Right before Lucinda and I split up, she got tired of ranching. As usual, my salary was only five hundred a month, plus a trailer and some beef for trying to work cows off a string of
broncs. As a compromise, we moved to the edge of Albuquerque, and I hung out my shingle starting colts and shoeing horses.
Getting started in the horse training business when no one knows who you are is a tough
thing. But I had a plan. I set my prices really low and advertised a thirty-day, green-breaking guarantee. If I couldn’t ride a colt, in a halter and bareback, I’d ride it another two weeks for free. Needless to say, I was put to the test.
The first three horses came from a thoroughbred farm . . . a couple of two-year-olds
and a three-year-old, none of which had ever worn a halter. Because I was working out of a
public boarding stable, quite a few people were watching our progress, and before long, I was gaining a reputation for being able to handle the tough ones. Several months into the program, I was really put to the test.
Rowdy was a mustang. He had also led a very different life. Adopted as a weanling, he
could have been pretty gentle as a four-year old, but his owner had opted for turning him
out and letting him be a horse until he was old enough to break. In itself, this may not have
been a bad idea except the gunsel forgot about horses being herd animals. He turned Rowdy out in a thirty-five-hundred-acre pasture by himself. His only company were deer, elk, and in the summer, cows. As such, he fit his name to a T because he had no idea of
This was going to be a touchy situation because the facilities weren’tt what you’d call real secure. The stall and run werent bad, but I didn’t think Id be able to get him haltered in there. They had to gather him twice because he had jumped out of a five-foot-high alley on their first attempt to load him. The only recourse was to drop him in the round corral and hope to heck I roped him on the first attempt because the corral was a rickety two-rail affair.
Things worked out fine, and within two hours he had not only been caught, but had also
worn a saddle and snaffle for a little bit. I unsaddled him and led him to his stall with another horse. As much as I hated to, I left him haltered with a long lead so Id be able to catch him again in the morning without being kicked, struck, or bitten. It was a good thing.
A couple of hours later, I got a call that he was hurt. Someone had tried to pet him, and he had spooked, run into the side of the door, and split his head open. After several calls, I got a vet to come out by convincing him that Id give Rowdy the tranquilizer shot myself,
and he wouldn’t have to get in the stall until the horse was sedated. With a twitch in my back pocket, a long wire in my hand, and a syringe in my teeth, I entered the stall. Picking
up the lead was the easy part. Getting the twitch on his nose took a few tries, but once it
was on, the shot itself was fairly easy. Twenty minutes later, Doc had him stitched up and
was on his way home.
The next day was time for his second saddling. I got a hold of the lead rope and led him out the back of his stall run. After ten minutes and a few circles, we made it the fifty feet to the round corral and were inside. After lunging him in both directions, I put a long rope around his girth and pulled it up. As soon as he felt the pressure and started to resist, I released the pressure, then did it again. Once he could take the pressure there without blowing a fuse, I moved the rope to his flank and repeated the procedure. Then I started to ease up to him with the saddle blanket, and he removed it from my hand with his front feet. After repeating this procedure (with the same results) for twenty minutes, I decided to hobble him.
Now because a horse can run and buck pretty hard and fast with hobbles on, I used an old Indian trick and tied an extra lead from his halter to the hobbles. The trick more or less worked and after only throwing himself down twice, he stood there like a statue to be saddled. Leaving his head tied to his feet I managed to get a snaffle hanging in his mouth with not too much trouble. I pulled the hobbles and lead ropes off and left him to soak with his head tied around while I had a cup of coffee; then I switched his head to soak in the other direction.
People think the hardest thing is getting the saddle on these broncs. While it may be a
little difficult, the only time I’ve ever ruined a saddle in my life was trying to get it off a
bronc. Before I could take the saddle off I, first had to get along side him and untie the
rein. Easier said than done. No matter how I tried to approach him, he always wound up
facing me. As fast as he had removed the saddle blanket from my hand with his front
feet, I really didn’t want to approach him head on, because I felt he’d strike. But I had
no choice, and my feelings were right. Just before I could touch his face, he removed the
bronc rider from my silver buckle with a front foot. On the second attempt, he removed the buckle from the belt and knocked the air out of me. On the third try, I strode in, pretending to know what I was doing, stepped to theside at the last second, and gave him a right cross to the end of his nose. He stood there for the fourth attempt.
The next day was his first lesson in being driven in the lines. I figure if they drive
good before you get on them, things go a little smoother because they have some inkling of
what you are asking of them. It also gives broncs like Rowdy a chance to gentle down. At
the end of the driving session, I’ll pull on the saddle horn, pop the stirrup leathers then put
my toe in the stirrup and put a little weight in it. By the time a colt is driving well, hes also
used to me standing in the stirrup and petting him on both sides. Consequently, swinging a
leg over and sitting in the saddle is no big deal.
Other than a few minor blown fuses, he accepted the driving well. Weight in the stirrup? A complete blow out. When Id been working with him for nearly two weeks, and he still wasn’t remotely close to standing still, Lucinda came up with a good idea. She would hold him snubbed to one of the railroad tie posts as I stepped up. She claimed she would hold onto him so I could keep my weight in the stirrup a little longer.
Now I may be dumb, and I may be close, but Im not totally stupid. As he hit the end of
the rope I’d step to the ground and jerk him around by the rein. After the third or fourth
time, he was starting to slow down a bit before hitting the end of the rope. Still thinking,
Lucinda expressed her feelings that I should just stay with him and let her stop him. On the next run I did, and for a millisecond he may have stopped, but Lucinda lost her
grip on the rope, and the wreck was on.
