Cannonball and Clem
Going on vacation “Out West” sometimes means staying at a “guest” ranch. Or if you want to be less politically correct — a “dude” ranch.
The summer Clem hired on as a wrangler on a dude ranch provided him with social skills he didn’t know he had, such as pasting a silly smile on his face and keeping certain comments to himself. Clem learned to sling the social blarney while at the same time sizing up a greenhorns’s horsemanship ability.
Clem kept his mouth shut when a guest claimed he’d ridden “a lot,” which turned out to be five rides on a rented horse at an indoor arena. The guest said he wanted a “spirited” steed. This dude was a Tall Drink of Water with legs reaching approximately to his ears.
Clem saddled up Big Ben, a roan 17 hands tall and equally as old. Mr. Tall Drink assumed a John Wayne swagger, while he helped other guests mount up. Clem encouraged T.D. to ride circles in the round corral. (Big Ben never broke out of a lazy walk.)
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Next, Clem assisted a glamour be-decked little woman. She was outfitted in brand new everything. Her boots had heels so high she walked tippy-toed. She wore painted-on designer jeans and a snow-white Stetson cowboy hat perched atop her coiffure. To Ms. Glamour, Clem assigned Mollie, a bomb-proof little black mare. (In a race with a snail, Mollie would lose.)
Next Clem dealt with a would-be cowpoke who was anorexia challenged—his girth approached that of King Henry the Eighth. This guest became Big Bubba to all the ranch hands, though not to B Bubba’s face. B.B. ran his mouth faster than anyone could listen. He had more opinions than a politician running for office. But Clem, as head wrangler, meant he had to take guests on rides. He saddled Boomer, a horse of half Percheron and half elephant ancestry. Boomer was big and sturdy enough to carry 10 hundred-pound kids all at once — or Big Bubba.
Hoisting Big Bubba aboard Boomer was a test of Clem’s strength and sometimes required an assistant. In Henry the Eighth’s time, his minions used a block and tackle to winch Henry aboard. Not toting a handy block and tackle in his pocket, Clem yelled for help from Jeb, another wrangler.
While Jeb held Boomer’s bridle, Clem placed a shoulder and a hand as a fulcrum under Bubba’s derriere and thigh, then shoved upward. Once Bubba’s posterior sank onto the saddle, Clem stepped around to Boomer’s off side and yanked B.B.’s right foot down and inserted it into the right stirrup.
Last to be put in a saddle was little Freddie the Fiend. Freddie suffered from A.D.D — Advanced Dirty Deviltry. His parents had declined to ride, probably just to get free of little Freddie for a few hours. Knowing he would be chief nanny to young Freddie for the day, Clem put the kid on a bay gelding called Cannonball, named because nothing, not even a cannon blast would upset him.
Once all the guests were aboard their steeds, Clem lead out. The dudes strung out behind him with Jeb bringing up the rear. Jeb’s duty: Retrieve anything a dude dropped — a camera, a cell phone, a rein, his horse, his mind. Clem discouraged Tall Drink who wanted to race. He calmed Ms. Glamour who was convinced that her horse, Mollie, bucked when the mare was merely kicking at a fly.
Freddie, on Cannonball, treated the horse like he treated his parents. He complained, he whined, he jabbed Cannonball in the ribs, he jerked the reins, he slapped him on the shoulder, smacked him on the rump, pulled his ears — he was all over the poor horse like flies on scat. Though Clem and Jeb did their best to monitor Freddie, they couldn’t keep an eye on the little dear every moment.
For a long time, Cannonball patiently put up with Freddie’s shenanigans. But even good old Cannonball had his limits. As the trail made a sharp turn through some dense thickets of forest, Clem temporarily lost sight of the Fiend. But he heard a voice — whining indignantly.
“Help me, somebody help me!”
Rounding the bend in the trail, Clem saw Cannonball halted smack under a low-hanging pine branch. Freddie was pasted flat on his back by the low branch. His spine was arched back over the cantle, his head resting on Cannonball’s rump. Cannonball’s feet were planted, his head down, eyes half closed. He’d had it. This was the first peace he’d known during the entire ride. He stood statue-still and refused to move. Freddie had met his match. A grinning Clem extricated Freddie from his predicament and motivated Cannonball to action. That evening, Clem gave Cannonball an extra ration of grain.
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