The rider’s back ached. He had seen forty winters and was well into approaching another. No longer a young man.
He glanced around and spotted many pony tracks.
No metal moccasins. No pony-drags. Most likely a war party; forty to fifty, possibly more. Comanche.
A Comanche war party can easily travel forty miles a day. Judging by the freshness of the dung piles the trail was no more than two days old. The stalks of grass that were stomped down by the ponies hooves were beginning to rise back toward the sky.
He rode upstream for a quarter mile looking for more signs of the war party before returning to the trail. It took another three hours before he finally found what he was looking for. To the left of the trail was a gathering of white stones set in the shape of the quarter moon, meaning the party had passed this spot at the time of the first quarter moon which was three nights before. Not far away were two sticks jutting from the ground, one higher than the other and he knew that meant they had been on the trail two days from their last camp. He now understood the Comanches were at ease and not concerned about enemy movements around them
The rider continued to scour the ground for more signs. It didn’t take long to locate a straight line of small pebbles pointing east, indicating the direction the war party was heading.
Rain and sleet began to pepper him for the next mile before letting up, failing to soak him and, more importantly, the Comanche pony tracks remained visible.
That evening he could smell the smoke from their fires. He dismounted and staked his pony in a stand of Dogwood and cautiously approached on foot. He watched a mounted procession of warriors circling the fire, leading up to the Comanche scalp dance. One warrior rode through camp on his horse, his buffalo headdress on his head and freshly taken scalps tied to his tomahawk. One after another riders arrived and dismounted at a large dance area where drums began to beat and the warriors began to dance in their elaborate costumes; some dressed up as antelope or deer, some as bear or mountain lions. It was fascinating to watch as they screamed, growled and roared, imitating the sounds of the different animals. Then they all screamed blood-curdling war cries.
The rider knew this would go on for most of the night. He turned and crawled back to the stand of Dogwoods where he spread out his robe and fell asleep.
He was awake and saddled up before the sun rose and rode to the Comanche camp. He knew the Comanche sign to give, alerting the Sentinel he was a friend when approaching the camp. He rode his mount forward twenty steps and stopped. Then he turned to the right and walked another twenty steps and stopped before returning to where he began. The Sentinel waved him forward.
He was told to sit next to the chief, Tasacowadi, wearing a cape made from a huge spotted jaguar.
Tasacowadi looked at the stranger for a moment before saying, “Speak.”
“I followed you for three days since you crossed the Rio de Los Brazos de Dios, The River of the Arms of God,” the rider said. “You are brave. You weren’t concerned about enemies being in the area. I watched your scalp dance last night before spreading my robe and finding sleep.”
“And why should we be concerned? We are Comanche.”
“A hombre named, Basilio Ramos, and a group of his followers from Chihuahua Mexico, calling themselves Seditionistas, are stirring up trouble between the Comanche and the Texians. They are committing atrocious acts against women and children of the Texians and making it look like the Comanche committed the attacks and also on the Comanche making it look like the Texians were to blame.
I know the Comanche has no fear, but your women and children are left unattended and are in danger as the Seditionistas have been spotted east of the Brazos. I have come to let you know.”
“The Comanche will kill this Ramos if he comes near our women and children.”
“Now the Texas Rangers are coming and you must be careful so that you and your people do not get caught in the middle of this bloodletting.”
“ We do not fear the Texas Rangers nor do we fear the Mexicanas. We drove off the Apaches and the Kiowas and will do the same to the Mexicanas and Texians. Where have these Mexicanas been spotted?”
“I will show you. But we must leave before the sun moves a fist in the sky.”
You may not be aware of this, but you own six hundred and forty million acres of land in the western United States, which is about one-fifth the land area of the U.S. It is managed by the Forest Service, The Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service, all part of the Department of Interior established in 1849, as the fourth cabinet of our federal government.
