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Life is where you make it, from the prairies to the Badlands

I’m many decades removed from being a child, now, but I have never lost my love for horses, and the West still has a special place in my heart because it’s where my dad grew up.

A brown and white horse and a foal stand on grass with hills in the background.
Pete and Vawnita Best raise cattle and horses near Watford City, North Dakota. Photo taken on May 24, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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If there was one place in the world I would have rather grown up, other than a farm in the northern prairies, it would have been a ranch in the West.

On the farm where I grew up, we had the horses and cows necessary for living out my favorite TV shows such as “Fury” and “My Friend Flicka,” and I could wear my cowboy clothes while I rode my Shetland pony, and, later, horses, but the terrain didn’t match what I saw on television.

Instead of guiding my trusty steeds through rugged valleys and steep hills dotted with scrub pine trees, I mostly rode down gravel roads with fields of wheat, barley or oats on either side. When my sister, Bonnie, and I went to check the cows out on pasture, we trotted through grass on ground that was tabletop flat with nary a tree, scrub or otherwise.

I used my imagination to dream up the hills and mountains, sometimes aided by the shape of the evening clouds against the setting sun. I also drew the scenes I imagined, while riding, from the well of tales that my dad told me about growing up on a ranch in Judith Basin County in west-central Montana; the time his horse spooked at a rattlesnake and he fell off and hit his head on a rock, guiding his horse through the rocks where rattlesnakes liked to sun themselves and looking for calves in the draws.

I’m many decades removed from being a child, now, but I have never lost my love for horses, and the West still has a special place in my heart because it’s where my dad grew up. Though he died 25 years ago, the memories of the stories he told and the obvious love he had for his native state have stayed with me.

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A few weeks ago, I was blessed to be in country that was pretty similar to my dad’s old stomping grounds. A co-worker and I traveled to western North Dakota to do some interviews for Agweek and AgweekTV, and one of them landed us in the Badlands near Watford City.

Buttes, rocky valleys and steep hills stretched as far as the eye could see when we visited the ranch of Pete and Vawnita Best, owners of Best Angus and Quarter Horses near Watford City, North Dakota .

Black cattle graze on hills.
Best Angus and Quarter Horse Ranch graze near Watford City, North Dakota. Photo taken on May 24, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

The sights for a prairie dweller's sore eyes included horses and foals grazing against a backdrop of rugged hills, cattle that — from where we saw them from a pickup truck — looked like dark specks framed against sandy rocks and wild fruit tree branches loaded with white blossoms.

After Pete finished his pickup tour of the land where his cattle grazed, and along with it, a history lesson of the area, we visited for a few minutes in the living room of Best Angus and Quarter Horse Ranch. As I sat in the living room with a spectacular panoramic view of the Badlands, I imagined myself riding horseback in the midst of it.

It occurred to me afterward that my trip to Best Angus and Quarter Horse Ranch was, in a way, my childhood dream come true. The scenery, horses and cattle were all there, and I was in the midst of all of them, not on horseback, but with the people who have been and will continue to be.

From listening to their stories and those of the other farmers and ranchers we talked to during our trip to western North Dakota, I know that life there — like it is everywhere for people that make their living off the land — can be harsh, unforgiving and result in plant and animal death.

The trip out West renewed my appreciation I have for the state where I grew up — and where my dad and my mom built a family and farm on the prairies. Though I still admire the beauty of the western North Dakota and Montana terrain, I have greater appreciation for the men and women who make a living farming and ranching it, wherever they are.

Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, N.D., that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or abailey@agweek.com.

Related Topics: RURAL LIFEHORSES
Opinion by Ann Bailey
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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