When it comes to picking out the longhorn cattle to strut through Denver in the city's annual National Western Stock Show parade, one Colorado Springs rancher says it's all about personality.

Bovine personality.

Wednesday afternoon, Ellicott rancher Gary Lake and four helpers selected 30 of his Silverado Ranch longhorns to make the trip to Denver. It's not an easy job, but the tradition of longhorns moseying through 17th Street has long been a staple to kicking off the Stock Show. 

At Silverado, the team chooses the animals that go to Denver based off their gentleness and demeanor, Lake said.

The process of separating the chosen cattle is simple. Lake and his helpers saddle their horses and herd them into a dusty metal corral. That's where they administer the personality tests to the mooing masses.

Happy ones go to Denver. Testy ones go back into the pasture.

While longhorns are famous for their traditional western looks, it can't all just be about the glamour.

"One of our prettiest cows is also our craziest cow," said Marlene Reynolds, a part-time ranch hand. "We don't take anything like that (to Denver)."

She motioned to another longhorn that broke and ran, defying cowboys urging the rest of the herd to the pen.

That one, too, she said, proved it wasn't ready for a trip.

Longhorns with bad attitudes make great steaks, the ranchers said.

Despite big, sharp horns, the breed is known for being relatively docile, Reynolds said. But every group, including this one, has its difficulties.

Another rancher brought an ill-tempered animal to downtown Colorado Springs last summer.

One longhorn broke loose from the Ride for the Brand Cattle Drive on Tejon Street with pedestrians scurrying out of the way.

The animal managed to run inside a lobby, appropriately at Great Western Bank, before being roped. 

And like a good bar manager, Lake brings his bouncers when he heads downtown.

Lake said he usually takes about 15 cowboys to help push the cattle through Denver. It takes an experienced rider who doesn't get distracted easily, he said.

Cattle drives are a balancing act — too fast or too slow means losing control.

"Everybody has a job," Lake said.

Point riders on the front and sides of the herd set the pace, he said. Cowboys at the back push the herd without causing a stampede.

The parade in Denver has attracted tens of thousands of spectators yearly since the 1960s. It kicks off the 16-day event that includes a rodeo, trade show and livestock show.

Stan Searle, owner of the Ellicott ranch, attributed the success of the longhorns in parades to their sweet dispositions.

"They are also the most interesting — not only because of their big horns but because they’re the original cattle of the Americas," Searle said in an email.

Contact Liz Henderson, 719-476-1623

Twitter: @GazetteLiz

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist who joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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