It has a spotted past of corruption dating back to the 1870’s when then Secretary Columbus Delano, a relative to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was forced to resign due to incompetence, nepotism and other shady deals, such as paying non-existent employees salaries. He was convicted of taking bribes for fraudulent land grants and was forced to resign from office. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Granted, for the most part, in my opinion, I feel the Department of Interior does a very poor job as many employees succumb to the temptation of wine, women and song and a lot, I mean a lot of corrupt money that is put in front of them by special interest groups, mainly, mining and forestry concerns, and of course the cattlemen’s association, but the Department is a necessary evil. It just needs fixing.
What is on this land you own is worth a great deal of money and the money grubbers are always trying to find ways to grab it and they are getting close to doing so unless every American voice their concern and stop what some are trying to accomplish.
There is a movement afoot in the swamp of Washington D. C. to transfer these federal lands to state and local government. At first blush, one might think this is a good idea but if you stop and think about it for a moment, you just might come to a different conclusion. Notice what is written above, this land is located in the western United States, where most of these special interest groups who have been lusting for a piece of our national treasure, thrive.
Recreational land users, such as hikers, bikers, campers and horsemen and women, are worried, and rightfully so. In the last issue of Back Country Horsemen of America, they dedicated two pages to the assault on Federal Public Lands and as an organization is pushing against selling off federal lands to the states.
If you aren’t aware of what has been going on in Washington regarding this, perhaps you might want to find out.
A group named, Federal Land Action Group, organized by two Utah congressmen, are identifying ways Congress could push a transfer of lands to state and local governments.
This past January, Jason Chaffetz, another one from Utah, introduced House Resolution, H.R.621, calling for the sale of 3.3 million acres of land in 10 western states. Luckily, conservation and sportsmen’s groups went ballistic and Mr. Chaffetz rescinded his bill in just over a week, proving that this type of outrage by the public is what is needed to keep the swamp in line.
But it isn’t over yet. Rob Bishop, another Utah Representative, requested that $50 million be set aside to account for the costs of transferring federal land to states or local governments. So far, there has been no response from the House Budget Committee, but I think you are beginning to get the picture.
Then there is H.R. 232, State and National Forest Management Act of 2017, introduced by Don Young of Alaska to both the House Committees on Natural Resources and on Agriculture to authorize States to select and acquire certain National Forest System lands to be managed and operated by the State for timber production and other purposes under the laws of the State.
Then in February, in the State House of Representatives in Oregon House Bill 2365 was introduced to establish a task force to study the feasibility of transferring federally managed lands to the State of Oregon.
As bad as the Department of Interior is, I think this transfer of lands that some are attempting is a terrible idea. I believe our federal public lands should remain federally owned and if you are like minded, you must tell your elected officials exactly how you feel. We may have won a battle or two but the war wages on and there are politicians whose palms are being greased with some serious money and we all know how politicians react to money.
Big Lick, or Soring what is it?
A recent www.change.org request, to stop the use of stacks, on Tennessee Walking Horses made me think that many people haven’t a clue what stacks are and why they are used and maybe a little explanation is in order.
Tennessee Walking Horses have what is known as an exaggerated gait which became popular in the late 1940’s and 1950s. Trainers were able to have the horse achieve this exaggerated gait by being lite shod, but it still required extensive training.
However, as this natural gait caught judges’ fancy, along comes the “Big Lick” where trainers started using other practices to enhance movements such as weighted shoes, stacked pads, and weighted chains. It wasn’t long before the methods used became more aggressive—heavier weights and chains placed against the sole of the hoof to induce pain, and the application of caustic substances on the pastern or coronary band to induce pain when those areas were rubbed by the chain.
The practice of blocking is when they grind down the sole of the horse to expose sensitive tissues in the hoof and make the hoof shorter than the sole. Then they insert hard objects between the horseshoe and the pad, standing the horse on raised blocks then they tighten a metal band around the block.
In addition to the use of chains and blocks chemicals such as kerosene, diesel oil, mustard and other caustic substances are applied to the pastern and coronary band region of the horses front legs. As the device rubs against the skin, the chemicals exacerbate the pain.
