Breeze and I survived our first gather. Barely. And even got a compli. . .er, comment.
It came after we topped a steep incline that the Monster Mare made short work of. When we reached the top, the cowboy who had come up behind me looked at us and said, "She's athletic, ain't she." All I could do was nod my head, clear my dry throat, and make a suspiciously squeaky sound of agreement.
I think by "athletic" he really meant "a lunging beast of a horse".
The Chico pasture was a relatively small one and by mid-morning we had the cattle brought in and had begun branding. My first impression of the branding pen was one of controlled chaos.
Smoke and dust merged with the acrid odors of burnt hair and blood. It was a haze you could both feel and smell. The worried bawls of cows and calves added a cacophony of sound to the bedlam.
Two cowboys on horseback roped and drug calves from within the milling herd. As each calf was brought up innoculators, branders, cutters, and flankers worked efficiently to get that one done before the next was drug up. Rays of light from the blistering sun glinted off the metallic surfaces of hot irons, knives, and large guage needles. Cowboys weaved behind and around each other with all of the intricacy and fluidity of a well run offense. I lost myself in the rythm of it all and was surprised when the last calf ran bawling back to the herd in search of its' mother.
I washed the blood and grime from my hands in the stock tank and dried them on the thighs of my blue jeans. My ball cap, white when we started, was now a dingy brown and sand was a grit in my teeth. I looked across the pen and, through the bars, I could see Breeze tied to the stock trailer.
There were mounds of earth built up on either side of her and she stood in the hole between, head still high and eyes still rimmed in white. I had lost track of her during the branding but from the looks of things she had carried on just as I had left her; flopping from side to side like a giant fish on a line.
As I stood there staring in bewilderment at my batty mare Grant walked by and cuffed me on the shoulder.
"She'll probably be sore tomorrow. Might slow her down some," he said.
My answering smile was more of a grimace.
Physically, Breeze was in good shape. It was her mental state that was lacking in fitness.
I wasn't going to hold my breath that what hadn't been fixed in twelve years would suddenly right itself overnight.