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Archive for Monday, April 29, 2002

City slickers try out cattle-ranch work

April 29, 2002

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— Betty O'Neill knows her life in Overland Park has its limits.

For one thing, where in Overland Park is she going to be able to ride a horse for miles as she works about 120 cattle into pens and prepares them for vaccinations, tagging and castrating?

"Life is taking one thing at a time, and where am I going to do this in Overland Park? Give me a break; I'm just a city girl," O'Neill said.

O'Neill and her husband, Dennis, who works for an insurance company, headed out to the JL Canyon Ranch recently for a cattle drive. They were among about a dozen city slickers who, for at least a day, would get to know what it feels like to work the way old-time cowboys worked.

Four times each spring and four times in the fall, rancher Jack Lill conducts working cattle roundups on nearly 4,000 acres of rolling Smoky Hills countryside.

Anybody with a mind to and the $150 sign-up fee can learn to ride, rope and brand.

Lill looks a little like a younger Willie Nelson, his 60-year-old face stubbled over and a battered grayish felt hat shoved down on his head. He walked out, leading a horse by the bridle.

"This one here is Taylor," he said, and Dennis O'Neill didn't waste a moment stepping up.

"Just give me Lead, Dead, Sleepy, Pokey, Dopey any of those will do," Dennis said. "I just don't want to be on Diablo."

Steven Taydus, 45, of Wichita, a Boeing employee, said: "We saw an ad for this in the paper, and I had seen the movie 'City Slickers' with Billy Crystal, so I thought we'd ought to give it a try."

His companion, Terri Cash of Haysville, swung easily up onto the saddle of her mount and guided him around the yard just as easily.

"Hey, quit showing off!" Taydus said.

Eventually, everyone was properly mounted, and the paperwork waivers were signed. The riders went up a sandy road and eventually through the pastureland.

Ken Wasserman, a 55-year-old Salina tax lawyer, drove the chuckwagon. He said he and his wife, Pam, have helped Lill with his trail rides and roundups since he started them about three years ago. An old-time steak supper awaits each rider coming off the trail.

This day, the riders eased along ridges that ran like ribs through the prairie grass and rode past moss-green rock outcroppings before they finally laid eyes on the herd.

Then slowly, with instructions from the veterans, they began to push the 120 head of red and white cattle along, toward the working pens where they would be assembled.

"They get to do it all. They rope. They get to do all the throwing they want, all the vaccinating, the ear-tagging. They get to brand," Lill said. "I let 'em do anything but the castrating."

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