These practices are called “soring” and the final result is a horse that snatches its forelimbs off the ground.
One way to tell if a horse has been sored, is the exaggerated head movement in a sored horse as opposed to a horse that has not been sored. It is clear when they are put side by side.
Tennessean newspaper Sportswriter Mr. David Climer, is quoted in the change.org request as saying, “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses is akin to “Dog Fighting” and “Cock Fighting”. For years, many of those involved in the Tennessee walking horse industry have yearned for its competitions to be taken seriously as a legitimate sport. Bloodsport, yes. Legitimate sport, no. Sorry, but I’m calling horse excrement. Soring is still in common practice, and everybody knows it.”
Please take a moment and sign this petition.
Zippy Chippy, a bay gelding, boasts a pedigree that includes Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, Bold Ruler, Man o’ War, War Admiral and Round Table—some of the fastest horses of all time but none of all that special blood coursing through his veins could help him win a race. In one hundred starts, he won zero. That’s right, he never won a race. But, there is a moral to Zippy’s story as there usually is when it comes to horses.
Wait, he did beat a minor league baseball player in a forty yard dash in 2001 and he also beat a harness racer named Paddy’s Laddy. He beat out Paddy Laddy and his rig to win by a neck after he spotted the trotter a twenty-length lead.
After his win, Zippy’s owner said, “It feels good to win but it doesn’t count until we do it against thoroughbreds.
He’s mean, he kicks, he bites, but he has a home forever with me and my daughter.”
The last time Zippy Chippy raced against other thoroughbred horses it ended up as his 100th loss. It occurred on September 10, 2004, in the Northampton Fair at the Three County Fairgrounds. He went off at odds of 7-2, making him the second betting choice.
A host of fans were there that day to cheer him at the start and to take his picture, prompting his jockey to say, “It would be nice if people took photos at the end of the race too.” However, Zippy Chippy finished last.
Eventually, in 1995, his owners gave up on him and Felix Monserrate, who had boarded Zippy Chippy, purchased him in a trade for a 1988 Ford truck.
Zippy was finally banned from competing at many tracks. Why was he banned? Not because he was a perennial loser, but because sometimes he would refuse to leave the gate, or he would bite the other horses, or he would just pull up in mid-race.
But Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home where he currently resides tells us that winners don’t always finish first. He has more visitors than any other horse at the retirement home.
Watching Zippy lose all his races became a very popular pastime. In fact, his profile got more reads on the Blood-Horse website than stories about Kentucky Derby winners did. He also made more money off the track than he ever did on it through merchandise sales and other endorsements.
And how many horses are voted one of the year’s “Most Intriguing Characters” by People Magazine? Only Zippy Chippy and he received that honor in the year 2000.
There is even a book written about him, which I have to admit, I haven’t read. It’s available on amazon.com. It’s called The Legend Of Zippy Chippy.
Zippy Chippy is the spokeshorse for racing horses. He went on tour in Kentucky in the summer of 2012 to bring attention to the safe retirement of racehorses.
Two hundred and fifty years before Zippy there was Stewball, or Squball, or Sku-ball. It is believed his name is bastardized from Skewbald, which is a horse with patches of white on a coat of any color, except black. A Piebald is a horse with patches of white on a coat of black.
The difference between Stewball and Zippy is that Stewball was a very successful racehorse on the track in England and Ireland as well as off the track.
His name instilled the words to an old song, a song sang by many people over the years but made popular in the 1960’s by the folk group, Peter, Paul, and Mary.
For your singing pleasure, here are the words.
Oh, Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.
His bridle was silver, his mane it was gold.
And the worth of his saddle has never been told.
Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare.
And a-way up yonder, ahead of them all,
Came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’ my noble Stewball.
I bet on the gray mare, I bet on the bay
If I’d have bet on ol’ Stewball, I’d be a free man today.
Oh, the hoot owl, she hollers, and the turtle dove moans.
I’m a poor boy in trouble, I’m a long way from home.
Oh, Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.
He never drank water, he always drank wine.