I thought I had nowhere to escape because he was rubbing me on the rails of the old round corral, but once again I was wrong. My right leg got tangled up with about the third post, and I was flung around the top rail, using my right ribs for a pivot point. This slammed me into the bottom rail with my left ribs that were used as another pivot point to leave me sitting inside the round corral. Luckily Rowdy stopped before he ran me over.
To me this was no laughing matter. My shirt was shredded, and I felt as if Id just been
beaten with a splintered baseball bat. In fact my ribs looked as bad as they felt. On the
other hand Lucinda apparently thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen.
She was literally rolling on the ground, laughing. I started cussing her out for laughing,
and then I noticed the tears coming out of her eyes. Making the mistake of thinking, I
thought maybe she had burned her hands on the rope, and I asked her if she was all
right. All she could do was point at me, shake her head, and laugh all the harder. Between
her laughter and realizing how the wreck must have looked to her, I got to laughing
myself, which made my ribs hurt more.
Once we regained our composure, I decided to try the old Indian trick once again.
Hobbled, with his head tied to his feet, he stood there and within a couple of tries I was
standing in the stirrup and scratching his neck. This was a good hurdle to cross because I
had only two more weeks to be riding him bareback, in a halter, or Id be working him two
more weeks for free.
A couple of days later, I swung my leg over for my first official ride. Other than bending
his head back to my leg, he stood like a statue. Half an hour later I asked a passerby
whom I trusted to come into the round corral and try leading him.
Leonard led Rowdy around the round corral a couple of times and stepped back. I sighed in relief as Rowdy kept going and even turned to go in the opposite direction. When I asked for a trot, he just kept plodding along at a walk. Leonard stepped back in and started flipping a driving line at Rowdy, and we got him to trotting in both directions. With me kicking and slapping his rump with the reins and Leonard now whipping on his rump with the driving lines, Rowdy continued trotting until both Leonard and I were worn out. It was progress though.
As Leonard’s schedule would have him there at the same time the next day, I timed
my second ride for his arrival. This time Rowdy stepped out when I asked. He even trotted, turned, and stopped when asked. But all the whipping and thumping on his ribs couldn’t get him to lope. Once again, we went until we were tired.
Since Leonard couldn’t make it the next day, I was on my own. This time was a little
different though. Before my left foot was in the stirrup, Rowdy was off at a dead run. I was
actually relieved that he had figured out he could go faster than a trot and just let him run
for a bit. My relief lasted only until I decided to slow him down. Rather than slow down, he
stopped, reared up on his hind legs, pushed off like a rocket and started bucking.
Now a lot of these rodeo riders claim that riding a colt thats bucking is easy because
you can just pull his head up to get him to quit. It sounds good in theory. But in real life
and on a stout, range-raised four-year-old, you don’t have a chance to do that. You also need to stay on longer than a mere eight seconds. I thought I had him rode out when he went straight up in the air and ducked left, took a couple of jumps across the round corral and went straight up again . . . only this time he went right, and we parted company. Lucinda pulled in just in time to see me using my head as a chisel plow. At least she didn’t laugh quite as hard this time.
I caught Rowdy and started to get back on, but he wouldn’t let me anywhere close to
the stirrup. Lucinda decided to help. She caught up her horse and snubbed Rowdy to
the horn, but he was still fighting so she decided to pony him around the arena for a while
to wear him down a little. The only problem was that Rowdy and Lucindas mare were
pretty close to the same size and soon it became a who-can-jerk-whom-the-hardest contest. Then it became a race. Lucinda was doing her best to get her mare slowed down, but to no avail.
She was cussing a blue streak as she made the turn towards me, and I could see
what the problem was. Rowdy had tried to cut in front of Lucinda, and his saddle horn had
become hooked on the mares bridle. As the wreck was already on and could only get worse,
I hollered at Lucinda to bail out. Of course she thought I was crazy, and it took another half
lap before what I was telling her took root in her brain. About three strides after she bailed, the horses legs became tangled and down they went. Luckily none of the three were injured, but Rowdy was now on my bad side.
I’ll admit to being a little hard headed. But in situations like this, I probably wouldn’t
notice a meteorite bouncing off my head. I got my rope, jumped on the mare, and roped the dink puke.
As he still wouldn’t let me get near the stirrup I decided to try riggin’ a set of hobbles so that I could jerk them off once I got on top of him. He threw himself down so I dallied a rein up short and held him down for a while. When I let him back up, he was even
madder than before.
Then I tried the Indian trick, but he was so mad that it didn’t work,and he threw himself down again. This time we stayed down a little longer. Several hours later, it was dark, and we were still going at it just as strong as ever. He’d already ruined a belt and buckle,
banged up my ribs, made me do a self-propelled plow imitation, and had dang near killed
Lucinda; there was no way I was going to let him win this battle. Rather than putting him
up, I tied him to a railroad tie post so close that his nose was touching. Then I went in for the night.
At five the next morning, he nickered to me as I came out the door, so I went ahead
and unsaddled him. He stood quietly as I brushed him and led willingly to his stall.
When I worked him later in the day, he not only stood for me to get on him, but also
basically didn’t make a wrong move. Needless to say, I had to honor my guarantee and ride
him an extra two weeks. But it was two weeks I enjoyed, and at the end of it, I could ride
him bareback in a halter. Of course he is also one of the reasons I quit giving that guarantee.