Being a Native Texan, I decided to become a ‘Real Cowboy’ in the Summer of ’70, as opposed to being a ‘ranch hand’, which by the way is different and which, by the way, I was actually pretty damn good at a couple of years later.
I’m talking ‘bout haulin’ hay, buildin’ fence (BoB Whar—Texan pronunciation), drivin’ tractors, feedin’ cows; chasin’ cowgirls, drinkin’ whiskey, you know: that sort of thing. But actually before I found my niche in western employment, I did dream of riding the open range astride a great galloping beast.
Here is how “that worked out for me.”
Madelyn had a horse once: a cross between a Shetland pony and a Welsh mare. Now, I really don’t know much about horses and during that time I knew even less, but I really did want to play cowboy, so I decided to make friends with the local “real cowboy” and have him teach me how to ride this animal. I was about twelve going on thirteen at the time.
The problem with this horse was that it was a pet. Madelyn had talked my father into buying it for her not long after she and her mom moved in (I was not yet on the scene; was still living with my grandparents. I suppose I arrived some months after the horse). Anyway, she soon lost interest in Gretchen (is that a proper horse name?) hence, she (Gretchen) never ever got ridden; (I cannot speak for Madelyn.) This will become important later in my story.
Not long after making friends with said local cowboy (he was sixteen, much older and wiser…well, older anyhow) James Griffin, (Funny how I still remember his name.) we went to the pasture, which was actually inside the city limits of Honey Grove and took damn near an hour just to catch this beast. Gretchen did not apparently, want anything to do with cowboys, experienced or neophyte. Once we had her, James proceeded to teach me how the saddle and all the other kit went together. He grumbled something under his breath about the “hackamore” bridle I had provided along with the saddle that he was none too impressed with either. I told him that this was all the gear my step-sister had in our garage, and what was the problem, “This stuff is brand new,” I said.
“Never mind,” he said while showing me how to mount the horse. He told me I always had to mount from-the-left-side. I asked him why, and he said that is what the horse expects. I certainly was all about living up to that horse’s expectations, so I did as instructed.
“Awright, let’s get going.”
“Tally ho!” (I didn’t actually say that, but I really wanted to.)
We spent about two hours walking (“walking”?) the horses down some country roads to the west of town–gravel roads with no traffic. After a spell, as we were traveling alongside a freshly plowed, un-planted cotton field, James turned to me and said,
“Let’s lope ‘em up there ‘cross this field to where them trees are and let ‘em rest in the shade,” while pointing to a tree line about 100 yards away.
“Sure thing,” I said. Well, I wasn’t sure what “lope” meant, but I was pretty sure it didn’t mean “gallop,” and I was disenchanted. I’d lost my patience and had been not just a little bored for most of the excursion thus far, so I did like I had seen in the movies: I yelled something original like “Yaaaaa!!” and hit poor Gretchen on both sides of her neck with the reins, back and forth just like I thought it was supposed to be done.
Gretchen hesitated just an instant, (she was probably shocked by my rude behavior) but then she lit out. Oh Man did she light out! We were making it over the field at a full gallop and I was lovin’ it. The tree line was to my left at about 10 o’clock. I tried to get her to turn more directly toward and slightly parallel to it while applying what I thought should be the brakes. (You pull back on the reins, while yelling “Whoa!” yes?). Well, it wasn’t working and the tree line was getting closer but in a perpendicular sort of way. I was getting somewhat concerned as I wasn’t sure what lay directly in front of us beyond or between the trees. What happened next is how it was told to me by James after I came to:
“I saw you tear out like some dumb ass gallopin’ that mare so I hit Ole Scout here and took off toward them trees. I passed you on your left, and waved you to slow down, but you didn’t see me or didn’t wanna. Got my horse up under them trees, dismounted and looked back for you. You weren’t nowhere ‘round. Neither was that mare. So I started walking down the tree line and lo’ an’ behold, there you was in that creek bed on the opp’sit side, out like a light an’ that mare a-climbing up outta there all loopy lookin’.”
I had to believe him, because what I do remember is waking up on that creek bank and seeing Gretchen staring down at me with a bit of blood running out of one of her nostrils. I remember thinking, “Oh shit! I have wounded Madelyn’s pet horse and there is gonna be no end to hearing about this.” I got up, dusted myself off and looked the horse over. Other than the bloody nose and my wounded pride, there were no other apparent casualties. James burst out laughing and at that point. I did too, but mostly out of relief that I hadn’t killed the damn horse.
Of course, I was informed later that a “hackamore bridle ain’t worth a cup of spit for drivin’ no horse,” even a half-breed mare. (And thanks for tellin’ me that James, wherever you are.) That pretty much ended my cowboy daze. I took to chasing cheerleaders and majorettes shortly after that and forgot all about being a cowboy. It was a lot more fun playing hippy.
And the soundtrack was so much better as well.
I hope this did not disillusion. I was almost a real cowboy after all…