A Modern Rider

Tammi Etherington utilizing the Pneu Dart air rifle to medicate cattle.

BY JESSI SELTE

Scabbard securely fastened to the saddle, Tammi Etherington is outfitted for a tough job. Pasture Riding. The Marwayne, AB, born rider has experienced the job in every aspect throughout her life and continues to pasture ride today.

Advancements in technology have furthered the ability of many modern jobs but are considered separate from the western lifestyle. Pasture riders, in particular, have always made an art of performing their multiple tasks with only that of a steady mount and lariat.

Often Lone Rangers, these caretakers must deal with all aspects of bovine health, management, difficult terrain, inclement weather and all kinds of wildlife. The job – typically learned as an apprentice – develops a unique set of skills and a new set of tools. Still, there is no replacing a good horse. With their ability to travel effectively and keen sense, the horse can help a rider detect cattle before they are seen.

A rider must be able to fix fence, locate and doctor cattle all with the tools carried on their saddle. Fencing pliers that double as a hammer, staples, binoculars, a knife, and matches are in the pack. These days however, there is a new addition to the saddle: The Pneu Dart Gun. This air rifle can administer up to 10cc of medicine in a single dart, allowing a rider the ability to treat an animal without the use of a lariat, or take the animal to a set of corrals that may be miles away. Riders try to make use of their individual abilities, and for Tammi Etherington, with her sharp aim, and quiet demeanour, the Pneu Dart gun has changed the job for her.

A cow with medicating darts.

Etherington, and her husband Bruce ranch in northeastern Alberta. The couple, run 200 head of Simmental cross cow/calf pairs, and during the grazing season, Tammi also rides herd for a private pasture.

The youngest in a farming family of five girls, Etherington and her sisters were raised working alongside their parents, involved in every aspect. The initial years were spent without the convenience of power or running water. Work ethic was paramount. Etherington describes her father Tom in his memoir In My Long Life as a man whose, “…hat could change from that of a hunter, a farmer, a pilot’s helper, or a cowboy, in the sweep of a hand. They all fit him well.” Mother Moira will forever be known as “Dr. Mom the Encyclopedia.” Etherington inherited her own personality from these traits.

Work created comfort and that mentality stuck with Etherington. As a teenager, her mother’s keen observation, and tireless support helped Etherington hone her riding skills. They were further advanced when at the tender age of 13, Etherington started her first job as a pasture rider. She used the job as a training ground for young horses, under the careful council of Terry and Sonia Franklin. Etherington continued to work off and on through the years at various pastures. She also made time to train, show, judge and give clinics.

The rewards of pasture riding look very different than those in the show ring, but also have a lasting effect. In the early years if an animal needed treatment, Etherington would trail the animal, sometimes miles, to a set of corrals in order to administer the appropriate medication. When the circumstances did not allow for extensive travel, a rope would be used to detain the sick bovine just long enough for treatment.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked for, and with very good managers, and riders with good roping skills.”

Now part of their low-stress management Etherington and her husband, have also started using a Pneu Dart Gun to treat animals. As a World Championship qualifying team roper, Bruce is more than capable for treating with a lariat, but with less help at home and animal husbandry a constant concern, the Pneu Dart gun is a natural fit. Etherington finds it imperative to follow the set protocol. This involves administering medication in the prescribed area on a bovine and recording the treatment properly, with cattle identification. This guarantees the safety and quality of meat for the end user. A clear shot is essential to success.

At 20,000 acres and with much of it featuring tree-covered hills and swamp, the northern Alberta private pasture is vast and unforgiving. The Pneu Dart gun brings a new dimension, to an old job. A rider is able to treat multiple animals in a day with minimal stress to both the cattle and the horse.

“Your horse needs to tolerate being shot off, whether they are up to their hocks in mud and deadfall, or just standing quietly in the middle of a herd,” says Etherington.

A good mount needs to have strong legs and feet, as well as cow sense. A horse that understands the expected job is crucial. Etherington is not looking forward to the day she has to retire her current horse. At 19 the solid little mare has clean legs and no saddle marks. This is a testament to a well-fitted saddle and Etherington’s habit of dismounting and walking both up, and down the long hills.

“We are both getting a little long in the tooth,” Etherington says. “If I’m going to ask her to go all day I need to be willing to do the same.”

When asked if being alone out on the range bothered her, Etherington chuckled, “I expect when the good Lord wants me, he will come and get me. Other than that, I expect he will give me a leg up.”

 

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