DOC WEST – Ranch Roping

Illustration by Dave Elston.

Doc West returns with his sage advice for the lost and lonely gunsel.

Q. Doc West, explain if you will, the nuances of difference between ranch roping and team roping?

A. The answer to this question if asked a few years ago would have been as simple as team roping is what the cowboys do at the rodeo, and ranch roping is what the cowboys do back at the ranch. Today however, ranch roping has grown into a popular “off circuit” competitive event that has reached an almost cultish status complete with its own set of rules and even governing associations. As a general observation both competitive events are similar in the sense a team (usually two, but sometimes three) of cowboys (or cowgirls) on horseback armed with ropes or lassos embark upon the act of roping a bovine. However, that is where the similarities end and the many differences begin: for example, team ropers rope a single isolated steer, ranch ropers pick a target out of a herd; team ropers start in the box and blast forward in pursuit of a running target, ranch ropers meander at a walk through a herd. Team roping is a timed event where runs are won or lost on a fraction of a second, ranch roping is scored on a point system of bonuses and penalties, so long as you get your calf roped within the time limit – a generous three or four minutes.
 
Differences in rules and regulations do little justice to what is a truer answer to such a question – a long meandering tale that does not easily lend itself to this column’s short and glossy smartly edited words, as it finds its beginnings 500 hundred years ago when conquistadors such as Cortes and Coronado and De Soto were the first explorers to bury into the North American continent in search of gold to take, but paradoxically leaving a much finer gift, the Spanish horse. Spain’s colonization of the new world brought with it the hacienda system of ranching, which gave life to the pillar of that system, the vaquero. Of Spanish origin and Mexican blood, the vaquero trailed up the Baja travelling the El Camino Real into California, where the gentle climate over time molded the California vaquero into its own unique creation – the “California Tradition” of the American cowboy. Later yet, when the big ranches in California started breaking up, many of the California vaqueros moved northward once again and spread out into the “Buckaroo-dom” of the great basin region of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho where the traditions evolved once more. As a collective, the California Tradition – the vaqueros and buckaroo’s are first and oldest cowboys – Spanish in origin and Mediterranean in mentality.
 
In the California tradition, style rules supreme – flat hats, silvered spade bits, rawhide romel reins, bossels and hackamores, elaborately finessed loops, and a horse tuned as finely as a Swiss watch. A vaquero was not just a hired cowpuncher, he was a caballero, a citizen, a gentleman, an aristocrat of the saddle. An emphasis on form and lifestyle permeated Spanish cowboying where cattle were moved leisurely over the rolling green hills, “it took as long as it took” – if it didn’t get done today, there was always mañana or tomorrow. Modern day ranch roping is a derivative of the vaquero traditions and those high plains riders, and the nature of the competition is rooted in the west coast mindset that faster is not always better; cattle were roped slowly, methodically and with as little stress on the animal as possible – 60-foot lariats are dallied to a leather wrapped pommel which allowed a soft catch and the ability to let loose if things got hairy.
 
The second part of this story finds its genesis in the mid 1800’s when Anglo settlers moved westward into historic Spanish territory and took up ranching, initially in the great plains of Texas. The English adopted the many of the fine vaquero cowboy traditions, however many of these were modified to adapt to a much more unforgiving environment and gave birth to what is known as the “Texas Tradition” – or as modern lore has coined simply as “the cowboy.” Over time the Texan style also spread – following the great cattle herds driven north up the Rockies eastern slopes into the wilds of Wyoming, Montana and across the 49th into Alberta and Saskatchewan. Cowboys of the Texas Tradition were practical individuals, not as concerned with the “how” as with the “is.” By way of example where the California Vaquero enjoyed a pleasant climate they could work all day and mañana too, by contrast most cowpunchers were beat by the panhandle sun into sweltering goo by noon, as such most cowboying needed to be done quickly and efficiently in the morning hours – there was no mañana for the Texas cowboy. Tack was practical and tough, durable clothing that could take thorns, basic working bits, heavy leather split reins, plain saddles, gritty cowponies and maybe a saddle gun too. The Texan roped hard and fast. The big “purdy” open country throws favoured by the buckaroos were impracticable in prairie scrub, cowboys ropes were shorter, throws were tighter and faster, ropes were often tied on to the saddle horn as dallying was deemed too slow and according to the seasoned cowpuncher were reserved for those afraid to commit. The team roping that we all see in rodeos is all about two things, making the catch and how fast you did it. In the Texan Tradition that’s all that mattered on the range and that’s all that matters in the arena.