From the second book in the Esben Hjerstedt western trilogy.
A flat piece of rawhide covered the soles of his feet, protecting them from sharp stones and cactus. He had a narrow band of tanned doeskin that kept his long blond hair from falling into his face. The only other clothing he wore was a G-string. They stole everything of his they could find down to his boots and last pair of pants.
He reached in his rawhide bag and pulled out what remained of the corn and dried meat he had been carrying the past few days. He drank some water from a bottle made from the large intestine of a horse. The only weapon he had was a knife that he had secured in his G-string. He had been walking for days.
Nothing bothered him. When he was in dangerous situations he had nerves of steel which were manifested in the many battles he had participated in while scouting for General Crook and the U.S. Army.
He noted a volume of dust moving at a slow rate in the distance; it wasn’t much and he figured it must be a wagon drawn by two mules. Definitely not ox-drawn. Oxen do not lift their feet as high as horses and mules and they create more dust.
He removed his glass and put it to his eye. He could see two men sitting on the box of the wagon. By the time the shot reached his ears, the driver had crumpled and fallen forward. His companion reached out to catch him when an arrow struck him in the shoulder and he was knocked to the ground and slipped softly beneath the left rear wheel of the wagon. The mules came to a stop.
Soon the wagon was surrounded by twenty warriors, Apaches, faces painted, led by none other than Geronimo.
The Apaches circled the motionless wagon, whooping and firing arrows into the sides of the wagon and the slumped over body of the driver.
Two warriors dismounted and started to unhitch the mules when one of the mules bolted. They shot the remaining mule and began to skin it.
The rest of the warriors surrounded the injured man who was beneath the wheel of the wagon. They dragged him out and two warriors held the wounded man to the ground and another cut the soles of his feet off and made him walk around the wagon for sport before one of the warriors grabbed the front of his scalp and cut it off and shot him. The warrior held the scalp up in the air and started whooping and dancing around while the remaining members of the war party began to rummage through the goods in the back of the wagon before setting it on fire.
He cut off a piece of the dry meat and slowly chewed it while he watched the carnage unfold below him before he stood.
“I guess I’ll see if I can catch that mule.”
I was about to enter my first competition in the Tri-Cities Rodeo Classic in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. The announcer introduced me to the crowd of nearly 90 fans who packed the Wood County Fair Arena that night.
“Next on his maiden ride, we have David Hesse, from Brookfield, Wisconsin. He’ll be riding #12, outta’ Wheatland, Wyoming, a bronc named Peaceful, but I can assure you, that little bronc is anything but peaceful.”
A shiver ran down my spine, was I really going to do this? I looked at Juan Guitterez, my coach and noticed he was smiling.
Nearly all the spectators were either standing or perched on the edge of their seats. Suddenly, the crowd grew eerily silent as they released my bronc into the chute, but it wasn’t the bronc I had drawn the night before. It was a big black stud named Black Smoke.
“Hey, what’s this? I drew number 12, the little buckskin bronc.”
“Yeah,” the handler said, “but he kicked out the side of his stall last night and cut up his leg. We had to pull him. This here fella is his replacement. I know he looks pretty mean, but he was rode last night by Ferrell Bannister who pretty much rode the buck outta him. You’ll be fine, pardner.”
“Joo sure joo want to do this, gringo?” Juan asked. “Joo might geet hurt, reel bad.”
“No, but I’ve come this far and can’t see myself backing out now,” I replied.
Juan spent the past six months teaching me how to ride saddle broncs and now I was ready to try it out.
“The first time eez alweez dee hardest, gringo.It geets“ better, I promeese,” Juan laughed.
I stared at him and couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just shook my head.
“Joo ain’t got nothing under joo hat but hair, gringo. You see how beegs that flathead eez? Heez goin’ to keel you, gringo. If joo” die, can I have joo saddle?”
I looked over at Juan as I climbed the chute and said, “Sure, it’s your’s Juan. I appreciate your vote of confidence. Coming from my instructor it gives me a positive feeling.”
