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Nokomis, Florida
Allan Horton


One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, Where the Meadow Larks Once Flew


Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of


About Allan Horton  

Yeah, I'm from Florida and I've worked as a cowboy, and now I own a commercial beef cattle ranch that's being hemmed in by land development -- little ticky-tacky houses and gentrified "barns" sprouting up all over the place on 6 acres here, 10 acres there - that sort of thing. I'm thinking of planting the property line I share with a subdivision with Spanish bayonet and Opuntia cactus, and go down to the Glades and buy the biggest, meanest swamp bulls I can find; that should keep the ATVs and pit bulls and poodles at bay!

I run about 170 head of F1 brood cows on 1,300 acres of land which actually is a pretty good stocking rate, believe it or not, but I work as a newspaper editorial writer though my degree is actually animal science and pre-vet medicine (never could pass the chemistry and math). We used to have more than twice the land, but after my parents died within four years of each other, I lost half to a combination of federal estate taxes and a balloon payment my mortgagor would not extend, and the rest put my kids through college.

We asked Allan why he writes Cowboy Poetry and he thinks it is important, and he replied:  Cowboy poetry (and Masefield's maritime poetry) speak the languages I know best -- sailing and ranching/cowboying -- because of all the things I've done, the modest proficiencies I've gained and the lessons I've learned at sea and on the ranch have been the most durable -- and yes, I've written sea poetry, too, which maybe someday I'll try to publish.

There's an honesty expressed in their poetry both by sailors and cowboys that leaves no misunderstanding about their lives and the conditions that shape those lives. I think whether you're left in charge of the ship's helm or the crowding crevice-fence gate, the
sense of personal responsibility and trust in your ability is the implicit contract both sailors and cowboys are expected to fulfill. Whether you're told to steer 150 degrees or ride three miles and set the gates for a drive, there's no shirking that responsibility, no matter the weather, no matter how you feel - it's your watch, and you'd better do it.

And, that's why cowboy poetry is important because not only does it express the import of those obligations, it manages also to tell about the eagle, the new colt and the sunrise seen on the way. And it does it in a very human, very approachable way.

We asked him how he came to write "Where the Meadow Larks Once Flew" and he said:  Driving out our gate one day, the impact of the new 5 to 15-acre "ranchettes" eating up the county's finest pasture directly across the road hit me in the gut. I'd seen the surveyors, and then the realtor's little office tent and trailer and within weeks, the first bulldozer pushing out a house pad - and I knew the whole process could come marching over my horizon someday. And, that's when I really decided - firmly - the asphalt
will stop at my property line because as sole owner, I fully intend to install a perpetually binding, deed-dedicated, irrevocable conservation easement over all my land. I'll lose, potentially, millions of dollars, but I don't give a damn; what I'm looking for now is some sort of foundation, trust or whatever can provide the umbrella to maintain not only the land and its habitats, but the practices of range cattle stewardship as we do it in Southwest Florida. I purely hate what is happening in Florida -- on the ranges and
on the waterways -- because it's being inundated by growth and development that give mostly lip service only to the natural terrain and resources they are demolishing, along with the water and the air -- and despite very active conservation and public land acquisition programs.

You can contact Allan Horton by email.


Where Meadow Larks Once Flew

 A sign went up on the highway one day
"Prime land for sale" was all it did say.
And then one day the sign came down
And new cars and trucks drove by from town.

The Realtor was the first to show in his shiny SUV,
He stood upon the bumper, to see what he could see.
The land surveyors were next with their laser-guided scopes
They measured this and figured that and tallied all the slopes.

Then one day with a grinding roar,
A bulldozer walked where none had before,
Pushing trees and bushes out of the way
And turning lush, green grass into brown, dead hay.

Streets rose next from the flattened range
With names on signs both exotic and strange.
"Willow Way" read one where willows never grew,
"Eagle Lane" was another where eagles never flew.

The masons and carpenters were next to appear,
Raising walls and roofs from there to here.
And out on the highway rose walls and a gate
And a sign that said "homes going fast, don't be too late."

We watched with wonder as moving vans came
Disgorging families and furniture, all just the same
With two kids, a dog and a minivan, too,
They settled in to live where meadow larks once flew.