DOC WEST: Property Theft Protection

ILLUSTRATION BY Dave Elston

In all the years I’ve been living out West, I’ve never encountered or heard about property theft as much as in recent times. More than several of my country neighbours have experienced thefts of varying degrees – from fuel to equipment, some have even lost their prized horses. Audacious thieves are committing their crimes in the middle of the night, while country-folk sleep soundly in their beds, and not much seems to get done about it. Maybe there’s something to be said about the Old West and it’s way of dealing with thievery. Are our current property theft laws substandard? What’s a rural property owner to do? 

The Old West had its own unique brand of justice cooked up just right for the frontier. Back in those days the law didn’t require a cowpoke riding solo on the high plains to holler for help before drawing down with his Colt on midnight rustlers fixing for his best horse. The lonely pioneer widow could still swing a double-barrel Coach gun from the veranda with authority on a peeping scoundrel and wouldn’t be charged with careless use of a firearm. However, those days are long gone and today we live in a more civilized and gentile age where it seems you must treat robbers, murderers, bandits, and thieves with courtesy and serve them tea as they load up your wares and ride off into the sunset. So what can you do and what can’t you do? As a starting point, know that legalese is not ole’ Doc’s forte – so don’t go quoting me to the judge if you accidentally get a bit twitchy and start blasting away at some wayward visitors.

First off, Doc is a firm believer in the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Thieves always look for the easiest target, and will often “case” properties for a good haul and a quick easy getaway. You don’t need rows of razor wire or a moat to make your property an uninviting target, but there are preventative measures you can take. Thieves don’t want to be seen, they work most comfortably under the cover of darkness and anonymity. A bright, well-lit farmyard or acreage might just be the only thing he needs to see to move on to another target. Security cameras and alarms also enhance the deterrence effect – so long as the culprit knows that they are there – so if you have them, make sure they are visible and the intruder is alerted as to their existence. Gates are a terrific source of deterrence, crime statistics will attest that gated residences have significantly lower incidents of break-ins than ungated properties. A grumbly old yard hound will make a racket and if he’s mean enough might take a chunk or two out of a bandit’s backside. Remember that your acreage doesn’t have to be Fort Knox, it just needs to appear to be more impenetrable than your neighbours’.

However, I know as a wannabe John Wayne you’re really not interested in all the panzy stuff that the police tell you to do, and hell, you’ve not moved way out to scenic acres just to hide in your closet and dial 911. You want to know (not withstanding all reasonable precautions of course), if a determined rustler breaches the sanctity of your property and is in the process of loading up your best roping horse, can you draw down? Well, the answer is, it depends.

In 2012, the Conservative government passed Bill c-26 (also known as the Lucky Moose Bill after Chinatown store owner David Chen – who was charged with assault after he chased down, tied up and detained a shoplifter at the Lucky Moose Food Mart), which streamlined Canada’s antiquated and convoluted “defence of property” provisions. Overall, a successful claim of defence of property in the law requires three things:

  • A reasonable perception of a specified type of threat to property in one’s “peaceable possession”;
  • A defensive purpose associated with the accused’s actions; and,
  • The accused’s actions must be reasonable in the circumstances.

In acreage cowpuncher terms, that translates to:

  • That ropin’ horse you believe is belongn’ to you needs to be legally belongn’ to you;
  • What you do must be for the purpose of saving your roping horse from theft; and,
  • The force you use to save your roping horse from theft must be reasonable in the circumstances.

Each case will turn on its individual facts. For example, farmer Brian Knight of Lacombe, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm after giving chase to, running down and shooting ATV thief Harold Groening in the hiney with a shotgun. Whereas Saskatoonian Hugh Lindholm was never charged at all for firing two warning shots with his hunting rifle at a stranger who had hurled a brick through his front window, and was standing on his deck demanding his car keys.

The rule of thumb is there is no rule of thumb. Each situation is different and so is each prosecutor and each judge. There are no hard and fast rules, but a good dose of common sense will tell you what force is reasonable and legal, and what force is going to land you a free stay at the crowbar hotel.

