A couple of days ago, Cowboy had a tough day. Keep in mind, Cowboy is tough, exceedingly patient and possesses an “everything is going to be alright, baby” personality. His “tough” days would have me curled into the fetal mission and drowning myself in chocolate and vodka, preferably at the same time. As my mother-in-law has told me before, Cowboy has an incredibly high pain tolerance and is genetically capable of working himself to death. So when Cowboy complains about pain, I really listen.
Cowboy’s job is relatively dangerous, compared to if he worked in an office shuffling papers or slaving away on the computer as I do. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:
Farm work can be hazardous. Tractors and other farm machinery can cause serious injury, and workers must be constantly alert on the job. The proper operation of equipment and handling of chemicals are necessary to avoid accidents, safeguard health, and protect the environment.
Lovely, but what about the livestock. As much as I adore our horses and am grateful for the cattle that make our livelihood possible, let’s not look past the potential they have to cause some serious harm. I have been bucked off, kicked, trampled, and head butted by more than a few onery creatures over the year. And I am really careful!
And then there’s Cowboy… In our time as a couple, Cowboy has been kicked in the crotch, trampled by an angry Mama cow, ran up a fence by our resident Longhorn, dragged by an excitable yearling, charged, headbutted, and licked. Some of these events were hilarious, a couple were a little scary and I am positive there have been a few incidents I do not even know about. Of course, Cowboy was not seriously injured in any of theses, at least not injured enough to complain. Not until the other day anyway…
After a long day of computer screens and paper shuffling, I generally have three things on my mind: my sweats, dinner, and spending time with my cowboy (actually all of these are related as I need to have my sweats on to make dinner and dinner provides my scarce time with Cowboy). On this this evening in particular, my mind was consumed with the upcoming weekend, work, bills, etc. and as I swept into the house, I briefly pecked Cowboy on the lips before flipping through the mail with one hand and unbottoning my jacket with the other. He was home early and was already in his Lazy Boy chair. As I rambled about my day, Cowboy took listened patiently, though his eyes were on the muted tv. When I finally finished my summary of my less than thrilling work day, complete with the usual trill of complaints, he laughed and said he had something that would top that.
He started with “Well, your no longer the only one around here to fall off in front of everyone…” (see A Perfect Day) Uh oh! Cowboy went on to explain how he and few others had been gathering cows on the other side of the ranch. He was on Slim, who has been pretty much perfect since the year before. He certainly never acted the way Cowboy went on to describe. Although Slim was acting a little humpy (cowboy talk for when a horse humps up their back and threatens to buck), he was fine for the first couple of miles. Uphill at a walk and trot, Cowboy was not worried at all as he stepped off Slim to get a gate. Swinging back into the saddle, Cowboy (and his companions) were surprised as Slim began what was described as a bronc-style exhibition of equine athleticism. Twisting and spinning, with his nose tucked and hooves flying, Cowboy tried to ride it out.
As the Boss Lady would later tell me, he scored a 90. Nice. Then it gets not as funny. Cowboy said he was trying to stick with him and finally “decided” to jump off. His jump off was more of a fall off, right onto a large rock. He landed on the rock right between his shoulder blades, I’m sure with some considerable force. It knocked the air out of him and thoroughly pissed him off. After re-gaining his air and tracking down his bronc, Cowboy got right back up and finished his day. And then came home early (clue #1). I, of course, freaked out and lectured him. Damn that Slim! And dang it Cowboy, you know better that to fall of like that.
Listen, anyone who tells you that they have never got bucked off (or fallen off) before is either: 1. Lying to you 2. Only ridden EXTREMELY broke horses (and therefore a Dude) 3. Hasn’t rode very much (also, potentially a Dude). When you do the things a ranch requires, or ride horses for a living, at some point, something is going to happen. This is the reason that safety and experience is SO important on the ranch. I could launch into my entire speech about safe riding and working, but I will just say that you should just try tuck and roll, and protect your head, neck, and spine at all costs. Duh. From experience (I have come off A LOT of horses in my day) I can tell you that as I get older, the ground gets harder. ( Just a quick note about helmets: Cowboys do not and will not wear helmets when they use horses. The only time I have used a helmet is when I would go to shows and was required to in order to show in the English classes. I am sure helmets have their place, especially with kids, but honestly, knowing your horse and working safely is just as important.)
