Fox Family Hijinks

Saturday’s sky is overcast, and there is a strange haze hanging over the ranch, the sort of haze we normally see mid-summer when there are large forest fires in Colorado or Nevada. I am on the bench riding Arizona, one of our flashy brown and white paint horses, in a western saddle and wearing my beaver-skin cowboy hat that Richard gave me for Christmas two years ago. I hear Richard yipping at the Highland cattle from the back of Pirkko, his beautiful, powerful grey mare, and I know it’s time to go. I raise the rope I am carrying in  my right hand above my head, and Arizona takes off at a run after the Highlands. I look to my right and see Bayard gallop up next to me on his bay steed, Absaroka, wearing his 30 year old chaps, an Australian cowboy hat whose brim has been clearly chewed by mice and, of course, his moccasins. To my left, Mel gallops up in a western saddle on Ebay, a bay Quarter horse we bought this past fall, wearing her Australian hat. Ahead of me to the right, Richard looks the quintessential cowboy: aged, black cowboy hat, tan leather chaps, a flying rope, a tasseled headstall on Pirkko, smooth cantering. What a man I married! I know what you are all thinking….is this some strange scene from the Twilight Zone? Mel in Western tack on a Quarter horse? No helmets? Galloping after cows unnecessarily? Is this even the Bitterroot? Has Hadley lost her mind? Is she now telling fairy tales, rather than reporting on ranch activities? All valid questions. Let me tell you how it began….

On Thursday Richard and I moved up to the ranch, the same day a French television crew arrived. They are at the ranch filming a show for the the French series, “Somewhere on Earth”, which airs prime-time on French Channel 5. The filmmakers, Scotty and Manu, have a particular vision for their show. They want to tell the story of Bayard and Richard, a father and son living off of the land of Wyoming together. The filmmakers are very sweet men, but they are enamored with the cowboy mystique, and Mel and I, as the wives, do not fit into the story they want to tell at all. Since Thursday, they have filmed Bayard and Richard doing everything together. They have filmed  Bayard and Richard irrigating together, walking together, eating together, making plans together. They have even filmed Bayard and Richard with the newborn foals (we have three so far), describing the details of Mel’s breeding program (Mel was politely told to wait by the gate!). It will be a beautiful film with great footage of the ranch, as Scotty and Manu are obviously talented men, but it will reflect a slightly skewed ranch reality!

Scotty and Manu were very excited about the prospect of capturing footage of people in cowboy hats  galloping after cattle. For this one segment, they agreed they needed more than Richard and Bayard…the two men alone herding Highland cattle would probably not have turned into the cinematic masterpiece they envisioned! As a result, Mel and I were asked to join. If you had asked me a year ago, or even two weeks ago, “Hadley, will you ever go on a ride with the entire Fox family in cowboy hats, gallop around in manic circles after Highland cows, fly over sagebrush and jump irrigation ditches while whooping, hollering and waving ropes?”, I would have looked at you like you were as nutty as a fruitcake. But there we were! We took the Highland cows across the river from the pasture by the lower pond, up the steep hill and then into the lower part of the bench to get some galloping footage with the snow-capped Absaroka mountains in the background. We then finished by pushing the Highlands onto the reservation, toward the red-faced lower gorge, in all of our western finery.

As a final hurrah, we galloped toward the camera, four-abreast…Fox Family Glory! It didn’t quite end in glory, however. The horses started to get competitive, and we were speeding up at an alarming rate, when Mel yelled for Bayard to slow down, as he was slightly in the lead. As Bayard slowed down, Richard’s horse got upset because we all got a bit closer together. She kicked out and nailed Bayard in the foot….not the moment you want to be wearing moccasins! Bayard groaned in pain, thinking he had broken a bone, while Mel and I darted ahead leaving our men in our dust. Oh me, oh my! The drama! Bayard was in quite a bit of pain, and it did not please him that Richard, Mel and I could not stop laughing. We weren’t laughing at him….it was just the hilarity of the whole situation: the four of us riding together for the first time ever, running after cattle in a somewhat dangerous, very un-Bitterroot way, and the finale of a full-tilt cavalry charge toward the camera that ended with Broken Bayard! Too much! Fortunately, Bayard did not break anything, but he tore the nail off of his big toe– a painful event.

Despite Bayard’s inflamed toe, it was an extraordinary afternoon. I can’t imagine circumstances that would bring the four of us together to ride again, but then again, I couldn’t have imagined this ride ever taking place. I only hope it happens, as I couldn’t ask for finer, or funnier, riding companions.