The first thing in life I remember wanting to be was a jockey and the second thing was a professional basketball player. Alas, I was too big for one and too small for the other. So I figured that being a cowboy would be a better fit.
I hate to admit this but I’ve never had riding lessons in my life. I’ve never crossed an angry river on a horse, never rode a bronc in a rodeo and was never a member of the National Cutting Horse Association. I learned to ride sitting astride a saddle in my grandpa’s “bunkhouse” which wasn’t really a bunkhouse at all but a shed filled with old bits, spurs, saddle blankets and two saddles sitting on stands. My favorite thing to do as a child was to go to grandpa’s house where I’d head straight to his bunkhouse, mount up and play cowboy. My grandpa coached me, “Keep your heels, down, don’t jerk back on the reins and NEVER, under any circumstances grab the horn.” Or as he called called it, “reaching for the apple or squeezing the biscuit.”
My second favorite thing to do was ride the mechanical horse in front of the grocery store and I’m proud to say that neither the saddle stand or the mechanized equine ever bucked me off despite some really hairy predicaments. When I went to the county fair I always rode the horse on the carousel, not the ostrich, tiger, elephant or swan so at that point in my career I felt like I could ride anything that wore hair, wool or feathers.
Oh, I’d been on real horses before and have photographic evidence that I rode before I could walk, but I was always in the arms of grandpa at a rodeo. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I got on real horses and was a real cowboy. My best friend in high school lived on his grandfather’s ranch and every chance I got I went there to haul hay in exchange for riding horses. From the beginning I was assigned Buck, a horse that never did. Buck was the horse they always assigned to dudes, small children, infirm old timers and me. I loved that old horse. On a gentle horse like Buck everybody is an accomplished equestrian but simply polishing my pants on saddle leather didn’t make me any more of a cowboy than wearing spurs did. It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college as a cowboy that I had to ride rank horses. I wouldn’t say that any of the cribbers ever bucked me off but there were a few times I had to make an unscheduled dismount to tighten my cinch.
I wouldn’t necessarily call it “getting bucked off” either when one of those renegades with lethal tendencies took off at a lightning pace that would have won the All American in Ruidoso had he been there instead of a forest full of trees with low hanging branches, everyone of which tried to knock me out of the saddle. The whole time it was happening I kept hearing the words of my grandpa, “Don’t jerk back on the the reins and NEVER grab the horn.” I wouldn’t say I was bucked off, it was more like I was scraped off.
If I ever had to ride one of those owlheads in the presence of my contemporaries I always hoped a rattler would bite my mount so he’d die and I’d have a good excuse for walking back to headquarters.
Years later when I had my own cow herd I always rode my horse Gentleman who must have been a son of Buck because he too never did. But one day Gentleman was busy trying to breed my neighbor’s Paint mare so he lent me one of his outlaws. Everything was fine until I tried to make him cross over a rock strewn stream. When he balked I may have tapped him a little with my spurs and the next thing you know I was knocking a hole in my chest with my chin. One minute I was soaring with eagles and the next thing I swimming with fishes.
It was then I formulated Lee’s theory on how to never get bucked off… never climb aboard in the first place.