Archive for the ‘Ranching’ Category

Horse tricks and more cooking

November 1, 2009

Each morning when I dole out feed to the horses over at Bear Bones Ranch, one horse, Tony, strikes a pose. He arches his neck, cocks his head and lifts his left front leg. He’ll stand like that next to his bucket until I scoop some Manna Senior into it.tonypose

I didn’t teach him this trick. I don’t know how a person would teach a horse to do something like this. But someone likely did — probably a previous owner. Or perhaps it’s a self-taught gesture of reverance to the bearer of the food. Whichever, it adds to my amusement each day to have this character take a bow as I deliver the pellets.

Speaking of food, I’ve had some further thoughts about the chowder I made the other night using Stan’s recipe as a foundation. As an addendum I’d like to explain some swapping of ingredients and additions.

First, I added chicken purely for the protein. I traded the arrowroot powder for the wheat flour because I keep my wheat intake to a minimum and I like the silky texture arrowroot lends to a sauce. I also opted for a cup of heavy cream instead of the half-and-half, thus avoiding the lactose in the latter (cream is pure beautiful fat); then I made up the liquid by adding the vegetable water. Lastly, I added additional nutritious vegetables — carrot for color and leek and garlic for subtle flavor (onion might take over).

Now, having enjoyed the leftovers for a couple days, I’ve had the chance to do some experimental doctoring of this chowder. Next time I make it I’ll swap the broccoli for a pound of frozen cut green beans. They’ll hold together better for subsequent rewarming.

adovadaThere are times as a parent and chief household cook that you just have to cook two separate meals. In other words, you have to make something you used to eat all the time B.C. (Before Child). Tonight I did just that and cooked up the famous carné adovada, a delicious dish of roasted pork cooked in a feisty red chili sauce. It’s a fairly involved recipe and I make it slightly differently, using whole pork steaks and cubing them up after they’ve cooked in the saunce. I like to serve it with some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and avocado on sprouted corn tortillas. It provides an evening’s worth of internal warmth, and usually the leftovers are better the next day.

Dressing and cooking for cold times

October 30, 2009

It’s always amazing on a frosty morning how it can be just as much work to get properly dressed for my ranch chores as it is to do the actual work.

I start off with a base layer that’s basically my running outfit — loose tights and some sort of T-shirt. Over this goes a pair of Carhartt work pants, a quilted pullover shirt that was a gift from a friend who worked at Nike back in the 80s and is essentially a sleeping back with sleeves, and a Carhartt canvas vest. At the extremities I wear a pair of lightweight insulated snowboots and fleece gloves with waterproof overgloves. This is all topped off by an Outback fleece-lined oilskin cap, a gift from Amy Finger.

Dress too lightly and you’ll simply freeze your arse off. Trick or treat horses as Michelin Man and you’ll not be able to jump out of the way when equines do the things they inevitably do — launch themselves sideways for no apparent reason, kick at one another, or simply try to run you over.

This morning after feeding the cows and breaking the ice on the stream so they could drink, I saw a band of ravens hassling a big red-tailed hawk on the warming breeze, a sign of better weather on the way. The sight made putting on all those clothes worthwhile.

Speaking of rugged activity, it always warms my heart to read about a man doing real man’s work, like cooking. Stan, over at The Nightsider offers a recipe for a hearty cold-weather chowder, and it sounded pretty darned good.

Despite Stan’s kind words, I’m really what writer and food expert Jim Harrison might call a “fey hash-slinger.” But Stan’s recipe got me to thinking  . . . and the next thing I knew I was driving to town for ingredients. Here’s my rendition of Stan’s Broccoli-Mushroom Chowder, which I made tonight.


Chicken-Broccoli-Mushroom-Carrot-Leek-Garlic Chowder

1 whole chicken breast, skinless and boneless

1 quart chicken broth

1 pound fresh broccoli

8 ounces fresh mushrooms

4 carrots

½ leek, properly cleaned and sliced

3 cloves garlic, pressed

2 sticks butter

1½ cups arrowroot powder

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon white pepper

¼ teaspoon tarragon

The instructions are similar to Stan’s chowder, only you’ll need two pots. Start by putting the broth and the chicken breast in one and bringing it quickly to a simmer. While you’re doing this you can chop up all the vegetables and steam them using a colander and about 3 cups water. Don’t steam them too much and hold onto that water (there are nutrients in there and we’ll need more liquid later).

