When I pulled up to Pine Ranch in Carpenter, Wyoming a few weeks ago, I wondered where the namesake developed. True to eastern plains fashion, the ground spread out expansively, broken only by the occasional outbuilding, county roads, and sunflower fields in full bloom, but nary a tree in site, pine or otherwise.
Annie Larson ambled off her porch with her long blonde hair pulled back and sun-worn face smiling out at me from under a frayed yellow cap. I suspect there was a bit of a smirk hidden carefully away as she took in my skinny jeans and trademark yellow Mary Janes, but she exuded friendliness and welcoming vibes as she welcomed me to her ranch.
Originally a Tennessee native, Annie relocated decades ago to the Wild West and eventually found herself on this plot of land, teaching riding lessons, befriending cows, and collecting goats. She admitted she didn’t know just how many critters she had on her farm (she boards horses, so numbers fluctuate), but with a quick glance around, it was clearly upwards of several dozen animals. The former veterinary student, while divergent from her original path, certainly followed her life’s calling. Surveying the property, she relayed to me the Great Tadpole Rescue this summer in which she and her hired hand replenished a rain puddle daily until the polliwog residents grew legs and hopped away. Her passion for creatures great and small was undeniable.
Chattering away, we filled a pail with cow feed, left my notebook behind, and made our way across a few pastures. Before we got far, Annie gently chided my mission-based stride, much too quick to keep up carrying a full bucket. My natural walking speed is a side-effect of city living (exaggerated by long legs, I suspect). Consciously, I slowed my pace – the ultimate point of the “Bovine Experience.” It was the first of several layers I would shed that morning.
Avoiding cow pies and prickly pears in the tall ground cover, we approached the herd. The sight of the blue pail was clearly familiar and a dozen or more cows eagerly approached us for handfuls of the tiny pellets. Even the bull was reduced to a puppy-like demeanor, nosing through the crowd for his share of the treats. The handful of calves, still nursing age, watched cautiously from the fringe as the adults indelicately ate straight from our hands. There was no shortage of snuffling and cattle slobber, but I knew a sink was waiting for me when we were done. Another piece of the city girl fell to the wayside.
After a time, we set the pail down and sought a cactus- and poop-free patch of earth. Annie instructed me to lay down in the August-dry grass and wait. Wait for what? Two women, both in love with the West, lay flat on our backs under the direct rays of the sun. We quietly talked about life on the ranch, about providing these creatures with a quality life before they move on to be useful in other ways. Annie certainly has no disillusionment on what the ultimate purpose of her cows are – but her friendship with them is not stunted as a result. Her love for them is as undeniable as the earthy smells subtly permeating our clothing and skin that morning.
And then, it began to happen. As my energy settled and my breathing slowed, the cows made their way over to us. Curiosity? Acceptance of us into the herd? I can’t say for sure, but they came and smelled the strange city smells on this urbanite. Licked the feed dust I had wiped on my jeans. Curiously nosed my yellow leather shoes (as I perversely joked if they recognized the smell of a friend). It was there, in the middle of a cluster of lowing bovine, I felt the hurry of my world blow away in the breeze. An unconventional method? Perhaps. But effective – and an incredibly immersive way to experience Wyoming ranch life.
To be fair, there are plenty of locals that think Annie’s ideas are ridiculous. As a matter of fact, as we were getting settled out in the field, her neighbor Bob came hustling out to the field, to make sure we were ok – from his house he could see a couple bodies sprawled out in the pasture and the feed bucket kicked over a good 25 feet away. He had a hearty laugh when he was assured we were alright, but as a life-long rancher, he may have thought we were certifiably crazy. Who in the world voluntarily lays among cow pies and gets licked by cattle? However, Annie’s discovery of this quirk about her cows and her desire to share it with anyone willing, give witness to her pure entrepreneur spirit. She customizes trail rides, riding lessons, team building exercises, yoga sessions with the cows, and this – the Bovine Experience.
That Friday morning was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life – and I think Annie’s on to something in her slow-paced, city-shedding lifestyle. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it may be worth trying at least once to find out.
If you’d like to have your own Bovine Experience – or, milk goats, meet a critically endangered species of horse (Sorraias), or learn some ranching skills for yourself – you can call or email Annie Larsen to arrange a time to visit Pine Ranch. It is well worth the 30-minute drive from downtown Cheyenne and won’t break the bank for an experience you will never forget.
815 County Road 154, Carpenter, WY 82054