My wife and I once leased a ranch whose western boundary was a busy highway. Quite regularly I used this opportunity to ride along the fence on my trusty steed, Gentleman, to show the passersby what a real cowboy looks like. Gentleman and I cut quite the impressive figure, even if I do say so myself. As I admired my centaur-like shadow I was jealous of the motorists who got to see such a muscular stud, with a dinner-plate jaw and masculine extremities. And that was just my horse, I didn’t look too bad either in my faded Stetson that looked like it had been run over by a herd of buffalo with loose bowels. Every now and then a rental car would squeal to a halt and a tourist from one of the Scandinavian countries would jump out to take a snapshot to take home and show his or her friends that the American west was alive and well.
It was during my HighwayMan years that I was flooded with requests from ranchers to borrow my wonder-horse to breed to their mares. OK, so only one person actually flooded me with requests, and that was my friend and neighbor Jeep.
“I can’t let you use Gentleman,” I replied, “what would I use to check my cows?”
“You can borrow my three wheeler,” said Jeep.
“If I had wanted to ride motorcycles I would have been a Hell’s Angel,” I said.
“OK, I’ll let you borrow my horse to check your cows,” said Jeep.
Normally I would not condone such promiscuous behavior but I loaned Gentleman because I was curious myself to see if Gentleman still had “It,” if in fact he ever did.
I got off on the wrong foot with Jeep’s horse, who I called Piggy because he looked like a Berkshire boar. The stumpsucker’s back was so wide I had to adjust the stirrup leathers on my saddle, and Piggy had long ago stopped feeling anything in his mouth so I had to ride along in the direction he was going. I suspect that Piggy’s relatives all pulled beer wagons or did Bud commercials. This was the opposite of Gentleman who was so well trained that all I had to do was shake the jinglebobs on one my left spur and he would turn in that direction. Yes, Gentleman and I reined supreme!
On our first outward bound trip Piggy and I came to a dinky little creek, or crick as my backward friends say, and Jeep’s horse acted like he’d never seen flowing water before, which was entirely possible as he was only 12. I rattled my spurs and urged Piggy on and when he just stood there I gently put the steel to him. A millisecond later I was flying with the birds. In self defense, it was windy that day and maybe that’s why I got bucked off, after all, I’d never been bucked off before. Sure, I had “dismounted unconventionally” a few times, but nothing like this. On my first cowboy job I had to ride rank colts but in so doing I followed horse trainer Craig Cameron’s advice: “The first thing I do after I get on a green horse for the first time is get the heck off.”
Not one single friend ever said they saw me in my HighwayMan role, prancing by the freeway pretending to be a cowboy, but all of my friends and, in fact, the entire town, saw me get bucked off. Isn’t that the way it always works?
Once on the ground, I gathered myself and started walking back to the barn because Piggy had left the seen of the accident, although I don’t think it was an accident at all. That fat excuse for a horse did it on purpose!
Motorists stopped to offer me rides and I had to explain my bleeding forehead and why I was wearing spurs on my little “walk.” I saw a relative I hadn’t seen in years, and a friend on vacation from the east saw me hit the rocks at the moment of impact. A Good Samaritan I vaguely remembered as an acquaintance hit her brakes, got out of her truck and rushed over to ask if I was hurt.
“No,” I replied. “Say, don’t I know you?”
“You better. I’m your wife, you big knothead. And the only reason you’re not hurt is because you landed on your head!” (By the way, Jeep’s mare never did have a foal.) ❖