Stories of Ranch Life
Good Horses, Cattle, Dogs, & Other Interesting Creatures
Joys and Sorrows included
book review by Michael J. Thomas
As the days grow shorter and colder — the nights growing longer with the onset of winter in my remote and rugged ranching community in the heart of Idaho – I find myself spending more time with a good book to pass the long evenings. Turning the final pages of the most recent book in a series of true ranch stories, spanning four generations of a ranching family on a ranch in my own backyard, I hold my aching ribs from the deep heartfelt laughter resulting from the high hilarity captured in many of the stories. At the same time, I am rubbing tears from my cheeks in response to the deep sorrow so well described by the author at the loss of a long-time horse partner or an animal hard fought to save.
In the series of ranch stories: Horse Tales – True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, Cow Tales – More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, and Ranch Tales – Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters – published by The Frontier Project Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado – Idaho rancher and author, whom many of you already know through her numerous books regarding horses and cattle and over twelve thousand articles published in agricultural papers and magazines aimed at helping us successfully raise cattle and horses, Heather Smith Thomas recounts day-to-day events with her passionate and smooth style that thoroughly sucks us into the stories as effectively as if we had been there.
In Thomas’s own words, “Cows are the abiding passion of my life – along with my horses, husband and family, but not necessarily in that order.” Thomas spent her formative years dreaming about a life with horses and cattle. Her father, a Methodist minister, had grown up on a farm in southern Idaho. When she was ten, Heather’s dream began to come to fruition when her family began to acquire and build the ranch near Salmon, Idaho. It was here that she began to learn about raising her own horses and cattle. She had visions of pursuing veterinary medicine after college, but girls were not accepted to vet school in the 1950’s. Through many difficult experiences bringing foals and calves into the world, and struggling to keep some of them alive through various maladies, Thomas vowed to learn all she could about all things related to cattle and horse care and share them with the rest of us through her writings.
It was on this same ranch that later she and her husband Lynn would settle down to continue to raise horses and cattle, and a family. The first book in the series, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, begins an epic journey with Thomas through her early years as she and her family began to build the ranch. The reader is fully drawn into the life of a young girl growing up in simpler times wanting nothing more than a horse of her own. The early heart-warming stories in the book introduce the reader to the girl and her family as they grow together through the difficult times developing a small ranch in the heart of Idaho. Each of these stories centers around an individual horse and the joys and sorrows as the horses’ and human’s lives intertwine. The story Khamette’s Later Years (From Cow Horse to Kid Horse) begins a transition from Thomas’ early years, raising Khamette from a foal, to life on the ranch with husband Lynn and the beginnings of their own family. Both children, Michael and Andrea, learned to ride on that sweet and wonderful mare. The remainder of the 22 stories progress through the lives of Thomas, her husband Lynn, their children, and later her grandchildren as their lives are forever shaped by their interaction with these wonderful creatures. These stories are a spectacular balance of the joys, wonder, humorous moments, and sorrows that come with life on a ranch.
Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch focuses on a lifetime of ranch experiences with individual cattle: humorous accounts, lessons learned, and the wonder of the human-animal bond. In the style of her acclaimed Horse Tales, Cow Tales takes us on a journey through the beginnings with her family on the small ranch in the rugged mountains of Idaho in the 1950’s to the current time – encompassing four generations’ experiences with cattle. Cow Tales has often been compared to James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, each story centering on an animal and the relationship between human and animal that results from a life dedicated to animal husbandry. Thomas says, “Life on a ranch is always exciting and unpredictable. You never know from one day to the next what’s going to happen: a tractor gets stuck in a ditch, cows climb through the fence into the garden, a doe and her fawn show up in the front yard, a bear climbs the apple tree, or a calf takes up residence in the bathroom. Something unexpected is always coming along.” Thomas takes us on a journey through days filled with hardship but balanced with the joys of battles hard fought and won: days when the old squeeze chute broke down and injured her and Lynn but they got all the heifers tagged before dark, hard calving births where calves were comatose and restored to life thanks to unflagging efforts at CPR, the battle to save the cattle during the worst sub-zero storm of the family’s history on the ranch, wonderful stories filled with the joys of witnessing the humorous antics of the cattle – pets and otherwise, and many more.
Not to leave anyone or anything out, Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters, the most recent book in the series, again takes us on a journey from Thomas’ formative years to the present. The subjects include memorable experiences ranging from barnyard cats, pigs, good cow dogs, ranch kids, cattle and range fires, heroic rescues, and many more heart-warming stories and a bit of history. Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.” This book encompasses a broader range of subjects than the first two, but Thomas tells the stories with the same degree of passion and description that so thoroughly brings the reader into the story. You will find yourself laughing with her at the crazy antics of the people and animals and gripping the edge of your seat as you follow the progress of Fearless Fred, the cow dog, who bravely struggled through five surgeries to restore a shattered hind leg.
Now, as I close Ranch Tales I am compelled to share these wonderful stories with the rest of the world. Most of us in farming or ranching can immediately appreciate these stories, but I believe many of our urban family and friends will find these stories uplifting because they are symbolic of many aspects of our lives: hardship overcome by perseverance, humor, joy, and love – regardless of where we call home.
Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (282 pages, $24.95), Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (325 pages, $24.95), and Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters (273 pages, $24.95) are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the publisher: The Frontier Project Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Signed copies are available from Heather Smith Thomas, Box 215 Salmon, Idaho 83467, (208) 756-2841 or email@example.com (price: $24.95 plus $3.00 shipping – Idaho residents add 6% sales tax. For all three books: $70.00 plus $7.00 shipping).
Best wishes as you enjoy these wonderful stories, and may your sides hurt from laughter and your eyes be as wet as mine as you read these passionate stories encompassing four generations’ life with amazing horses, cattle, and a multitude of other fantastic creatures.