Old-timers and greenhorns alike gathered Sunday to move cattle to the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds.
It was the first cattle drive on the central Kenai Peninsula in recent memory, and certainly the first from Diamond M Ranch Resort to the rodeo grounds, said Mike Anderson, who helped organize the drive. The Soldotna Equestrian Association hosts cattle at the grounds every summer, but usually they arrive via trailer. A few still did, but this year, many of the cattle came by their own power.
"It was a little different than what we normally do," Anderson said. "The important thing is no one got hurt and it got done."
Diamond M owner Carrol Martin suggested the cattle drive as a fun way to start the season. It was made possible by interest within the association, Anderson said.
Anderson, who grew up on a ranch in north Florida and has worked with horses and cattle his whole life, didn't know the exact mileage of the ride, but it took a little over three hours from the time about two dozen riders left the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds near the Soldotna Sports Center on Kalifornsky Beach to the time they returned with nearly two dozen cattle plodding along in front of them.
Their route took them from Diamond M's grazing pasture, down Poppy Ridge and past Kenai Peninsula College's Kenai River Campus, over to Endicott, down K-Beach for a couple blocks and finally into the rodeo grounds via the sports center parking lot.
Anderson said the cattle are kept at the grounds all summer for the association's events and rodeos.
The equestrian group keeps about 28 head at the rodeo grounds, plus bucking bulls, he said.
Besides the Diamond M cattle, some Soldotna Equestrian Association members bring their cows to the grounds for the association to use. Anderson was also traveling to other parts of the Peninsula last week to round up a few more.
Longtime association member Karen Jensen said association members either pay a fee or lend their cattle in order to participate in the group's cattle events all summer. In exchange, the association feeds, waters and even doctors the cattle when needed, Jensen said.
The cattle events include weekly buck-out, rope-out and team-penning nights.
Jensen's husband, Randy Jensen, said the association goes through about 15 tons of hay, all bought locally from a Soldotna grower.
The drive wasn't Jensen's first -- she's from North Dakota -- but it was her first here in Alaska.
"It's different here in Alaska," she said. "We're very proud that we can call it a cattle drive."
Jacob Fowler agreed.
"It's something so unique for Alaska," he said.
Fowler grew up participating in the cattle events and rodeos in Soldotna, but has had more experience with cows while Outside for college.
"I worked cows a lot down in Arkansas," he said.
Not everyone had Jensen and Fowler's prior experience, but most had spent plenty of time around cattle.
"They're experienced working cattle in the arena," Anderson said.
Having ridden horses since he was 4, Mark Hall was one of the most experienced riders at the event. He said he'd never participated in a cattle drive before.
"I was riding horses in North Kenai in 1954," he said.
And while he hadn't ridden in a cattle drive before Sunday afternoon, Hall said he had experience herding. Hall ran Strawberry Stables for many years, where he took unexperienced people out for trail rides. Essentially, he was herding people on horses, he said.
"Basically what you've got is a pack string of horses with live packs on 'em," he said.
So the cattle drive didn't seem too far out of the ordinary.
"It's another day of riding," he said.
The cattle drive marked the start of the season for the equestrian association. The first rodeo is Memorial Day weekend.
"It's breathin' down our necks," Anderson said.
The association puts on three rodeos in Soldotna, and the same cattle are used for two more in Ninilchik. Together, the five rodeos are called the Cowboy Buckle Series, Anderson said.
Just because it was the first cattle drive doesn't mean it will be the last. The Jensens said the event could become an annual thing.
After the cattle were herded into their pen at the end of the ride, Bradyn Holly, 14, said he'd help with another cattle drive.
Holly grew up around horses and has been riding in this area for five or six years. His favorite rodeo event is barrel racing, which is a little more technical than cattle herding.
"It was fun," he said. "There's a lot to learn."
Fowler was excited to see the younger turnout, with riders like Holly helping with the drive and being involved in the association.
"It's nice to have some kids out here to carry it on," he said.
Fowler said the equestrian association is probably at an all-time high for participation.
"That's probably the best part of this," he said. "That we can actually make it happen."
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.