Ranch Diaries: Getting injured on the job

I went through a lot of Ibuprofen and some serious self-doubt; then I sucked it up and got back on my horse.


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

A month ago, Sam flew East for a wedding, and to meet his brother’s first child. It was perfect fall weather for checking gates and fence lines, my main responsibility while he was away. A few miles from where I started, I stepped off my horse to splice a wire and promptly collapsed. Raven stood patiently while I writhed on the ground, trying not to pass out. After a while, I hobbled over to him and swung back on, debating whether to keep checking fence or to go home. I was sure my ankle was at least sprained, but it was Sunday, and the clinic in Ruidoso was closed.

  • Day after Thanksgiving creme brulée by Sam.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • In addition to Sam's sister and niece, we had this visitor for our Thanksgiving celebration.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Raven, on the fated day.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Rime frost frames Schwarzie, the ranch cat.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sam and crew move cattle to Cow Camp 2 for pregnancy checking.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Shipping our culled cattle.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The author holding cows at the gate, resting her ankle, and giving Hoot a bite to eat.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The author's sprained ankle in a splint.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The author helping with pregnancy tests last week.

The moon was out when I finally finished the ten-mile stretch of fence, hopped my horse into the trailer, and wrestled the truck into gear. Mostly, I felt foolish. Foolish for hurting myself doing something I do all of the time. I’d landed wrong somehow, in a divot or on a rock — who knew? — but it was clear I was injured. When I pulled off my boot and sock at home, my left foot was purple to the toes.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Toughness is a part of ranching culture, and I felt silly for wanting a doctor to look at a sprained ankle. But I’m not a wimp. Eleven years ago, I barely survived a car wreck that left me with a broken neck, a cracked sternum, and half my teeth shattered. Finally, I concluded caring for my body was more important than looking weak.

The doctor said if it wasn’t broken, it was a hell of a sprain. X-rays showed no breaks, but I’d ripped several ligaments and would need to wear an air splint for six weeks and lace-up boots for three months. Of all the times to turn my ankle, this fall was not a good one. We were starting to gather cows to pregnancy test them. My splint wouldn’t fit in my cowboy boots, so I found a pair of lace-ups for half-price and started breaking them in. I went through a lot of Ibuprofen and some serious self-doubt.

Then I sucked it up and got on my horse. Weird things happen to folks all the time. Hop off a horse thousands of times and the probability is something will eventually happen. The doctor approved riding, and ride I did. I gathered strays and bundled up to help bring cows to the corrals last weekend when we pregnancy-tested. I hopped gates and went up and down the catwalk to keep animals moving toward the chute. And now that the bulk of the work is done, I’m taking it easy. If it’s going to be a sustainable career, us ranchers need to treat our bodies well, recognize that we all get injured once in a while, and give ourselves time to heal. It’s not easy for most of us to slow down and wait while we heal, but it’s crucial.

Now we have time to slow down and celebrate: our steers shipped heavy, and after we finished pregnancy testing last week, ninety-five percent of our cows were bred. It was a much better performance than we expected. We can go into winter breathing easier. With fewer heifers to calve out in the spring, and a resident herd of more mature cows now familiar with the range, Sam and I should have a few months to catch up on other projects.  Making some new chaps and tack, tackling an overflowing mending pile, welding up the rest of the new corrals. And for me, resting a badly sprained ankle.

High Country News Classifieds