I RAN A SMALL rental operation for my uncle between my first and second seasons at the national park. It was a small operation only open weekends. On Friday night I would take my girlfriend Becky and my friend Slim along to gather the horses out of their two-hundred acre pasture into the quarter-acre catch pen. We would camp out all weekend as we needed to catch the twenty horses at daylight Saturday morning, saddle them, and lead them two miles down the road to where the “stables” were located.
This was a truly high class operation of the lowest degree. While we had the permit to operate within the
bounds of the park, we were not allowed to build any facilities. This meant we operated out of the back of
the truck, and the horses were picketed to ropes between the trees from the time we opened on Saturday morning until we closed Sunday night. We needed to check on the horses at night, which was the
reason we camped all weekend and one of the two reasons Slim’s mother let him stay out all weekend.
The other reason is that she thought I would be a good influence on Slim and keep him out of trouble. The only problem with this theory was that Becky and I liked to go dancing, and there was a dance every Saturday night only sixty miles away. Unknown to Slim’s mother, that is where we headed after taking
care of the horses on Saturday night. We would check on the horses when we returned around three in the morning. Becky and I would remain fairly sober, but Slim was another story. He had managed
to obtain a fake ID and was heartbroken if there was any alcohol left unconsumed at the end of the night.
To help stay awake, I would stop at a water trough which marked the halfway point of the trip home and dunk my head in the cold spring water. Slim would usually wake at this point. However, one night he was much too inebriated to notice and didn’t wake until I stopped to unlock the gate. He sat up and asked, “Are we at the water trough yet?”
One Friday night a friend of Becky’s got married, and the three of us went to the reception. It was an
Italian wedding, and the food and homemade wine were more than plentiful. Slim was only interested in the wine and floated from bottle to bottle like a hummingbird. The next morning he wasn’t hung over
a bit; he was still drunk.
A few of the, horses were hard to catch and we would rope them from horseback, but for some reason that morning I decided to let my youngness and dumbness show a little more than usual. I was walking out to catch one of the dependable horses when a pony ran by me. I tossed out a hoolihand and dropped to the ground before the rope came tight.
It was kind of like a new carnival ride as the rope came tight with a jerk and I was dragged across the ground for a few yards before the pony stopped. Slim thought that looked like great fun, so when one of the full-sized horses ran by, he pitched a hoolihand, but his style was slightly different than mine.
His loop was real pretty as it settled over the horse’s neck, and Slim dropped his extra coils just right, but
he forgot to drop to the ground. Still standing there when the horse hit the end of the rope, Slim became
instantly airborne. His legs were whirling like a windmill in a hurricane, and his arms were pointed straight over his head like a high diver completing a swan dive as he refused to let go of the rope until just prior to his one-point landing, which jammed his hat down over his eyes.
Laughter is one of those uncontrollable reflexes which your mind can do nothing about, and the sight of Slim flying through the air set off my laughing reflex. The next thing Slim did had me literally rolling on the
ground and Becky torn between thumping on me or helping Slim.
He rolled over, pulled his hat from his eyes, stood up, and looked at his shoulder. “Ya know what?” he
asked. “I think I broke my shoulder. Ya know what else?” he continued “I think I’m gonna pass out,” which
he promptly did, falling on his face for a second time.
As we got him into the truck and drove to town, I kept chuckling at the sight of him flying through the air. Once at the emergency room, I called his mother and explained the situation. When she walked into the room, he grinned at me and asked, “Are we at the water trough yet?” We couldn’t help but laugh, and to this day his mother doesn’t know the water trough.
This story is an excerpt from my book Cowboy Romance (of horsesweat & hornflies) available on Amazon.