Double Rafter Cattle Drive – 2015

Sheridan, WY – For the third year, Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program (JMHP) saddled up wounded, critically ill and injured active duty service members and veterans on an authentic cowboy adventure in the majestic Big Horn Mountains at the Double Rafter Ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming. For service members who dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl, this clinic gives them the experience of the way ranching was done 150 years ago.

The Double Rafter Cattle Drive is the JMHP’s culminating event putting together horsemanship and cowboy skills learned in previous clinics held throughout the year. Sixteen JMHP riders joined the Double Rafter crew for a week of cowboying that covered all aspects of cattle handling on horseback from rounding up cattle scattered throughout tall pines and deep valleys, to sorting calves in pristine mountain meadows, to driving 300 cattle over high mountain passes.

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A typical day consisted of a hardy meal at sunrise around a campfire with a bubbling pot of cowboy coffee.

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JMHP cowboy camp and breakfast around the campfire

After the meal, and with the day’s work assigned, riders tacked their horses and set off to round up cattle in distant mountain meadows and then drive them to fresh mountain pastures. Our cowboys and cowgirls learned to connect with their horse and work as a team to keep the wily bovines in line and moving in the right direction.

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JMHP riders coming out of the canyon into a magnificent mountain park

Working as a team, riders drove the herd across babbling brooks and rushing streams, over 9000 foot high summits, and through some of the most beautiful country our Nation has to offer.

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JMHP riders take in the scenery during a break from cowboying

JMHP riders had ample opportunity to improve their horsemanship while enjoying the fresh mountain air and scenic beauty.

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JMHP riders giddy-up across the meadow

At the end of a full day of riding, they enjoyed a robust meal around the fire and tall tales from their fellow service members recounting the day’s events. Riders had the chance to fish in the historic Big Horn River and grill their catch over the fire. For most, a good night’s sleep meant settling in around the fire using their saddle as a pillow or crawling into provided tents in case of rain. They slept soundly each night under a blanket of stars, with sore muscles from a long day’s ride, and a satisfied smile on their faces knowing they measured up with the cowboys of days long ago.

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Mentor Wendell Cayton teaches financial planning to riders at the end of the day

The Double Rafter Cattle Drive was our culminating event putting skills learned during the Colorado Roundup (Oct 14), Dixie Challenge (Apr 15), and California Roundup (June 15) to use during an actual cattle drive. We are particularly proud of our cattle drive buckle recipients whose dedicated efforts throughout the past year was awarded with trophy buckles from Mortenson’s Silver and Saddles of Santa Fe, NM.

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Joe Qualls receives the “Top Hand” and Bert Blevins receives the “Most Gung-ho” buckles from JMHP Forman John Mayer
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Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and singer Doug Roberts entertain around the fire

After completing the cattle drive, the veterans attended a day of festivities at Cheyenne Frontier Days as guests of BP America. Cheyenne Frontier Days is the nation’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration. On July 25, our veterans were honored for their service with a place in the Frontier Days’ Grand Parade after which they attended the rodeo and concert with country stars Keith Urban and John Anderson.

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JMHP riders Alexander Monaghan and Tom Craig wave during the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade

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JMHP riders behind the chutes at the Cheyenne Rodeo

As we have seen in all the JMHP clinics in the past, the spirit-lifting power
of bonding with horses, overcoming the challenging aspects of horsmanship and cowboying through the team work of fellow service members, and the magnificent bounty of our country’s landscape seem to combine to bring out the best in all of us.

The feedback below came from two of our participants after the cattle drive. While these comments are from only two of the riders, I know they accurately reflect the motivation and optimism of all who participated in the Double Rafter Cattle Drive and Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“Winston Churchill said ” the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.” I’d take that a step further and say that the horse, my brothers and sisters, the beautiful country that we fought for, and true Americans are the best thing for my soul. I didn’t want to leave this trip. I did things on a horse that I didn’t know were possible. I watched as fellow participants overcame life, if only for eight days, and lived with joy. That eight days was priceless! Thank you!!!”

“It is truly hard to articulate my time on the Double Rafter Cattle Drive. I can say, though, that it was life inspiring. Horses, cattle, brothers/sisters, and a setting that I thought only imaginable, combined to awaken the indomitable spirit that I thought died with combat. Each trip with the Jinx McCain program has been special and healing, but nowhere close to my time in the Big Horns.”

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Our special thanks and heartfelt gratitude are extended to the following donors who made this trip particularly special through their donations: Doug Roberts, Matt Palmer, Trajan Vieira, Bruce King, Tom Balding, Clint Mortenson, and BP America.

The Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program conducts clinics throughout the year and is open to all wounded, ill, and injured service members, veterans, and their spouses as long as they meet the physical requirements. To receive newsletters and sign up for our clinics, contact program Foreman John Mayer at: john.mayer@semperfifund.org or 830-992-9581.