It's called Team Cattle Penning. Three riders. Three horses. A herd of thirty cattle. The objective -- for the riders to work as a team and separate certain cattle from the herd within 60 seconds.
On Saturday, there were two riders. Two horses. Ten cattle. And no time clock.
There was a focus on working together. Practicing. Breaking in one of the rider's new horse.
And in their midst, there walked a man, homeless. Dying of cancer. Given a chance to spend a day amidst the horses he loves, in an environment where his roots run as deep as the prairie grasses lying silent beneath the snow.
I wrote of him last week, (Where's the Right?). His name is Terry, though I called him Jack. For Terry, the promise of spring may not happen. He may not see the grasses sprouting up, and seedlings sporting fresh growth. He may not be here to see calves and colts and plantings of fields and pastures. But on this Saturday, he had a chance to experience life away from the shelter. Away from the pain and sorrow and grief of being homeless, of being diagnosed with a cancer that is aggressive. A cancer for which the options are few. No surgery. No chemo. No anything to stop its spread.
On this Saturday, none of that matters. On this Saturday he is given a second chance. To ride. To be part of that world where once he stood and worked and lived and breathed, and knew he had value, had worth, had a place where he belonged.
We had left the city shortly before noon to drive out to a friends arena a half our north of the city. Earlier in the week, I phoned to ask if I could bring Terry out, just to spend some time amidst the horses. Ben, my friend, didn't hesitate. We'll be penning between noon and 2 on Saturday. Come on out.
And so we did.
When I arrived at the shelter to pick Terry up at 11:30, he was ready. Winter jacket. Hat. Heavy gloves.
On the drive out he was talkative. He gave me glimpses into his past, teased me with his sense of humour.
Yup. My first run-in with the cops was when I was eleven, he said. Theft.
Oh? What happened? I asked.
Stole a horse. 'Least, that's what the cowpoke at my Uncle's ranch said. I told the guy my Uncle owned the place. Told him he would let me take the horse. Guy didn't believe me. Told me I couldn't.
What did you do?
Took the horse.
And he stops talking. Laughs. And waits for me to take the bait.
What did he do?
Called the cops.
And then what happened?d?
Another pause. Another opportunity for me to step in and play Rosenkrantz to his Guildenstern.
My uncle had to come and pick me up in town at the police station. Told the cops they'd best be catching real criminals not some kid taking a horse out for a joy ride.
And he laughed. Deep belly laughter that burbled up like a brook racing down a mountainside. The further we got from the city. The deeper his life resonated.
Yup. I told the guy it was ok. Told him my uncle would be pissed. Pause. Chuckle. Shoulda' believed me.
When we got to my friend Ben's spread north of the city, we found the arena and walked in to find Ben and his team member, Stacey, penning cattle in a smaller enclosed space within the larger arena. The air smelt of cow and sweat and horse. An earthy aroma that soaked its way into my bones, permeating my clothes with that pungent and aromatic ranch smell. A smell I love.
As soon as he saw us walking through the dirt towards the cattle penning area, Ben opened the gate and rode over on his horse, Joker. When he reached us, he slid easily off, landed comfortably two feet planted firmly on the dirt arena floor, held the reins in his left hand and put out his right. "You must be Terry. I'm Ben."
He shook hands confidently, and casually passed the reins over to Terry. "Here. Walk her around for a bit if you don't mind. I've got to go into the office to grab something."
Without hesitating Terry took the reins. Put his left foot up into the stirrup, grabbed hold of the saddle horn and swung his right leg up and over. Within seconds he was comfortably seated on Joker's back and began to walk around.
Ben watched for a moment. Nodded his head. "He'll be just fine," he quietly said to me before turning away to walk towards the office at the far end of the corral.
I stood in the middle of the arena and watched Terry walk Joker around.
He was just fine. Smiling. Content. A man at ease upon a horse.
Ben returned a few minutes later and pointed to the smaller corral where Stacey rode amidst the cattle.
Want to give it a try?
Terry smiled. Wide. Nodded his head. Yup.
And give it a try he did.
There is something humbling and inspiring about watching a man who believed he'd never get a chance to do what he loved or be surrounded by a world he loved, experience what he loves again.
There is something incredibly moving about it all.
On Saturday, I watched a man climb onto a horse and saw the sadness and pain of loss fall away. I watched him ride and claim his right to be part of a world where he was and is, an equal. A valued member of a team. A man of great worth.
It was a great day. A great ride for Terry. A big day for everyone involved.