Showtime for the longhorns

The Old West comes alive, writes Angela K. Brown.

Twice a day, a few kilometres from downtown, Texas longhorn cattle - typifying the Old West - mosey down a street, hooves clicking on the brick surface and heads bobbing under the weight of intimidating horns that stretch nearly two metres from tip to tip.

Tourists visiting the 17th-largest city in the United States line the sidewalks and gleefully snap pictures as a few cowboys on horses herd about 15 of the animals down the block, into a side street and back to their large pen.

This is the Fort Worth cattle drive, now in its 10th year in the city's historic stockyards.

With 284,000 visitors so far this year, the event is set to break the attendance record of 366,000 set in 2007, officials said.

"We get to talk to people from all over the world ... they actually go crazy when they see us," says Frank Molano, one of several stockyard drovers - the 19th-century term for cowboys who guided livestock on cross-country cattle drives. "They can't believe this is happening in America - that in a big city like Fort Worth there's a cowboy walking down the street [or] on the back of a horse."

The re-enactment was first done in 1999 for the city's 150th anniversary, showing how Fort Worth was the last major stop for Texan cattlemen on the Chisholm Trail in the mid-1800s as they took their herds to Kansas and Missouri. The mini cattle drive was so popular city officials kept it going, now holding it twice a day year-round except at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The cattle in the small herd are donated to the city. If they don't adapt well to the streets and crowds or if they get too old, they are given to ranchers.

The ranchers, in turn, must promise never to slaughter them "because the longhorns are ambassadors of the city," herd spokeswoman Emily Martin says.

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Walter, a white animal with a tan head, is the heaviest at 816 kilograms. Diablo, light brown with a white Texas-shaped marking on his forehead, is the oldest at 14 and he and a few others have horns that curl.

Because they have different personalities they have to show they can get along with each other before going on the cattle drives, officials say.

If the animals seem calm and obedient meandering down the street, that's their herd mentality, not sedatives or other medication, top drover Jim Miller says.

"They have to stick together - that's the main thing with the cattle drives. If we [were trying] to take two head down the street, they would probably run off on us ... but if we take them all, or eight to 10 at least, they'll all stick together."

Most of the longhorns naturally withdraw from people, Miller says.

More than a million people have seen the cattle drives in the past nine years but the only mishaps have been a few horses slipping on the brick streets or kerbs, he adds.

The drovers also play a big role. And their outfits are replicas of what cowboys wore in the 1800s - from spurs and suspenders to creases in their cowboy hats.

"Where else can you go to sit on a horse and look cool all day?" asks Brenda Taylor, who has been a drover for nearly eight years.

"You get to meet and greet all kinds of people from all over the world. You definitely don't have a boring day here."

TRIP NOTES

Getting there: United Airlines flies daily to LA and San Francisco from Sydney and connects to hundreds of cities across the US. Phone 131 777.

Staying there: For some Old West ambience with modern comforts try the Stockyards Hotel in the historic district. It is about 3.2 kilometres from downtown Fort Worth and 35 minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Overnight rates start at $295 plus tax. See http://www.stockyardshotel.com.

For more information: See www.forthworth.com.

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