“Ha, ha, joo crazy, gringo. Thanks for jour saddle.”
As I stood on the fence, I looked down at this big flathead horse wishing I had the little bronc I had drawn the night before.
I eased down into the saddle, holding the buck rein in my riding hand and bracing myself with the other hand on the chute. I put one foot in the stirrup that was easiest to get to. Then I gently moved Black Smoke over so I could get my other foot in the stirrup. He looked up at me as I eased my feet up to the front of his neck, and I could see the whites of his eyes and knew you could hurt your eyes trying to find any compassion in that face. I was careful not to touch him with my spurs as that might have caused him to rear over backward.
I didn’t make any noise or quick jerking motions, remembering what Juan had told me, “Don’t joo speek out loud joo sceer your horse in the chute.” So I kept my mouth shut, for once.
When my feet and riding hands were in position, I leaned back and down in the saddle and tucked my chin to my chest. If Black Smoke reared out, I could still keep my balance. Juan told me if I didn’t keep my chin tucked and the horse throws his head back, I would be thrown off balance, lose his swells, and miss spurring the horse on the way out of the chute. How well you spurred your mount was part of your overall score.
When I was finally sitting on Black Smoke, I looked down on his head knowing a horse had to follow his head; if he rears, his head gives you the clue first. If he ducks you’ll be able to determine it earlier than if you aren’t looking at his head.
Finally, I was ready and nodded at Juan to open the chute gate. The big ol’ horse was watching me,
Everyone thought I was gonna get bucked, and Black Smoke wouldn’t just buck you. If you didn’t get out of the arena, he’d camp onto you something fierce. Then he’d go wipe out the barrel. Both Juan and I were scared.
Then Juan flung the chute open. The ride started out well. Black Smoke bolted from the chute with four straight high kicks and I stuck like glue. Then the bronc lunged to the left and jerked the rope out of my hands. I hung on with the tail of the rope, shifting to the left with each whipping turn.
I was doing real good, raking his neck with my rowels; then right before the whistle blew, I found myself too far to the inside. He caught me off balance and turned me a flip and while still soaring through the air, I heard the eight-second whistle. My final thought before I landed all wadded up on my back, breaking my collar bone was, “You almost made it Hesse.”
I pulled in and drove down the driveway and into the pasture. I stopped at the corral where the Department of Agriculture Agent was waiting. She waved and undid the chain holding the gate and pushed it open.
I backed the trailer in and shut the rig down and stepped out. I walked to the back and knocked up the lever holding the trailer door shut. The door swung open. I reached in and threw a flake of hay on the ground by the back entrance to the trailer.
Then I pulled the paneling in, securing them to the sides of the trailer. This was routine. I had done it many times before in the fifteen years I had been rescuing and starting wild mustangs. I looked across the corral at the bay colored gelding. He stood off on the other side of the corral, not scared, but wary of me watching him. I didn’t like what I saw.
I ambled over and put both hands on top of the gate, placing my chin on the back of my hands and one foot on the bottom rail while I observed the mustang. The Department of AG Agent approached the corral and said, “I’m not sure this one is going to make it, what do you think?”
“I’ve seen some pretty sorry looking mustangs, but this one has to be the worst. It looks like someone stretched some horsehide over a skeleton and is trying to pass it off as a horse. This horse is close to starving to death. Look at his legs, they’re wobbling. He’s so weak he can barely stand up. He may die before I can even load him, and look at his feet. They haven’t been trimmed in at least a year and by the look of his coat, it looks like he has the mange. Where’d he come from?”
“We ain’t sure. We got a call from the guy that owns this pasture saying he found the horse wandering around down the road. He couldn’t get near it to halter it, so he coaxed it into his pasture with a bucket of oats. He sold his land and has to get the horse off and that’s why he called us. We didn’t know how bad his condition was until we came out and saw him. We noticed the neck brand and figured it’s a wild mustang from the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, so we called you. You think you can get him in that trailer? We can’t get near him.”
