sending me over his head into the next county. Still, I whipped and spurred like crazy until the race was over. The hand beat me by a little bit and Waldo gave me “what for”, saying I was on the fastest horse and should have won.
The cowboy leaped to my defense saying I had literally spurred my spurs off my boots. The same cowboy told me that I was the first woman that had ever gone on roundup with them. They had had journalists, photographers and all sorts of other people, but never a lady. I think I passed the acid test. I did my assigned jobs, rode the miles, cut the cattle and generally held my own without any whining. It was truly an experience of a life time.
Before we left the ranch to start the round-up, I realized that, as the only woman with this group of cowboys, I needed to be particularly careful with my language. No swear words of any kind, no matter what. My word, I decided, for all frustrating events would be “fizzle.” A month or so after we returned to Texas, Waldo called and said, “You have absolutely ruined all my cowboys! ” “How?” I asked.
He said, “I walk around the ranch and these old grizzled cowboys with tobacco stained beards are getting the mess kicked out of them, among other things, yelling, “Oh, fizzle!!” It’s really embarrassing.”
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