When you think the chicken is thoroughly cooked, pull the breast out and set it aside on a cutting board. Now you can make a roux by melting the butter in the other pot over medium heat and adding the arrowroot powder. When the roux is suitably thick, quickly stir in all the broth. Do this quickly or bad things will happen. And once it bubbles and thickens, turn the heat down as low as it will go.

This will form a thick gravy, and when it is smooth, you can add the cream, vegetables, seasonings and the vegetable water. Mix up thoroughly.

Cut the chicken breast into chunks and add them to the chowder.

My thanks to Stan for the inspiration. Just like his chowder, this one’s suitable for the cold evenings we’ve had lately. Keep it warm but don’t let it boil.

The weather is here, the food is too

September 25, 2009



It is now the third day of fall and the fifth day of winter. Thursday while en route to buy hay at the Schneider Ranch south of Westcliffe I was distracted by my camera’s viewfinder and came home with this photo. There was only a small window of opportunity, and by the time the hay was loaded and I was headed for the barn, the snow had melted off the lower reaches of the mountains, and the storm clouds were again building.


Changing subjects, I have had the good luck to have enjoyed some very memorable meals over the years. Some at high-end restaurants. Some prepared by family and friends. Some even prepared by myself, a fairly competent home cook/hash-slinger. 


However there are three meals that stand out in my mind more so than others. A Beef Wellington prepared in a wood-fired oven at Bear Basin Ranch. A leg of lamb with vegetables cooked on an open fire at hunting camp in the Sangres. An then there was an Orange Roughy Provencial I ate last night. What these three dishes have in common is that they all were cooked by Paris-trained Chef Stephane over the many years I have known him. The fish dish I ate as the guest of Elodia Bojorquez and Jeff Gillingham at the Westcliffe Feed Store restaurant. There were also appetizers of artichoke dip and escargot, a pot roast that many people at the table ordered and of which I had a taste, and desserts. It was all really damn good.


The intellectual discussion with the chef and the rest of our party at the bar afterward was also mighty fine, and I suppose I went home feeling as if I had just been to someone’s home for dinner.


Stephane is a true artist, and the ambience at the Feed Store is a fitting atmosphere for his fine food. If you are within driving or even flying distance, I suggest you check out his restaurant, and tell him I sent you. The restaurant is closed for a private Art for the Sangres party this evening, but regular hours will resume Saturday. And if you find yourself seated at the bar, see if you can find the mule in the intricate carving of horses that graces the back wall. It’s perhaps visible only over a sparkling glass of French Champagne.


Some of my top-shelf books

September 22, 2009

On a gloomy day recently I straightened up my bookcase and the task led to some reflection on the great books  — along with some of the great notions contained in them — that I have relegated to the top shelf over the years. For instance I was reminded in Thomas McGuane’s fine collection of essays called “Some Horses” that it is “not the duty of the horse to be a biofeedback mechanism for yearning humans.”


I suppose with some literary license that could be extended to burros/donkeys and dogs. But I digress .  . .


Most astounding was a count of 18 books by Jim Harrison, and I suppose it is true that I am a fan. These books include, novels, collections of novellas, non-fiction essays, a memoir and two volumes of poetry. Harrison rose to prominence with his classic “Legends of the Fall,” which is the best story ever told in under 100 pages. Other Harrison favorites include the novella collections, “The Beast God Forgot to Invent,” “Julip,” “The Woman Lit by Fireflies,” and “The Summer He Didn’t Die,” each of which contains a Brown Dog story. And then there are the more recent  “Returning to Earth” and “The English Major,” which I really enjoyed. His “The Raw and the Cooked” is as fine a collection of essays on food as has ever been published. Most of Harrison’s books have the trademark Russell Chatham painting on the cover.


Also on the top shelf are some books by Cormac McCarthy. I started reading McCarthy with his breakthrough “All the Pretty Horses,” and I found the other two books in his border trilogy, “The Crossing” and “Cities of the Plain”  just as dense and compelling. More recently his more straight-forward “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” have placed McCarthy among the best authors of our time. However, I don’t care for anything he wrote prior to the border trilogy. The film version of “The Road” is due in movie theaters in October.


