by: Lee Pitts
I read an article by an economist that suggested in order to make a greater profit you should get rid of your horses and buy an ATV. Putting horses permanently out to pasture sounds like some diabolical PETA plan to me. Heck, the main reason I wanted to be a rancher in the first place was for the opportunity to climb aboard a horse on a regular basis.
It used to be the biggest coffee shop debate was between calf tables versus dragging calves to the fire. Now it's horses versus ATV's. While I admit to being in close proximity to a calf table once or twice, I've never owned an ATV. I'm sure my wife would like one and I can see a million instances where one might come in handy. But replace the horse? NEVER!
An ATV should be an adjunct to, not a replacement for, the horse.
There's an unwritten rule in the West that a cowboy should walk as little as possible and with an ATV and a horse I see no reason for a cowboy's feet to ever touch the ground. And I grudgingly admit there are pluses to owning one of these glorified golf carts. While I have been unceremoniously dumped and sent sailing by several reprobate horses, I've never been thrown to the ground by a four-wheeler. (Although I was bucked off a three wheeler back when those death machines were around.) I admit an ATV won't run back to the house and leave you stranded all by your lonesome but a horse will never run out of gas... at least the petrochemical kind.
An ATV is a cold, impersonal hunk of metal and plastic. It can't nudge you on your butt for not paying him enough attention like my horse Gentleman did. It can't pick your pockets looking for a carrot, and it can't look at you with those big, beautiful eyes that could melt an iceberg. Get rid of horses? I'd sooner be a sheepherder, pig farmer or poultry plucker. Heaven forbid.
Don't get me wrong, ATV's certainly have their place. I'm a car guy and I love everything with pistons and wheels. I think every ranch ought to own an ATV or two, but they still can't cut a cow. And where do you dally or tie hard and fast?
One of the biggest advantages of ATV's is they allow older folks to still participate in the operation instead of sitting on a couch. They are extremely helpful for irrigating and I've seen a calf catcher device advertised that hooks up to your ATV and allows you to tag a newborn calf without getting rolled by its mad momma. I wish they'd make one that hooks up to a horse. And here's an idea some trailer company could capitalize on. I see a lot of ranchers hauling their horse and an ATV in the same trailer but if they want their horse they have to unload the ATV first. What's needed is a trailer with a separate compartment that allows you to drive in and out from either side without disturbing your napping horse.
This admission may shock you but I don't really love cows like I love dogs and horses. You can't cuddle a cow and when's the last time a steer retrieved a slobbery tennis ball, or carried you on his back for eight hours? Cows are not lovable creatures in the way that horses are.
If we got rid of horses we'd lose a lot of our western culture and traditions. There'd be no need for bits, spurs, saddles, ropes and cowboy boots. What would a Tim Cox painting be without horses? I think this whole ATV movement is caused by Russian hackers who want to miniaturize everything. First it was Bobcats® replacing skiploaders and now we have ATV's as miniature pickups. What's next, miniature horses with out-of-work jockeys for cowboys?
Horseless ranches may work on the flatlands and some purebred operations but you couldn't gather the cows on the mountainous ranches where I've worked with an army of ATV's. While I disagree with the economist about horses, the numbers-crunching professor did have one good idea for improving profits on ranches: he suggested we get rid of the haying equipment.
Now there's an idea I think we can all agree on.
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