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The next day came very quickly, but I was more than anxious to get started on this already chilly October morning in Colorado. At breakfast, I was greeted by a group of “top hands” from several surrounding ranches who were on loan to Zapata Ranch for the week long round-up. Once a year -before winter- the 2,500+ buffalo on Zapata are rounded up for their annual checkups, counted for population control and a small number culled for their meat and hides. The rest of the year, they roam free and untouched in the rich grass plains that rest at the bottom of the San Luis Valley. (I was one of the only non-cowboys allowed to participate in this year’s round-up. The round-up was also an opportunity for Zapata to showcase the experience in front of a small New York film crew who were invited to document the weeklong event). With icy dew on the ground and the sun peaking up over the mountains, we converged at the horse corral and began to saddle up. I was given my first horse named “Mary Jane,” a stalky black horse with a white striped face and a battle scar on her right hind leg. It appeared that Mary Jane didn’t like to be tied up early in the morning (and a testament I guess) to why I was told by several of the cowboys: “Oh you got the fastest horse in the barn…and have fun.” After everyone was tacked up and ready, we congregated in a large circle more than thirty cowboys strong ready for the instructions from the trail boss. Duke laid a plan for the day that consisted of culling three to four groups of buffalo, working on the closest

and most visible herds first. In the vast distance we did see several scattered herds of buffalo (some two hundred large), but it was still a long ride before we could get close. The idea was to run the herd of buffalo from the surrounding plains into a smaller paddock and through one of several fences visible by a sixty-foot tall pole with a white flag perched on top. In order to circle the herd without spooking it, we rode an extra hour or two out of the way to come in from the side -against the wind- to avoid them picking up the scent and moving away. We then split into the instructed five squads with about six cowboys each. Once in formation we marched toward the herd of buffalo until they eventually began to feel uncomfortable with our presence and started to run away. Our job was to box them in a V-shaped formation, making sure to corral the alpha cows at the front of the herd from splitting off. We were told that where the alpha cow goes, so does the herd, and I quickly found out that if we let the alpha cow veer too much one way or another into the open or through the ranks, well, all hell breaks loose! Our first round-up was close to home and went smoothly. Most of the herd followed the path across the semi-frozen tundra, trampling over the tall grass and short brush. Not bad for a first try, I thought to myself. I heard a chuckle in the distance and Duke say, “Yeah, just wait!”. We ventured further into the vast plains in search of a much larger prize. We rode for at least four hours, raising

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PQ international | Spring Issue 2012 #79  

The English Polo Magazine

PQ international | Spring Issue 2012 #79  

The English Polo Magazine

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