“Oh, I’ll get him in there; just don’t know how long it will take. I don’t want to get him worked up, it will only make the job that much harder.”
“You got a rope?”
“No, just this carrot stick.”
“No rope? How are you going to catch him, if you don’t have a rope?”
“I’m not going to catch him. Some people think they have the right to touch a new mustang, but they don’t, not without their permission.”
“You’re kidding me, right? You have to get its permission?”
“If you want to have him trust you, and believe me, you do.”
“You are going to get that horse in the trailer with just that stick? How are you going to go about doing that?”
“Well, first I’m going to observe him before entering the corral. I want to know as much as I can about him. A wild horse in a corral can be trouble, even one as weak as this one, You can make a mistake with a person, and you can explain it. With a horse, you have to live with it or start over. In my experience, there has never been a time when a mistake was made that one of these two things didn’t occur. He’ll appraise me and I’ll appraise him, I know where I want to get him, but he’s the one that knows how to get there. Every horse is different. I know for this to work I have to get this horse calm, focused and confident and to accomplish this I have to be calm, focused and confident. These mustangs can spot a faker before he even opens the gate. I have to speak confidently with him using his body language. It can’t be an act, it has to be real. I’ll need your help.”
“Okay, what do you need me to do?” She asked.
“I want you to walk slowly into the corral and go to the trailer and hold onto the trailer door handle. When the horse goes in, I need you to close it as fast as you can. He may not want to come out once he goes in, but in most cases, they come out faster than they go in and if we can’t secure him in there the first time, it may be a long afternoon.”
“But aren’t you supposed to slowly introduce the trailer to the horse and do a step by step training process when teaching them to load?”
“We ain’t training this horse to load. We are here to save its life. We’ll train it later. Once we are in the corral with him, I am going to start out by tapping the ground slowly with my carrot stick. When he moves, and he will, I will start to cut down the distance between me and him and stop tapping as long as he goes in the direction of the trailer. If he stops at the back of the trailer to eat the hay I dropped there, I will stop tapping and let him relax for a few minutes. Then I’ll start tapping the ground with the carrot stick once again. This will agitate him and he will either go into the trailer or around the corral to get away from me. He can’t and I’ll continue the tapping until he gets to the back of the trailer again. Simple, huh?”
“It sounds simple, but I doubt it is,” she said.
“We’ll see. Why don’t you go in there now and secure the trailer door and I’ll come in about five minutes later?”
“Okay,” she replied, and slowly entered the corral and walked over to the trailer while the horse cautiously watched her out of one eye while keeping the other on me. After a few minutes, I opened the gate and strolled casually to the horse, speaking softly. All I had with me was my carrot stick. I got about fifteen feet from him before he turned and bolted away on those wobbly legs. His hooves barely cut into the earth and his legs lacked power. He continued to trot back and forth along the far fence, watching me, head raised, nostrils flared, and ears pointing in my direction. He quit roaming the perimeter of the corral and settled into a side away from both me and the trailer, not agitated, just alert and ornery. I could see his sides twitching. Sweat had formed on his underbelly and on his chest. His breathing was more labored than it should have been for the short time he was running around. He was nervous and in very bad health. I thought there was a good chance this horse had a respiratory problem to go along with all his other health issues. After about fifteen minutes of this routine, I guess he decided it would be easier on him to climb into the trailer than to continue to trot around the corral.
The empty trailer clanged with the sound of the horse’s hooves as he burst in. The Agent quickly closed the door. I ran up to assist her in securing the door handle and we were ready to roll. The trailer was rocking back and forth as the horse moved around inside.
“I learned something today,” she said. “That was pretty amazing.”
“Well, if you consider the horse,” I replied, “you will find out they are pretty amazing.”
We walked around and entered the side of the trailer through the escape door and stood and watched him adjust. He stomped and turned around a few times before calming down. He looked at us and blew his breath out against my face. The grainy earth smell was intoxicating.
