Deep Breath

Call me crazy, but this is my favorite time of the year.

Call me crazy, but this is my favorite time of the year. PHOTO: Jenn Zeller

Maybe it’s the fact that my birthday is in October. Maybe it’s the cooler weather. Maybe it’s because fall is my dad’s favorite season. Whatever the reason, fall is my favorite time of year. Grass is turning to gold. Skies are full of clouds and sometimes a hint of purple. The horses are starting to put on their winter hair, and the foals often show you what color they’re really going to be. And the best part – there are fewer bugs to harass your horses. There are always plenty of jobs to do horseback this time of year, and it’s less chaotic than branding season.

There are preconditioning vaccinations to give, bulls to be gathered, calves to ship and preg-testing to be done.

I love that we get to go visit neighbors for many of the aforementioned jobs. One neighbor always provides breakfast burritos. And darn it, it makes me want to keep going to back to help him, even if we do eat them on the trot! Preconditioning season is like branding season, except with less people, food that’s just as good, picnic lunches if the weather holds and calves that are much, much bigger. Our work in ranch country is almost done. And it’s a celebration – again, of hard work coming to a close and a paycheck that’s even closer!

I enjoy the quiet, solitary rides to gather the bulls from the cow herd.

The gathers for our jobs are easier this time of year because the calves have learned to go with mom and they can better keep up. Fall brings us slightly cooler days, an oft-northern breeze and it feels like the earth is getting ready for her winter slumber. Life is slowing down. There’s something soothing about it. 

Sorting pairs is always fun – though not usually as quiet as gathering bulls. But if you take all day to do it, like we do, you make your horses and your cattle that much better. Eating a sandwich and enjoying a beverage while holding herd is a pretty great way to spend a day, if you ask me. Sometimes, we skip lunch altogether. The job still has to get done.

Shipping day brings a new set of challenges – sometimes you’re saddling in the dark, riding into the sunrise for the gather, and toward a setting moon as you head to the corrals. Those peaceful, crisp, early mornings are about the best thing for a soul a person could ask for. 

With a good horse between your legs, great neighbors at your side, big calves and gorgeous country surrounding you, it’s pretty hard to not enjoy those days – even if you do have to break out a sweater and wild rag because it’s colder than you’re used to! The work is worth it. 

I know what always follows fall, yet still look forward to it every year. Cooler temperatures, jobs to do horseback, visits with the neighbors, the annual paycheck, even the added layers of clothing. Extra layers and all, you won’t find me complaining about fall, the work that comes with it, or the season to follow. Life’s too short for all that. 

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.