On Friday, my class had the pleasure of going on a field trip to Elkhorn Ranch in Paicines, CA. This is a working cattle ranch, as well as the family home of one of my instructional aides, Averi. She was kind enough to invite us out to see what ranch life is like, and it turned out to be one of the best field trips we have taken so far.
We took 6 boys ranging in age from 14 to 18. We weren't sure if they would get bored or not, so we planned a few activities and also some "free time". That was a great idea, because the boys ended up being engaged with learning about the ranch, but ecstatic about exploring the open spaces around them. I think they felt very free, and I know they were happy.
First, Averi brought out her horse, saddled him up and let us brush him while she showed us the tack room and explained all the different halters and saddles they use in activities like roping, branding, and herding. Her saddle is amazing, with tooling, silver and gorgeous details.
Averi showed us how to rope using a little roping dummy. We also got cowboy hats to wear, yee haw! I tried my hand at roping but it is harder than it looks. The guys spent a good half hour on this before taking a snack break. Again, it is very difficult to engage teenage boys for more than 60 seconds, so this was clearly an all-consuming activity for them.
Then it was time to watch Averi do it for real. She brought out her horse and roped cattle for us. I didn't get any pictures of the actual roping because I was enraptured (and I was holding her little teacup Aussie dog) but this was one of the coolest things to see my co-worker do, especially after trying it standing on the ground and know how hard it is. Watching some one actually ride full speed in a little corral with no hands and throw a rope at the same time is incredible. To top is off, the boys got to climb on the side of the corral and help keep the cows off the fence. They learned an important lesson about teamwork, because they saw how much easier it was for Averi to rope the cattle once they jumped up to help her.
After the roping it was time to explore. Averi took us across the street and the boys pretty much ran free. They climbed a giant ridge and then came back down. We went down to a little creek and swimming hole on the property. Here we saw a herd of the family's horses grazing nearby as we crossed the creek. We ate lunch and relaxed while the boys did, well, boy stuff. Stuff they rarely get to do at all, let alone with a group of other guys. They caught frogs and minnows in the creek and "noodled" for catfish. They climbed another ridge... twice. They saw a snake and a found some kind of dead rodent head. Most importantly, they had fun and bonded as classmates. This bonding will carry on into the classroom and help create a more caring a supportive learning environment.
I had a wonderful time. I had never been on a working cattle ranch and, as a vegan, it was very interesting to learn first hand about all the things Averi and her family do to take the best possible care of their animals. Of course they must send the cattle off to be slaughtered but that's a whole different conversation. This ranch, in a beautiful part of California, felt very sacred. I felt that these animals are living the best life possible and are completely honored and respected during their lives there. It was a privilege to visit.
I also realized, watching my students completely engaged in physical activity for the entire trip, how much they could benefit from actual physical labor... from purposeful work. For these young men, for whom picking up a pencil and paper and sitting for 100 minutes in a desk can be torture, the idea of working as a laborer on a ranch may be paradise. It made me rethink my approach to developing transition goals for my students. What kind of work opportunities are out there for my students who aren't college bound? If they know that living and working on the land is a viable lifestyle choice, will they be more excited about the future? These are just some of the questions I have begun to consider after this amazing day. So thank you Ms. Averi for an amazing opportunity. In addition to being an excellent classroom aide and an accomplished cowgirl, Averi is a skilled photographer. Check out her work, and see some more gorgeous views of her ranch and the surrounding area at her facebook page, Reins and Roses Photography.