Doc West is grateful for the consultation provided by Dunn and Associates for the legal clarification offered in this article. 

Doc West: Western Feedlot Closure

Illustration by Dave Elston

Doc, I’m a city girl who owns horses. With the intention of understanding, I have to ask about the recent Western Feedlot closure, given the waves of discontent it stirred up amongst my country friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely naïve, since I’ve taken up a western performance horse sport, I’ve come to understand just how entwined the cattle industry is with the horse world. Alberta raises more cattle than any other province, so what I don’t understand about the closing down of Western Feedlot is why the owners pointed their fingers at Bill 6 and the incoming carbon tax – at least that’s what many read into the cryptic “poor political and economic conditions” they cited as the reason for the shut-down. Doesn’t nearly every other province in Canada already have a Farm Safety Act? Why can’t Alberta, the province of prosperity, handle one? Additionally, what’s the beef with the incoming carbon tax?

Poor political and economic conditions. Cryptic indeed. What were the proprietors of one of Canada’s largest feedlot, in business since 1958, thinking when they decided to simply lock their doors, board their windows and ride off into the sunset leaving us only a dour note of derision? Agriculture Minister, Oneil Carlier washed away any responsibility from Alberta’s new “Orange Overlords” (no, not Donald Trump), citing “a significant decrease in the price of cattle.” Without a doubt a one-year drop of approximately 30% in Alberta-fed cattle prices left all beef producers in a tough spot. However, not everyone picked up their ball and went home. So what gives?

Let’s begin with the first part of the equation – economic conditions. You mention a few things, the carbon tax for one – aka, the sacred cow of the NDP plan to pacify environmental zealotry and acquire a “social license” for pipeline construction and long term provincial prosperity. The plan was after all, well researched, well coordinated and supported by all the relevant economists and policy wogs. The provincial  government would tax Albertans for carbon and the rest of the nation would nod in admiration and as a reward for our environmental stewardship we would be “allowed” to build pipelines. Even the oil bigwigs bought in, with billionaire oil tycoon and Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards standing shoulder to shoulder with Premier Rachel Notley – portraying an image of big government and big business paving the way for pipelines to pump Alberta crude west to China, Alberta transfer payments east to Quebec, and profits due north – right into Mr. Edward’s pockets.

What wasn’t calculated in the grand scheme was the effect a carbon tax was going to have on less lucrative sectors of Alberta’s economy, those that traded beef, not bitumen, and calculated profits with a HD pencil, not a hard drive. Agriculture in particular was never consulted on the effect of a carbon tax on already razor thin margins. Paying “just a little bit more” on gasoline for the truck, or diesel for the tractor, or natural gas for the house, or shop, or barn, may not mean much to Suncor but it means a great deal to a small family farms that exists in perpetuity, teetering on the cusp of red ink. Tack on a legislated increase in minimum wages and mandatory new worker compensation remittances as the “orange brigade” fired volley after volley into the economic heart of rural Alberta.

To the second part of your question, why can’t Alberta handle a Farm Safety Act (otherwise known as the Act to Regulate your Family Farm like a Winnipeg Textile Factory)? If your reference to “can’t handle” is whipping up the country folk into a berserk-like rage to the point of armed resistance, well, yes there is a reason. Bill 6 named the Farm Safety Act purports to protect farm workers, but the name belies the totality of its effect on the rural culture, which is to allow government to monitor and regulate your business. There is nothing more pestilent-smacking to an Albertan farmer or rancher than the word regulation, ranking right up there with drought, internal parasites, mad cow disease and hemorrhoids.

You see the West, and in particular Alberta, once represented an idea – that you could make a life without selling your life to make it. It wasn’t important what you did, but it was important how you did it. Opportunity was riding in a saddle, rather than stitching one in a factory somewhere. Whether you were a spoiled city kid from North York, or an iron-willed freed slave from the Carolinas, or fragile Englishmen whose sense of self overreached reality, you came West because it meant opportunity, but more importantly it meant freedom and opportunity. Your identity became tied to it – and eventually defined by it. To the western farmer or rancher, Bill 6 didn’t mean farm safety, it meant bookish millennials in shiny George Stroumboulopoulos suits toting satchels stuffed with ipads and dried kale snacks arriving uninvited to pronounce an older squeeze needs replacement, or issue a citation because a hayshed doesn’t meet code.