“That’s right, boy,” I said, “it was pretty easy, wasn’t it? You’re going to be fine. We’ll fix you up.”
At the time, I didn’t have the confidence that we could. I knew it was easier said then done.
“Come take a look at this fresh manure pile,” I called to the AG Agent after we left the inside of the trailer. “It’s filled with worms. My Lord, I have never seen so many worms in a pile of horse manure in my life. There have to be thousands of them in there.”
She looked at the pile and shook her head in amazement, “I doubt this horse has been wormed for a couple of years. You’ll have to take it slow and easy on the de-worming as well as the feeding or he will die on you sure as we are standing here.”
I nodded, “It’s a damn shame what humans do to defenseless animals. We need your agency to crack down on some of these folks.”
“I wish we could, but we don’t have any teeth. If we see something bad, we have to get the Sheriff in on it to make an arrest or a confiscation. Hell, if they are arrested, it’s a misdemeanor and they get a fine and a slap on the wrist and they are back doing the same thing a month later. It breaks your heart.”
“I know. All we can do is keep saving one horse at a time. I better head back. It will take me a couple of hours and I want to get him settled in before dark.”
“Ok, I need you to sign some papers, the government you know. It’s just saying you are legally taking custody of government property.”
When we arrived at the barn, the sun was barely peeking over the tops of the trees in the west pasture. In the distance, it looked like our horses rose out of the earth, first their ears then the shape of their heads and necks. They lifted their heads and their ears pointed in our direction. Then they took off and the earth trembled under the movement of their hooves as they ran to the fence line to meet the new member of the Mustang Rescue’s family of unwanted horses. I knew it would be a long time before this horse would be turned out with the herd. One kick that landed on this poor fellow, while they went through the ritual of determining herd hierarchy, could kill him.
I backed into the barn and opened the trailer. He tentatively stepped out on wobbly legs and headed down the aisle of the barn to the paddock we had set up for him. We had the water trough filled for him and a couple of flakes of hay waiting as well.
I stayed with him awhile that evening and at one point I reached out and he allowed me to touch him and I stroked his side. I promised him I would help him.
Softly I spoke to him,“Cages are everywhere. We all have them, don’t we boy?”
He nickered and I touched his flank and his hoof flashed up.
He just set the boundaries.
With the coordinated efforts of many of our great volunteers, three daily feedings, lots of love, and multiple vet visits to help him regain his strength his progress was nothing short of miraculous. He overcame equine lice, a bout of colic, and intestinal parasites to transform into the happy and healthy mustang.
He was adopted by a ten-year-old girl who was instrumental in nursing him to health. She is currently riding him and continuing his training in Woodstock, Georgia.
Sometimes there are two rodeos, one inside the arena and one outside. No buckles are awarded for the one outside.
When the sun goes down the west Texas heat lets up a bit making it tolerable to sit outside at night and enjoy the quiet of the evening.
Beanie Franklin and Ike Stovall were sittin’ on the rail watching the stock eat the hay they had just thrown out. Ike watched Beanie as he took his time filling a blanket. He twisted both ends and licked the entire stick with his tongue before placing it in the corner of his mouth. He struck a match against his leather chaps, lighting the freshly rolled cigarette. He squinted as the smoke rolled out of the side of his mouth and drifted up into his eyes.
“That little one is fine as cream gravy,” Beanie said, as he exhaled a stream of blue smoke.
“Yep, but you don’t want to get by that boy’s ears,” Ike replied. “That gray one over there the horse you rode today?” Ike asked, pointing in the direction of a dapple gray gelding.
“Yep, he just didn’t seem to have it. He is just plum fagged out. Four years ago he bucked me off and hung me up and dragged me for a few trips around the arena before I learned saddle broncs and I don’t mix too well. Then I went bareback. That was ‘bout three years ago. He’s been around a long time. These damn small rodeos ain’t got the cash to bring in good stock like they should.”
“How’d that bareback work out for ya’?”