But soon we began to hear murmurs of trouble
As the things we were used to burst the newcomers' bubble.
They didn't like the sounds and smells, it seems, of cattle
And the smoke raised by our fires was enough to do battle.

So, to the county commission they went one night
And told tall tales that would give anyone fright.
They paid more taxes and were entitled, it seems
To new rules and concessions to guard their new dreams.

So, now on the highway there's a new sign erected
A sign of the times we should have expected
"For sale," it says, "prime growth opportunity,"
As another ranch is erased by a new Florida community.

© 2001, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Brothers at Heart

Tourists in a Western state,
we were far from hearth and home
when we met a cowboy driving cows
beside a field of brome.

From fence to fence, they filled the lane,
fat Herefords, fuzzy and sleek
Cows and calves, a few bulls, too,
 they were at their summer peak.

We began to talk, that cowboy and me
about the things we knew.
And though I maybe didn't look the part,
he could tell I'd herded a few.

"I've been out since 5 gathering these cows,
driving them out of the brush.
 It's no easy job, I guess you know,
but now I'm in no great rush.

"Tell me, what's it like in Florida
to gather a herd of cows?"
He asked me as we dawdled along,
as a cow here and there paused to browse.

I looked at the hills faded all blue
the yellow fields tilting far away
and wondered just how to best describe
how a Cracker passes his day.

"The hours are about the same, " I said,
"And our rigs aren't a lot different either.
But we breed some Brahman into our herd,
to stand up to the heat and the fevers.

"You can't see for miles like you can out here
'cause the trees and the vines get in the way."
And I added as I glanced at his dry saddle girth,
"Sometimes we'll use two horses a day.

"For when you jump those Cracker cows
in a horse-head-high clump of myrtle,
they'll scatter like a covey of quail,
 lie low ... and then turn turtle.

"Or they'll paddle across a mucky swamp,
and lie up in a thick bay head
ringed by palmettos with roots knee-high
And pricker vines every cowboy dreads.

"There's snakes in there and skeeters, too,
and the muck can bog your horse down,
but the day's not done 'til you drive 'em out,
 so you go at it with shouts all around.

"You have to get off and wade right in
and throw in a dog or two,
and like as not when they run 'em out,
they'll run 'em right over you.

"Finally you get them headed for home,
strung out down the crevice or lane,
and after you finally shut the gate on the pen,
 your horse gets a good cup of grain.

"Then you dip 'em or spray 'em,
according to your plan,
and part out the beeves going to town.
Turn out the rest and load the best
on the waiting trailer van.

"Finally the auctioneer sings and the buyers bid
and some money changes hands.
But prices are never what they were last week,
and you only hope your banker understands.

"For the Cracker never gets rich, they say
'til the day he sells the farm,
for he buys retail and sells wholesale
and prays that he comes to no harm.

"No, it's about the same as out here, I'd say,
though John Wayne never played a Cracker part.
But it gets in your blood
when you live that way and I'd guess,
we're all really Brothers at Heart."

© 2001, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Pioneers who settled Florida were called "Florida Crackers," a nickname that probably refers to the cracking sounds their whips made as they herded cattle.  Allan told us the above poem is a "cowboy poem that came from a true encounter in Colorado, and that was published in a magazine called 'Florida Land & Livestock News,' which only lasted for about 6 issues."


A Wreck of a Day

It started long before the dawn
That wreck of a day I'll ne'er forget.
I shouldda known as I palmed a yawn
I wasn't ready for the day just yet.

My horse had a burr in his back that morn
And fought the brushin,' blanket and bit
And as I turned and grabbed the saddle horn,
He kicked down the gate and out he lit.

I finally caught him and brought him back
And tied him wall-eyed to the fence,
Got my pickup and to the trailer I backed.
Then the second wreck of the day commenced.

My mind was somewheres else, I guess
As I cranked the hitch down on the ball
'Cause I caught my thumb in the tongue, what a mess
And boy, I'll say I did some bawl.

It hurt like hell, but what could I do
The boss was ready and the crew was waitin,'
So I loaded my horse and all my kit, too,
And started a day I was already hatin.'