Your summation is correct, rural Alberta couldn’t handle that.

“Poor political and economic conditions,” was not a grievance about the calculation of profit – it was instead a signal, a beacon if you will, flashed painfully and brightly for those that could see it – the West is under siege. The place we had come to, that everyone who came here had come to, had changed. The way we used to do business in particular had changed – the Alberta advantage, the free-wheeling, gun-slinging enterprise that built the greatest province in the Dominion now mired in taxes and regulation and inspectors. Just like everywhere else. The note the proprietors at Western Feedlot left was not so much a parting shot to the current ruling elites, it was simply a statement of reality – that we are no longer home and we are moving on. For those of us to have lived here long enough to understand, it wasn’t cryptic at all.

Doc West: The Tuf Cooper Debacle

tufcooper

ILLUSTRATION BY DAVE ELSTON

Question: Tuf Cooper invited back to compete at the world’s richest rodeo after last year’s fiasco is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. As, for that matter, is the invitation. These rodeo cowboys need to understand it’s a new world, one where abuse of animals is simply no longer sanctioned. Period. Cooper’s apparent disregard of the intense scrutiny events like the Calgary Stampede are under, should have been, in my opinion, addressed in a longer suspension. If Cooper wants to whip his horses, he can just stay in Texas as far as I’m concerned. Don’t you agree, Doc? 

Answer: Let’s set the record straight – characterizing Tuf Cooper’s ‘over and undering’ his horse with the end of a tie down rope as “abuse” is akin to portraying Justin Trudeau’s now infamous “elbowgate” as the greatest MMA beat-down of all time. Yes, yes, to a West Coast “progressive” it’s a capital offense. Pamela Anderson might write a letter in protest (or try to write a letter. . . or, have someone write a letter for her). But ask any horse trainer worth his salt, any horse trainer worth his salt, and they will all say something like, “you have to get after one every now and then”. Physical correction (within acceptable parameters) is part of horse training and yes, it is part of horsemanship. Forget the warm and fuzzy movies, forget the charlatans, and suave peddlers, forget the money you wasted on nonsense “natural horsemanship” videos – the hard stark truth is horses sometimes require physical correction.

You can’t talk to a horse, you can’t reason with them, they are free from logic as we humans understand it. Horses don’t understand your soft coos, ladies, and they don’t give a hoot about your hollering, fellas. Horses are herd animals that work on pressure and release. Physical pressure and physical release. What Tuf did was not abuse, he applied pressure to his horse in order to obtain a response.  ‎

That being said it wasn’t the place for it. Most “cowboy hat with a whistle” types sitting in the club seats at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, don’t break, train or even own their own horses. Some of them don’t eat meat, others bicycle to work, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say most don’t own a pair of boots – leather or rubber. They see horses as pets – to be cuddled and spoken softly to like their cat, Jerry, on Thursday Greys Anatomy night. So naturally, when people see a big bad cowboy “whip” his horse they spit out their beer and squawk. No one expects to see animals injured, or hit, or even die – because in the minds of the viewing public, those things never happen. That is the reality of the Calgary Stampede, and frankly it’s the reality of modern rodeo; rural culture – all sanitized, distilled, corrupted, packaged and finally displayed in spectacular fashion to all the city folk safe in the fold of a comfortable urban venue. It’s a marriage of opposites – culture, ideas and philosophies – bringing the country to the city, and as with all challenging relationships, both partners need to compromise enough to make it work, but not so much as to lose what made the marriage worth it in the first place.

The Stampede board, committees and directors need to realize that their job is not to simply bend to the whim of Hollywood activists and PETA zealots. They have a responsibility to stand firm, to educate and explain ethical, yet practical realities of animal husbandry. However, in this case even ordinary folks may have cringed a little, because Tuf’s display was cringe-worthy after all, which brings me to my final point. The cowboys also have a responsibility to realize that they are no longer competing in Terrell, East Texas – they are on an international stage with millions of viewers. Certain sensibilities need to prevail. In other words, think a bit. That means you too, Cooper. Just because your mamma named you “Tuf,” doesn’t mean you can’t use your head a bit more, and the end of your rope a little bit less.

