(© By Andi Harmon 2017)
Ever since I could hold a camera, I’ve taken photos.
Ever since I knew what it was like to smell the sweet sweat of a horse, feel its breath tickle my face, giggle at the soft velvety feel of a horse’s lips as they search for a treat, I’ve felt a deep love for horses.
It seemed a natural progression to combine the things I love into something tangible. My goal in life is to be a photo journalist, or photo documentarian of a vanishing way of life in the Great Basin – the way of the buckaroo.
In the Great Basin, our “cowboys” are usually “buckaroos”, a term that is earned, not taken. “Buckaroo” is both a noun and a verb; to buckaroo is to work for a living from the back of a horse on a ranch – ride for the brand, if you will. A buckaroo is one who rides for a living, is a true horseman in every sense of the word and a master of the bridle horse.
Often, they are seen wearing wide, flat brim hats, Amish-style, with brightly colored “wild rags” or scarves made of silk and often 36” to 48” square. They wear long-sleeve shirts, often a vest, tall boots with tall heels and big rowel spurs, ride saddles with tapaderos, use horsehair mecates with their traditional hackamores with bosal nose pieces, and swing a rawhide reata, often 60’ to 80’ long. They bring their horses up through training using a hackamore, sometimes a snaffle, up into a 2-rein and then a bridle horse and finally a spade horse. It’s a process of refinement and training that takes hundreds of hours in the saddle. Their saddles have high cantles, big horns, a set of hobbles often hanging from one side. They are polite, they are considerate, they care deeply for the stock and the land and they are some of the hardest working folks one will ever come across.
This is “Slider”, aka “Dunitwithmysliderson”, an AQHA stallion. He’s 6 in this photo and this is his first time in the branding trap. He’s worked cows and been roped on, has gone to shows since he was young but he must ‘prove’ himself on the ranch as well as the show ring. He’s being ridden by a neighbor, Dally, for his first trip into the branding trap and has proven to be a natural at the game.
This young man was so tickled to not only be at a branding, but on a horse too and it shows! He laughed and giggled and made us all laugh until we cried! The sheer joy in this boy shines through every facet of his being!
Some horses just aren’t meant for day to day work. Sometimes, their ‘work’ consists of an 8 second ride every couple of weeks through the spring, summer and fall. And some of them do their job very, very well. Ranch broncs are a little different than regular broncs in that ranch bronc riding is closer to real ranch life. The riders use their stock saddles, complete with the rope and the rules is ‘ride as ride can’. No spur out rule, no slapping leather rule, just stay on, if you can, for 8 seconds. The horses tend to be nasty, rank, unpredictable types that know all the tricks to unseat their rider.
This is “Hawk”, a 9 year old long horn steer. Don’t tell Hawk he’s a steer though, because those are “his” girls! He’s with the same herd of cows all year long and is often seen ‘babysitting’ calves. When it’s time to bring the cows and calves in for branding, Hawk leads the way, often surrounded by several calves, and followed by his girls.
Cory & Jaris Shelman run about 400 pair on their ranch, and use their team of Belgian mares, Darla and Abby, to feed until turnout. When the snow is on the ground, the sled is wonderful, and you just can’t get it stuck. Before, and after the snow, the wagon is used. They feed 6 days a week with the team, feeding double (about 12 ton) on Saturday’s, giving the girls Sunday off. In fact, 99% of their feeding is done with a team. In the spring, they also use the team to irrigate, filling the wagon with manure and making dams. The team is easier on the land, and a joy to use as well.
The mares are sharp shod with toe-heel shoes and are fed free choice grass hay, plus 10 lbs daily of alfalfa and a healthy ration of corn, oats and barley.
The Shelman family has been feeding their cattle with a team for about 10 years, and with this team, about 7 years. Cory raised Darla from a 2 year old, training her himself for the sled and wagon. He and his family raise and sell a variety of ranch horses, and hold a ranch horse sale every year in the late spring in Harney County, many of the horses having been trained or ridden by Cory or his hands and family.
This photo was taken one early morning in the late summer. I was aboard a horse, riding east into the rising sun, trailing cows from one pasture to another. I only take my small camera when horseback but I always have to have a camera with me at all times, in case a scene such as this presents itself! I am not a cell phone photographer and never will be but my little camera has proven itself!
It has taken me decades of wandering and bumping into all sides of this life before diving into it head first a few short years ago. I’ve been coming to Harney County, Oregon, Catlow Valley in particular, since I was a small child, visiting my grandma on the ranch she lived on with a man I considered my grandpa, Billy Brezniak. I blame Billy for my horse-fever; I was 6 when he put me on a “broom-tail”, his term for the wild horses that roamed the high desert. I was hooked.
I spent the next 30 years finding some way to get here permanently. My trade is actually that of a computer tech, a job not exactly in high demand in the rural outposts of our state. I was determined and my perseverance won out. I came here in 1999 and slowly realized my dream of living this life and finding some way to share it with the rest of the world.
I try to show this with my photos; there is a story to be told there and I attempt to do so with my camera. I have ventured off in my photography and done weddings, class photos, family gatherings, newborn pictures and more but they still all have something in common: they represent our lives and our lifestyle in one small way or another.
I am still a computer tech but I am now also a professional photographer. I began getting better cameras, digital as film was so expensive, and photographing every rodeo and horse show I could, for free. I had to build a name for myself if I wanted to be taken seriously. I don’t know if I have truly ‘arrived’ but people do pay me to take photos, invite me to brandings and follow me on social media. I am booked most weekends a month or two in advance and write occasionally for Nevada Rancher Magazine.
For more information about Andi Harmon, go to http://www.lcranchphotography.com.