We rode for miles that day in the rain
And came to the end of a narrow lane
Where the herd was 'sposed to be trapped that way
Ready to drive back the way we came.

But the gate I'd tied the day before
Was standin' open and the herd had left.
Never seen the boss so mad before
As I stood there and took it, I was some bereft.

I'd a never guessed from a bale of hay
That something so strong when around it is tied
Like binder twine would bust that way
When a cow against a tied gate lied.

We finally found 'em and headed back
And they were pretty full of themselves, I"ll say
But I stayed well back and followed the track
As the sun finally set on that Wreck of a Day.

© 2001, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


A Cowboy Joke

Cowboys like a joke you know,
The same as any bloke;
So you gotta look out whene'er you ride
With a bunch of crazy cowpokes.

Early one mornin' we started out
A herd of cattle to trail,
When a cowboy broke off a palmetto frond
'N shoved it under an old mare's tail.

Well, she snorted and bucked and crow-hopped, too,
And threw her rider for a loop.
Sore and cussin', he crawled back on
To a chorus of hollerin', laughin' and hoots.

By noon we had those cattle headed
And were trailin' 'em down a lane
When that sore cowboy saw a snake
And got an idea in his brain.

Now, it was just a harmless gopher snake
But it was big and fat and black,
So he tucked it up inside his shirt
Where it rode coiled around his back.

He eased 'long side that cowboy prankster
And unsnapped his shirt down low
And slipped that snake from around his back
And onto that cowboy's saddle real slow.

That old boy came unglued as you might 'xpect
And left his saddle and horse right behind
As an encore of hollerin', laughin' and hootin'
Met that cowboy with jokes on his mind.

So you gotta look sharp whene'er you ride
With a bunch of crazy cowpokes,
'Cause sure as shootin', they'll get even
If you make 'em the butt of your jokes.

© 2002, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Allan says: Like the rest of my poetry, this tells a tale that's true; one of my friends was the guy with the palmetto frond (a miniature palm that grows about waist high); and I was the guy with the snake - and it was a gopher snake, a kind that almost never bites - and revenge was so sweet.


He was just a pinto pony
And Pinto was his name,
But to a lonely little buckaroo
No horse could ever be the same.

Pinto was a reject
From a fancy circus string.
He didn't mind the training,
But he hated the circus ring.

The lights and crowd noise scared him
And he yearned for something more
Than trotting around in circles,
Which quickly became a bore.

So one bright day Pinto left that scene
And went home to the little buckaroo,
Who put bridle and blanket on him
And rode to a shady slough.

They rode together for another year
As the buckaroo rode like an Indian,
And then a Mexican pony saddle came
And the buckaroo mounted once again.

Pretending to be Indian changed
To herding imaginary cattle,
And now the Indians became desperadoes
As the buckaroo rode out to battle.

Pinto bore him proudly
From marsh to sand-pine hill
As they roamed the Florida backwoods
Even stumbling across a still.

Another year passed in that quiet way,
Then the home place finally sold
And they embarked upon a ride
As ambitious as it was bold.

The new place was 20 miles away,
Farther than they'd ever been.
Yet there was nothing else for it,
But to ride there, together again.

So Pinto and the buckaroo
Set out on a frosty morn
With a cupful of grain and a bag of lunch
And one last look at a home grown forlorn.

They rode through empty woods
Where thousands live today
For this was Southwest Florida
Before the retirees came to play.

They rode down sandy lanes
Where they traveled the road alone
And where today four lanes of asphalt
Carry commuters chatting on their phone.

They came to a wide tidal creek
Spanned by a narrow bridge of wood
With boards that rattled loudly
As only a wooden bridge could.

It was a circus scene all over
For Pinto, the frightened pony.
He'd not set foot on that rattly old bridge
Or even approach anything quite so phony.

It was getting late and there was nothing to do
But to ford that salty, tidal creek,
But Pinto slipped on an oyster shell
And cut the frog on one of his feet.

There were three miles or more to go yet
But Pinto'd taught that buckaroo well,
So he dismounted and walked those miles
As Pinto limped behind, his hoof beginning to swell.

Well, all turned out fine after the vet showed up
And Pinto lived to a happy old age,
As the buckaroo turned to other things
And life turned page after page.