Doc West: Hat Crimes & Courage

Hat-CrimeIllustration by Dave Elston

Q: I attended a western horse event mid-Autumn, and was chided by a rather stylish appearing mature woman for wearing a straw hat in the middle of October. Now, I know the old-time rule: felt is worn between Labour day and the May long weekend, and straw in between, but my question is . . . is it really necessary to abide by this rather outdated – in my mind – fashion statute of western etiquette in the 21st century?

 A: Necessity my friend, is a relative term. There are few items in the culture of the West that carry the same iconic weight as the cowboy hat. As an old cowboy saying goes, “It’s the last thing you take off and the first thing that is noticed.” First designed in 1865 by John B. Stetson, the “Boss of the Plains” were originally all felt of some variety, worn by cowboys from the North Saskatchewan all the way to the Rio Grande. Straws and palm leafs followed to add comfort and coolness for those southwestern cowboys working in the Texas Panhandle heat.

As straw hats gained popularity, they were found to be superior in the heat of the summer, protecting from heat and sun while felt hats were generally worn in winter (protecting from moisture and cold). Eventually this evolved and crystalized into the ‘Labour Day/May long weekend’ customary switch. Now, here in Canada, you will see northern cowboys wearing felt on cooler days past the May long weekend or alternatively our southern cousins wearing a straw well past Labour Day. Many working cowboys in Canada wear a felt year round, while a cowpuncher in New Mexico might own only straws or palm leafs.

So, no it’s not necessary. 

However, as I stated, necessity is relative. It never hurts to respect long standing western traditions and wearing the correct hat at the correct time of year will help you with that. More important than the felt/straw rule is to pay attention to the manufacture, shape and condition of your hat. Make sure your hat doesn’t look like you drove over it with a skidster. Mud, slop and other organic matter on your hat is not cool and does not make you a real cowboy. Ladies, please try to avoid the ‘bar star’ leopard print and zebra stripe hats with chin strings. For the fellas, the black crushable $9.99 ‘felties’ and the Corona straw beach hats are a ‘no no’ in the real West.

Finally, whether you wear felt or straw, or something else, the cardinal sin is a cowboy hat worn backwards. Frontend front, backend back – and in Alberta, that goes for you too, Premier Notley.

Q: What exactly, do you think John Wayne meant when he said, “Courage is being scared to death – and saddling up anyway?”

A: John Wayne had a way of breathing American realism into English abstraction. Before Hollywood began to influence western culture at the turn of the 20th century, courage was the exclusive realm of gilded knights with pleasant sounding Wessex accents and impeccable manners. Whether it was St. George slaying a dragon or King Arthur with Lancelot and Galahad charging down upon Saxon invaders, courage was a lofty ideal for great men, in a far, far away land.

However, in the early 1900’s, in the New World, in a new continent, and an unfamiliar and dangerous country, a brand-new mythology began to evolve, one shaped by the vast expanse of the American West. Courage was slowly but surely redefined, largely by ordinary men doing ordinary things. Every slouched-back cowpuncher, every bent-back sod buster, every crooked-back card speeler was just as fine a gentlemen as England’s most grand heroes, and equally courageous. Staking a claim in the Klondike, maintaining a trap line off the North Saskatchewan, saddling a green colt in the Texas Panhandle, or even stepping one foot from civilization into the abyss of endless prairie to do anything, simply anything at all, alone, took courage. The West didn’t change the idea of courage – it individualized it, as it individualized most everything. Every man who climbed into a saddle, and most men climbed into a saddle every day, faced some version of personal risk. Being scared, and saddling up anyway, was a necessity to life in the American West. It was okay to be scared, you saddled up nonetheless, and that took courage. 

Today the analogy of “saddling up” is all but lost to the modern urbanized hipster, irrespective of the frontier beard and woodsman flannel. Yet the idea that courage is not some high falutin’ ideal from folklore, but instead is real, and dirty and smells of rust and sweat and is both ordinary and exceptional at the same time – that lives on. And we can thank John Wayne for it.

Have a question for Doc West burning in your back pocket? We welcome you to direct it to editorial@westernhorsereview.com.