A slice of the cowboy life | VailDaily.com

A slice of the cowboy life

NWS Cowboy Class 1 DT 5-4-11

EAGLE – Berry Creek Middle School got three more R’s in its curriculum Wednesday: Ropin’, ridin’ and roundups.

The school’s English Language Acquisition teacher, Laurie Blickenstaff, is an honest-to-Stetson rodeo cowgirl who competes in barrel racing and team roping – when she’s not in the classroom.

Every spring, she herds students from her multicultural class into the indoor arena at the Eagle County fairgrounds where they learn, among other things, that taking care of horses is a lot like taking care of life.

“It’s an opportunity for me to bring my love to them,” Blickenstaff said. “They’ve been excited about this for days, and when they get back to school they’re still excited.”

In cowboy class Wednesday they learned to do things right, every time. If you don’t get it right, you find out the hard way that the arena floor isn’t as soft as it looks when you fall onto it.

Berry Creek Principal Robert Cuevas was showing them how to saddle a horse, teaching them that preparation is everything. You have to put in the time and effort, he said.

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“If you respect horses, they’ll respect you,” Cuevas said. “It’s the same as school. If you respect your principals, teachers and each other, you’ll get respect in return. The foundation for almost everything is respect.”

They’ve been studying cowboy culture for at least two weeks, learning about how people earn their livelihoods in Western Colorado’s agriculture industry. And also that being a cowboy can be fun, but it’s not quite as romantic as the movies and cowboy poetry make it out to be.

“We learned about herds and different kinds of horses,” said one sixth grade girl. “We also learned about cowboys and what they do.”

Most teaching is the same, they learned, whether you’re teaching kids or horses.

You master the basics and build on those. It can be repetitive and occasionally tedious and frustrating, but it’s the only way.

When you’ve built that foundation, you realize that horses, like most people, will do about anything you ask them to do, depending on how you ask.

Instructions don’t need to be complicated, for horses or people. When it’s time to move and stop, say exactly that, and say it the same way every time.

And because this really is school, they’ll write about it all.

“You can incorporate this into almost anything,” Blickenstaff said.

There’s a persuasive essay in their immediate future about treatment of livestock based on the roping demonstrations. They’ll also compare and contrast American and Mexican rodeos, focusing on how events and gear are different.

They’ve also been instructed to write a biography of a cowboy of their choosing.

“This hits on everything – literature, reading, writing – and it ties it to something that’s relevant to them,” Cuevas said. “Lots of these kids come from rural communities, some here in the U.S. and some in Mexico. Some of them have been away for a few months, others for most of their lives, but most of them have been around horses and livestock at some point in their lives.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.