But once in a while
He can barely see
For the tears his memories bring
For Pinto was my pony and that buckaroo was me!

© 2002, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



A Sailor's Lament

"Were you born to be a cowboy?" was the first thing that he said.
I guess I looked the part to him and to his mom and dad.
We met out by the road gate where I was patchin' a broken wire;
They'd stopped to ask the way as evenin' sun set the clouds afire.

He was just a little shaver, maybe six or eight years old.
His hair was blond, his eyes were blue and he looked at me real bold
But it was a fair and honest answer that he wanted and needed to know,
And so I told him this story that began so long ago.

"No," I said, "I shouldda been a sailor 'cause I was born beside the sea
I learned to swim and sail a boat and the waves brought shells to me.
My daddy was an engineer who built roads and dams and bridges.
He measured land and tallied acres and mapped out all the ridges.

"But my mother was a farmer's daughter and she always loved the land,
And during the war we had a cow and chickens I helped her raise by hand.
Though I had a pony and I'd pretend to ride the range,
The Florida piney woods and palmettos made it all seem kinda strange.

"But then I got a real horse and learned to rope and ride
And went to work for a rancher with hands as tough as hide
I helped to gather cows, made hay and dosed calves for screw worm,
Dug post holes and stretched fence wire and slowly began to learn.

"When I finally went to college I tried a lot of things,
But I flunked out and went to sea and did some other things,
Came home a merchant seaman with money in my hand,
And bought a little herd of cows to put on my daddy's land.

"That's where it all got started with just nine cows and a bull.
Polled Herefords, every one, good grass and the creeks were full,
And even my mother helped me as we built the fences by hand,
And turned palmettos into pasture as we slowly improved the land.

"We bought more cows and bulls of different kinds and colors,
Some were white and some were black and some were many others.
My mother's favorites were the brindles with their dark and tawny stripes
That were mighty good for camouflage in the thickets where they'd hide.

"There's one grazing over there, I said, and if you look at her real good,
You'll see why we kept her kind in our ranchin' livelihood.
Those dark circles 'round her eyes keep the cancer from occurrin'
And that flap of skin beneath her neck cools her down when nothin' else's stirrin'.

"Her legs are long and strong, you see, so she can cover lots of ground.
'Cause she has to eat a lot of grass to keep her belly round,
And she's got an udder like a Jersey for a lot of milk to hold
And raise the calves she throws each year so big and strong and bold.

"For nearly 50 years now we've raised up cows like her
And shipped to market the kind of calves the buyers seem to prefer.
I'm not sure they know the difference when they take 'em off the truck,
Whether they're raised by someone born to it, or come to it like me by luck.

"'Cause cows are cows and beef is beef, no matter how you cut it
And when all's said and done, I guess, there's nothin' that can touch it.
Maybe I shouldda been a sailor and spent my life at sea,
But I like cows and I love it here and that's what works for me."

Well, they thanked me for the visit and climbed back in their car
And I watched them as they drove on west toward an early evenin' star
As night crept across the hammocks to the call of the whip-poor-will,
I could almost see the waves a rollin' on the sea I remember still.

© 2007, Allan H. Horton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Allan comments, "Like all the rest of my poems, it reflects a verity of cowboy life as I have, or continue to, live it—in spirit if not in fact. The facts it mentions—my dad an engineer of some repute, my own experiences fixing fence and doing myriad other ranch chores, my life then and since as the absentee owner (now) of the ranch—all are true. I once rode and roped (poorly), but after I broke my back, can no longer sit a horse reliably, so only occasionally ride in the afternoon of a working day, perhaps to turn out the cattle after working them in the pens, when by then, the top end has been worn off the horses.

"Now the struggle is to keep the ranch intact—we lost half of it to estate taxes when my folks died back-to-back. I'm hoping to sell a conservation easement contract to the state that will preserve it in perpetuity from the development that's consuming ranches all over my neighborhood (read "
Where the Meadowlarks Once Flew") and find some mechanism to pass it on to my kids, both of whom live and work elsewhere. With the easement contract, however, even if they don't own and run it, it would never be developed and hopefully, could continue to be a cattle ranch."




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