Other top-shelf books: “Querencia” by Stephen Bodio; Animal Dreams” and “High Tide in Tucson” by Barbara Kingsolver, “Blood and Thunder” by Hampton Sides; “Keep the Change” by Thomas McGuane; “Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs” by Wallace Stegner;  “The Rites of Autumn” by Dan O’Brien; “The VIllage Horse Doctor” by Ben K. Green; “This House of Sky” by Ivan Doig; “Essays of E.B. White”; “Make Prayers to the Raven” by Richard K. Nelson.


I keep these books on my top shelf because I find them worth re-reading from time to time. I’m writing about them because I think they are worth sharing.

Goodbye to summer and two horses

September 15, 2009

Late summer has its many faces here in the Wet Mountains, from the blustery days when you first notice the edges of the aspens turning, to the clear blue days that seem to never end as summer becomes fall. But they will. Eventually the leaves will fall and usually some whopper of a snowstorm will bring it all to an end sometime around Halloween.


Last Thursday was one of those blustery days. I hauled two horses from the ranch I caretake out to Mission Wolf, where they will fulfill their final missions in the circle of life. Star was chronically lame from an old injury (shattered coffin bone) and painfully blind in one eye. Ciao, was elderly and his body was bumpy with tumors from head to tail; recent winters have been very tough on this kind old soul. It was particularly painful for me to load Ciao for this journey, but Star caused me more emotional turmoil by not loading easily.chowpastel


It’s an 80-mile round trip, much of it on bad road, from here to the wolf sanctuary. The landscape of the western flanks of the southern Wet Mountains has a much different feel, with rolling tan hills of grass and clumps of aspens. It’s backdropped by a spectacular view of the southern Sangre de Cristos, from Tijeras Peak to Mount Lindsey. With these jagged peaks shredding the dark gray clouds the scene was fittingly melancholy.


The folks at the wolf sanctuary were very gracious and helpful in unloading. As much as I favor the idea of these animals not going to waste, it was still one of the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken. But dead is dead, and the wolves need to eat too. Before I drove away I was caught off-guard when handed a receipt made out to the ranch for a sizable charitable donation.


It was perhaps a mistake to glance back from the ridge overlooking the wolf sanctuary as I drove up the washboarded Ophir Creek Road. I could see the small figures of Star and Ciao grazing peacefully with two other horses awaiting their fates, and the scene cast a pall over the next couple days especially with the weather turning gloomy.


Saturday morning, some levity. I had received a call the previous evening from Dave over at Bear Basin Ranch, the local dude outfit. Three of their cattle have been mixed in with ours for some time. Dave had a Cowboy Weekend group coming in and needed to retrieve his three beasts for their team sorting activities.


I went over with one of my saddle donkeys, Ace, and found all the cattle — our nine head and their three — in some thick brush and timber. It wasn’t much work to get the herd moving, and Ace kept them pinned against a fence and trailed them all the way across the school section pasture to the corral.


I heard some voices off in the trees, and soon Justin, one of the Bear Basin wranglers, showed up on his horse. Pretty quickly the two of us had the three white-faced Bear Basin cattle sorted and penned in a corral. Meanwhile, the rest of the cattle meandered on up the hill.


Dave and the rest of the group showed up shortly and we devised a plan to get the three white-faced beeves on their way back to Bear Basin. All these cowboys had to do was block about 100 feet of an opening to the corral so the cattle would move out the gate and onto the road.


But it didn’t work that way.


I watched as Justin let the cattle out of the pen. Two of them started to go the way we planned, but the third decided to break away and go with the herd, resulting in a rodeo. The last thing I saw Dave and Justin were chasing the three renegades up the hill and trying to haze them back toward the corral.


As rode off on Ace I joked with one of the dudes about how one guy on a donkey could round up the whole herd, but it took eight guys on horseback to let three of them get away.


Here in the high country life does, indeed, go on.

Net-worth vs. self-worth

September 11, 2009

My column in Colorado Central magazine this month has generated some good feedback, so I’ve decided to share it with Hardscrabble Times readers. It’s about emotions stirred up by the visit of a dear friend, my high school buddy, whom I had not seen in 23 years, and whose life is quite different from mine. To read a slightly different version of the full column, click here.

Only your farrier knows for sure

June 10, 2009

I’m often asked if burros need shoes. The answer of course, is that it depends on so many things, including the animal’s foot health, training mileage and I think even the weather.hoofshoe

I had my farrier Caleb Oldendorf out today to look at feet on my burros. The first foot he picked up he set back down with a snicker. He was laughing because my burros show more wear on their feet than most of his clients’ horses.

