Valley defense attorney uses cattle drive to soothe his soul

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A Western tradition has drawn a local attorney to his passion in the high country. (KFSN)

A Western tradition has drawn a local attorney to his passion in the high country. Mark Coleman leaves his stressful life as a criminal defense attorney behind when he gets onto his horse for a cattle drive. The heritage is still being kept alive by Coleman and others who are driving cattle the old-fashioned way.

It's daybreak, away from the city, and attorney Mark Coleman has left the courtroom for the countryside. Today, he is trading in his regular job of plea deals and trials to drive cattle.

"My phone don't work up here, which is the best part. As soon as I hit that turnoff, I'm done," said Coleman.

He's been spending summers driving cattle for the past 10 years.

"We're going to go down there into the big meadow and gather up the cows and get them all together in a big group," said Coleman.

The land and the animals provide a getaway from the seriousness of court to the serenity of the Sierra. On the cattle drive, Coleman works toward a goal that may or may not end in prison for a client, but rather, freedom for his spirit.

"At the end of the day, you feel better than you do after an end of the day at a trial. I love trials, I love the excitement, but this is just a different kind of relaxing," said Coleman.

About 320 beef cattle will be making the trip. Diane Bohna directs the annual journey each year. She introduced Coleman to cattle drives. Her father was a lifelong rancher, and he taught Bohna how to handle every challenge, and more importantly -- "read" the animals.

"So over time, I've pretty much been able to streamline what works well, and I know the cattle really well, and so you can read them. Today, better watch them," said Bohna.

For about the next three and a half months, the cattle will be fattening up in the high country, grazing on lush grasses, getting plenty of water and thriving in cooler conditions in a natural environment.

The cattle drive is a journey of about 80 miles over four days. This one begins in Raymond in Madera County and ends in Iron Creek above Fish Camp. The weather can drastically affect the drive, especially when the heat makes the animals hot-headed.

"Like on that really hot day, we tried to slow the leaders down because they're always trying to go faster, but every time we tried to slow them down, about 30 of them would just go out into the brush because they are like 'we will walk in this hot sun, but we will not stand,'" said Bohna.

Modern-day cowboys are also hired to rope and redirect the cattle that get off course. Logan Naillon is a PRCA saddle bronc rider, who also trains horses. He won't quit his fast-action day job, but he likes the slower pace of the drive.

"Rodeoing, you are trying to get to the next one, trying to get on a flight, head here, head there, so when you get down here it's pretty just laid back, pretty much a trail ride," said Naillon.

The trip was a little longer this year since the drought forced the group to go to much higher ground to make sure there's enough water. Around the beginning of October, the cows will be collected after they reach their butchering weight.

"There's a lot more nutrients that they can have with grass-fed beef rather than being finished out in the feed lot," said Bohna.

It's the end of the ride for the animals but the continuation of a journey for Coleman in a hobby that heals his soul.
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