And then there is the horse… Here is the thing about horses, just as the type of feed their on can encourage “feel good” bucking, so can a cold, crisp morning. Ask an old cowboy about “cold-backed” horses and they will certainly have a story or two for you. Usually a trip or two around a round corral will work it out of them. In Cowboy and Slim’s case, a mile of hills at a trot didn’t solve the issue. In my personal opinion, working up a sweat in the round corral or on the lead, and a kick in the belly if necessary, will usually do the trick. As far as horses go, don’t just depend on age or “broke-ness”, my 17 year old gelding is more humpy than my 4 year old. Just depends on the pony. But I digress…
Back to Cowboy… Of course, his little rodeo was also during the three weeks he was running the ranch alone. The constant upkeep of cows, the peak of hay season, and non-stop thunderstorms ruining said hay season, were on Cowboy’s mind. Going at his usual pace (110 mph), Cowboy was trying to do the job of 3-4 full time guys, and it was starting to wear. After his wreck my cowboy started complaining of back spasms but claimed it was just a bruise. Two days after getting bucked off, as I sat in the office in our house, Cowboy came gimping in. He was wincing when he would breathe and was a little pale. “What’s up babe?” I asked, turning my chair to face him, the look on his face perplexed. Apparently he had been working on a piece of machinery and needed a tool from the back of his pickup. When he jumped out of this pickup and landed, he heard a crack and the pain brought him to his knees. When he composed himself, he drove straight home, which he said was excruiating. Immediately, I made him lay down and got my Mom on the phone. “ER,” she said, matter of factly.”Better safe than sorry.”
Trip to town… The only thing tougher than getting a cowboy to eat balsamic vinegarette on his salad, is trying to get him to the doctor, especially the ER on a Saturday. Laying on his back and gasping with effort, Cowboy tried to argue that he was fine. There are times when a rancher’s wife has to lay down the law, and this was the time. “Listen here Cowboy, you are going to the ER and that is the end of it. Now get in the shower and I’ll start the truck.” Why, you may ask, would I make him shower when he is obviously in suffering. Two reasons: the hot shower would loose up some of his muscles and help him relax, and there was no reason to expose those nice ER people to a cowboy when he hasn’t showered in 6 days (Yes, I said 6 days). And, if that wasn’t bad enough, I made him wear sweats and tennis shoes IN PUBLIC! The whining about this potential humiliation was epic. What if he saw someone he knew? I reminded him that it was a Saturday night and we were going to the hospital, not the Bank Bar. I helped him into the truck and off we went.
On the drive, Cowboy started to get nervous. I have never heard my gem of a husband talk, sing, and fret like he had on the drive over from Wilsall, and just when he thought he was fine, his back would spasm and he would be silent, panting in pain. When he was finally quiet, I put my serious wife voice on and told him that this was serious. I asked him to please be honest about his pain to the doctors. “I know you are a tough son of a gun baby. Everyone does, but there’s nothing wrong with getting fixed up when you need it. ” The fact that he agreed showed me just how much pain he was in.
As we walked through the sliding glass doors of the ER, I recognized the look of resignation on Cowboy’s face. We checked in with the nurses station and waited in the lobby for our turn. As we were sitting there, a man came bursting out of a room, yelling and cussing. I would have laughed but this gentleman was packing a very large knife on his hip. When I mentioned this to the check-in nurse, she just shrugged her shoulders and led us to a treatment room. Only in Montana.
Once in his private room, Cowboy faced his greatest fear… the hospital gown. “No way in hell, ” Cowboy said, crossing his arms defiantly. The nurse insisted and as I tied the string I could hear him grumble, “Thank God I wore underwear”. Into the bed he went, warm blanket and all. As he lay there in the bed, I started to get choked up. This was just wrong in so many ways. This man was my rock, my anchor, my source of stregnth. I smiled as we talked and said a little prayer as they wheeled him off to X-rays.
I was texting and calling the parents when I heard him coming back. Coming down the hall in the gurney, Cowboys was talking a blue streak to the x-ray tech and everyone he passed in the halls of the hospital. Eventually, news came back: broken ribs just inches from his spine. Thank you Lord. Two prescriptions and a handshake for the doctor later, we loaded back into the truck and headed home.
In the end, Cowboy was home recovering for exactly 28 hours. And then he was back at it, though horses, four-wheelers and heavy lifting was prohibited by me, and thanks to Boss Lady and MJ, it was enforced. Now days, Cowboy is back at it as hard as ever, riding, roping, and working into the dark on a regualr basis. He has even put a couple of rides on Slim (who was again perfect). And so things are back to normal and our first experience with a medical issue in our short marriage is past us. Cowboy was vulnerable and I was strong, and we got through it together. That is the lesson that the ranch teaches you: You can handle more than you think, but you have to handle it together. Oh, and when you get bucked off, get back on.