“Not much better. I got jerked down in the well and stomped on a few times. Now I do a little roping’ and ride pick up whenever I can land a gig. When you’re younger you live like the road goes on forever and the party never ends. But it ain’t long before you begin to see the bend in the road and you begin to fear what’s around that bend, the unknown.”
They both sat and let the quiet of the evening settle in while listening to the stock quietly chomp on the hay.
“Well,” Beanie said while standing and slapping his thighs, “if that sun don’t come up tomorrow, you’ll know I at least had a good ride. You hungry?”
“Yeah, how’s the food at that joint, the Crystal Cactus?”
“Purty good and so are the drinks. It’s a right nice place. They even give you eaten’ irons but it’s the afterclaps you gotta look out for. I was on the shitter all night the last time I ate there.”
They heard a gunshot, then another before the telltale crash of panels and a cry, “Get the horses saddled.” It was the night watchman, Felix Dunn.
“Who fired them shots, Felix?”
“A couple of ol’ drunks came ridin’ through here yellin’ and a cussin’ and firing their dadgum pistols.”
They looked up and watched as a corral full of bulls came running past, led by none other than Dirty Sam, one of the meanest bulls neither of them never rode and never wanted to.
“Did you see that? It was Dirty Sam. He lit out of town like his dick was on fire.”
“Well, let’s go git him.”
They grabbed their saddles and tacked up their horses and took off after a half dozen crazy-ass bulls as they left the fairgrounds toward the stockyards that ran parallel to the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Beanie and Ike were just about to catch up with the rest of the cowboys when someone yelled out, “There they are,” pointing in the direction of the levee road that snakes its way east toward Pumpkin Vine Creek.
They all turned and headed out at full gallop, the steel shoes of the horses throwing sparks off the asphalt as they rode in pursuit of the bulls.
As they got closer, one cowboy tossed his rope around Dirty Sam’s big old horns and proceeded to dally it around the saddle horn when Dirty Sam busted free, taking the rope with him while he headed back for the train tracks and a platform loaded with boxes with the rest of the bulls following him. As they passed the startled cowboys one of the horses reared, tossing its rider in the tall grass lining the road. The riderless horse took off in the direction of the bulls with the rest of the cowboys in close pursuit.
When they arrived at the platform, Dirty Sam proceeded to hook the boxes and toss them all over the yard while the other bulls stomped on the contents that spilled out on the ground.
A train whistle and the clanging of metal on metal startled old Dirty Sam and he turned and ran off across the tracks and dropped down. His left front leg got stuck under the rail and was broken and twisted grotesquely in an oblique and unnatural angle to the rest of his body. He was snorting and bellowing in obvious pain while the rest of the bulls, not knowing what to do or where to go, just stood there milling around.
“Well, one of us has gotta fix his flint,” Beanie said. “You been know’d to always carry an equalizer, Ike. You got a rifle in that scabbard?”
“Ya, I got one. Damn!”
“Just put it between his eyes and git it over with.”
“I can’t do it Beanie.”
Dirty Sam let out a deep moan and whipped his head back and forth slinging snot over Beanie and Ike’s legs and both their horses. His eyes were red and still filled with hate.
“Aw hell,” Beanie said, dismounting from his horse. “Gimmie your gun.”
The crack of the rifle echoed in the night. Ol’ Beanie’s eyes filled with tears.
“It ain’t right, Beanie. Dirty Sam shouldn’t have ta go this way. He was one of the best there ever was.”
About this time a couple of railroad dicks drove up in a white pickup truck with blue lights flashing on the top of the cab.
They saw the carnage and what was left of Dirty Sam and asked, “What in the cornbread hell is goin’ on?” the bigger of the two dicks asked.
“A little rodeo,” Ike replied.
“Well, who’s going to clean up this mess?”
“I reckon you should call the owner of the fairgrounds back there. We’ll take the rest of these bulls back and put ‘em away. They played enough for one day.”
“That’s it boys, the monkey’s dead and the shows over. Let’s throw a rope around Dirty Sam and get him off the track and get the rest of these boys back so we can go eat.”