2000s Archive

A Dude By Any Other Name

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Whatever else you come to the HF Bar for, it’s worth rising at dawn one morning to watch the wranglers bring the horse herd down to the corrals. Every evening the horses—nearly 130 of them—are turned into the hills above the ranch, hills overtopped by red-rock cliffs and a contour of dark trees. At early light the wranglers saddle up and ride out of the corrals along a road that climbs quickly toward the upper fence line but that devolves before long into a webwork of horse trails. The time it takes the riders to reach the upper slopes—to turn into mere fractions of themselves in the distance—readjusts your sense of scale, as does the movement of the herd when it begins. At first it is barely a herd, only a few individual animals being pushed by some indiscernible force over a ridge and into sight. Slowly at first, and then more swiftly, they collect and begin to trickle downward silently onto the sunlit slopes, and then, as they reach the road, they gather themselves and slip into a collective trot. For a moment they drop out of sight again, and the only sound is the wind in your ears. Then the herd tops a knoll that brings them suddenly closer. The air begins to fill with the dry stony rhythm of their hooves, and they pour—a river of chestnuts and bays, roans and sorrels—into the stout corral beside the tack barn, where row after row of saddles hang. A storm of dust roils behind the horses and settles over one and all.

After a sight like that, there is only a single thing to be done: Put a dudelike grin on your dust-chapped face, have a wrangler catch and saddle a horse for you, and ride back up to where the sun has already warmed the morning.

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