When I was about 6, I dreamed of being a Cowgirl and/or Indian, riding across the prairies on my pony. I had the hat, the chaps and the boots – everything I needed in fact, except the pony. When my mother explained to me that I was never going to be an Indian, I was shocked. To add insult to injury, it became increasingly obvious that I would never have a pony in downtown Ottawa, and that the wide open plains were thousands of kilometres away. Gradually, that dream faded, replaced by others, but in my heart, I still yearn for a life on the open plains.
When I heard about the Cowboy Poetry Festival taking place in Maple Creek Saskatchewan last weekend, a mere 130 km from Eastend, where I’m spending a few weeks, I knew I had to go. To make the weekend even more enticing, the Cyprus Hills Horse Breeders Assoc. was holding a horse sale and preview at the Agricultural grounds. Pack the camera and let’s hit the road !!
It was all a bit overwhelming for a northerner still in the midst of “prairie shock”. Images were everywhere….way too many to capture in one weekend. And on top of that, there was a new language being spoken…horse talk. Pedigrees were discussed. Phrases like “well broke”, “very cowy” and “heeled off” were muttered by owners hoping to make a sale. Hay crops, floods, vet bills and trucks were also hot topics of conversation.
After the sale, I sat in the Elks Hall and listened to poems with titles like “Calving Time” and “Cow Attitude”. The Montana singing duo, the Divine Bovines, brought down the house with tunes like “That Old A-I Glove” (A-I – artificial insemination- who knew), sung to the tune of “Faded Love” and “Grazin’”, a tune about marijuana munching bovines, sung to the tune of “Crazy”….an old Patsy Cline favourite.
Retired ranchers recited wistful poems about days gone by to an audience sporting mainly grey hair. Husband and wife duos belted out gospel classics and shy teens picked their way through songs of broken hearts and life on the ranch. Kleenex was in evidence.
On Sunday morning, while in search of a washroom before hitting the road, I stumbled into CowboyChurch. Hundreds packed the Armoury for a service unlike anything I had ever seen before. Simple songs and prayers all centred around ranch life. A cowboy poet on crutches got up and told us about a “horse wreck” that had put him in hospital for 3 months and how he had emerged a wiser person. At the end of the service, hundreds rose in unison to sing the Cowboy Hymn, which starts out, “May God grant you gentle horses…”
With that, I hit the highway, happy knowing that even if my personal cowgirl dreams will never come true, there are still lots of ranchers, horses and cowboys keeping those dreams alive.
And so….my prairie education continues. Stay tuned to see what I stumble into next.