BY Ted Loos
July 05 2009 11:00 PM ET
It's hard to be a rough-and-tough cowboy when your horse is named Snickers. But Snickers was sure-footed and high-spirited, a stately brown mustang who was much better at his job than I was at mine.
There I was, a New Yorker on vacation for a week in southern Montana at the 12,000-acre Lazy E-L Ranch, a few miles from the town of Red Lodge, with eight fellow gay and lesbian adventurers (five men and three women). And while I was there on holiday, on this midday morning it sure felt like work, since we had been on horseback since 7 a.m. and the July sun was beating down on us.
I had but one job to do: Prevent a certain heifer from escaping the perimeter we'd formed with our horses so the ranch hands could rope her, hold her down, and administer medicine. Inside our circle of horses were hundreds of fat, lumbering, and ornery cattle -- they reminded me of nothing so much as frat boys at a bar, spoiling for a fight.
The setting was certainly stunning, encompassing a grassy, sloping hillside dotted with sagebrush, a roiling river below us, and a dense pine forest above. The Beartooth Mountains, the highest in the state and snowcapped even in July, rose up in front of us, making the perfect stage set for a cattle drive. It exceeded my expectations of beauty and certainly outdid the brochure that gay-tour group OutWest Global Adventures (OutWestAdventures.com) provided when I signed up for the trip.
I was abruptly snapped out of my landscape reverie when I heard my name called, with an order, "Flank her on the right!" The heifer was making a break for it. Buck, the 18-year-old blond ranch hand who could have a career as an Abercrombie model if he wanted, yelled down the hill at me, "Close the circle!" I pulled Snickers to the right, but he pulled against me. He didn't want to move, and there was a patch of clover he was eyeing for lunch. The heifer was fast, though. The riders on my right tried to close up the space between us to head her off at the pass, but she got through and charged down the hill toward a group of 20 other cattle.