There are many good arguments for keeping equines barefoot. Steel shoes may increase impact shock, decrease the natural action of the foot and frog, and nail holes weaken the hoof walls. For more on this see

The debate is not unlike the one currently going on over human running shoes.

I view shoes for my burros as a necessary evil. Since I’m training for a long-distance race (the World Championship Pack-Burro Race is 29 miles and the Leadville race is 22 miles) up and back down a rocky mountain pass, I tend to put some hard miles on these animals in training, and then expect a lot from them in the race.

There’s an old saying: No foot, no horse. It applies to burros as well.

I’ve run burros barefoot in several races, and have even won races with barefoot burros. But the results have been mixed. The compromise I’ve come to, and my farrier agrees, is to put shoes on the front feet only. Equines carry 60-65 percent of their weight on their front quarters, and also tend to get footsore on the front feet more often than the backs.

And so for now, that’s what Caleb did — just fronts. It’s cheaper that way too. You can shoe two burros for the price of one!

The storm moo-ves out

April 18, 2009


April blizzards bring spring lizards

April 17, 2009

T.S. Eliot wrote in 1922 that “April is the cruelist month.” If he had been writing from Colorado’s Wet Mountains rather than Great Britain he may have employed harsher language.

We’ve had it all today: rain, groppel, thunder, lightning, sunshine, driving blizzard-like conditions, big flakes. And now it looks like a real cold night is insnowburros store. The uninitiated may be inclined to ask how much snow we got, expecting an answer in inches. The answer is something around 15, but such numbers are irrelevant.

Here’s what’s important. Over at Bear Bones Ranch I refill a 100-gallon stock tank for seven horses daily; usually it’s about half-empty. The oval tank is roughly 3 feet by 5 feet. Horses on average each drink 6 to 8 gallons of water daily. Today the tank was only down about two inches from the top. I’ll leave the math to you because frankly I’m not any good at it, but that’s a lot of water. And, no, the tank is not situated where it can catch any runoff from a roof.

This storm brought to memory two essays. One called “The Struggle” was penned one winter when money was short. And “The Arrival of Harrison Jake” tells of a late-April storm that came shortly after the birth of my son, whose 5th birthday is Monday. Both might be entertaining for readers who find themselves inside this snowy April weekend. 

Spring: It’s the new winter

April 1, 2009

Aprils Fools, and it’s hard to remember a nice weather day since the first day of spring. A storm March 26-27 left about 10 inches of wet snow here, with a water content of about 1 inch.

April Fools elk.

April Fools elk on Bear Basin Ranch.

A small but wicked storm Monday morning brought little moisture but the accompanying high wind whipped up a vicious ground blizzard. Sometime during this our little calf was caught out in the open and when I found her covered in windblown snow I thought she was dead. As I was walking away I saw a twitch and realized she actually was still alive.

I moved the calf to the barn on a sled, then rounded up the mother cow and put her in the paddock with her. Since Monday the calf has been under a heat lamp and I’ve been feeding it milk and milk replacement with an esophogeal tube and bag. Also, injections of vitamins A-D, B and C, and a drug called Nuflor. Three days later the calf is still unable to stand and nurse. Will she survive? I haven’t the slightest idea, but am surprised she has made it this long considering she was all but dead when I found her.

Word came yesterday that Neal Hart has passed away at the age of 84. Neal, the father of fellow pack-burro racer Steve Hart, has for years headed up the Ham radio team that keeps track of runners and their burros on the courses at the Leadville, Fairplay and Buena Vista races. His face was always a welcome and reassuring sight when I would see him on Mosquito Pass along with his faded-orange International Scout with the antennae for his radio equipment. I can still hear him — and it could be in a lightning storm, fog, blowing snow or hail, on a hot sunny day, or through a hypoxic haze. I didn’t matter whether I was winning or off the back. He would ask: “You need anything, Hal?” Neal always struck me as a kind and gentle man. I was very said to hear of his passing and know he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Here’s the good news: Steve Edwards and I are planning a donkey and mule training clinic here in Westcliffe in September. The bad news: The clinic will limited to only 12 participants and their animals, though spectators will be welcome.

Steve is a renowned longears trainer and also has developed his own line of saddles and tack. He’s been featured on the Rural Heritage Hour on RFD TV and also teaches classes at Central Arizona College. Stay tuned for more details or contact me for more info or to reserve a space.