In the west there are cowboys and then there are Cowboys! Let me explain what I mean.
The men that I consider to be true western Cowboys have a desire that they are born with to be on a horse for the rest of their life. They feel that any excuse they can find to ride is a good one. Whether that is for moving or doctoring cattle, riding in a rodeo, or riding in the mountains for the heck of it. They just want to ride.
Now before you start thinking, “Well, that’s me!”, let me add one other requirement.
A true Cowboy also has almost no fear of horses or the danger that is associated with them. He takes risks that most people would not think of taking, and the reason he takes these risks? For the thrill of it alone!
To demonstrate this point, I will relate a story that involves one such Cowboy in Conrad, Montana.
Back in the early 1970’s, there was a band of horses running free in a huge pasture out on the grassy draws and cutbanks of the prairie. In one portion of that field, lay the Conrad rodeo grounds.
This little band of horses had become pretty much wild and were only used when there was a rodeo in town and then they only used these horses for bucking stock.
The horses would be rounded up and wrangled into the rodeo arena, run into the bucking chutes and bucked out for the rodeo.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with rodeo, it is a competition for cowboys and cowgirls. Some events are timed, like calf roping and barrel racing and some others are scored by judges, like the bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding.
In these rough stock events, the cowboy gets on a basically wild animal in a chute and when he gets his seat set where he wants it, he nods his head for the chute door to be opened.
At that time, the horse or bull tries their best to buck the cowboy off and the cowboy tries to ride it for 8 seconds. If the cowboy makes it to the 8 second whistle, then they are judged on how well they rode and how well the horse or bull bucked. At the end of the rodeo, the one with the highest score wins. Sounds like fun huh?
This particular bunch of horses were only used for one rodeo a year. This meant that the only interaction they every had with humans was not one that would put them in a hand shaking mood.
One day this particular cowboy was riding with his friend, Roger and they met the owner of those horses. They got to talking and the owner of the horses stated that he thought that after this many years, no one could ride those horses as they were just too wild.
Now he didn’t mean ride them in a rodeo, as they had been ridden more than once in that regard. What he meant was that someone wouldn’t be able to ride one like a saddle horse.
The Cowboy called John felt his ears perk up when the owner said this and just as quickly as the thought appeared in his brain, it also came out of his mouth. He stated that he thought they could be ridden and to back it up, added that he himself could do it today, if he had a mind to.
So confident was he that he bet horse owner $5 that he could ride one of the horses that was running with that bunch and ride him today.
The owner thought he was either joking or crazy and told him so laughingly, but when he saw that John was serious, he thoughtlessly took the bet.
He said he was going to be in town later that day and John could ride him over there to settle the bet. The owner didn’t take the whole thing seriously in the least, thinking it was just talk, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing a few minutes later. But John went right to work.
John turned to Roger and said, “Let’s get those suckers into the arena and put them in the chutes so we can get one of them saddled.”
His friend grinned. He knew John well enough to know that he was going to get this done. Roger was fine with it too, as long as HE wasn’t the one that had to ride any of those broncs!
The broncs were standing on the hill behind what they called “the bleachers” at the Conrad rodeo grounds, even though they were actually a bunch of telephone poles set into a hill so people could sit on them and watch the rodeo.
Those broncs were wild and took off at a dead run before the two men even got close. And did they run! John and Roger had to whip and spur to catch up to them and turn them towards the old arena below them.
It took a well over a mile before the wild little bunch tired out enough to let the chasing cowboys turn them. When they finally lined out towards the gate of the arena, they were still picking them up and putting them down (their hooves, that is) at a pretty rapid pace.
John stayed on one side of the herd and Roger rode on the other side as they ran those broncs right into the waiting arena.
John unsaddled his grey saddle horse and set his saddle on a chestnut they had picked out and put in the bucking chute. The horse was convinced that this was the end of the line, so he snorted and jumped as the cinch was pulled tight around his girth.
Completely unaffected by the horses flared nostrils and wild eyes, John climbed into the chute and settled down in the saddle.
When Roger opened the chute gate, the horse jumped out and went right to bucking, but the cowboy didn’t come off after 8 seconds, as he would have in a rodeo. John stayed with him as he jumped and dodged around the arena trying to rid himself of this thing on its back.
After bucking his heart out for about 10 seconds he settled into a choppy, teeth jarring, hop skip and a lope movement and John figured that meant he was ready to go the 13 miles to town.
So, ready or not Roger opened the gate and let the snorting bronc and rider out on to the waiting miles of prairie.
For the first 2 or 3 miles the big chestnut horse must have figured he was going to outrun whatever was on his back, cause he laid back his ears and tore as fast as he could across the broken grass land.
The bewildered horse was not really paying much attention to the terrain. Ditches and fences were inconsequential.
He was just running. This worked out perfect for John and as he only had to guide the totally unbroke horse so that he was running in the right general direction.
They were going so fast that John was thinking this was going to be a piece of cake and that they would make it to town in no time. As with all good things, however, they must come to an end.
After that initial spurt for the first couple of miles, the horse suddenly slammed on the breaks and refused to budge. He stood as still as if you had carved him out of stone accept for the heaving of his sides, you could not tell he was alive at all.
A major difference between cowboys and Cowboys is they never quit!
John kicked and clucked and slapped the horse on the butt with the reins, but all to no avail. That horse had decided that that was as far as he was going to go.
It took quite a while for Roger to finally catch up to where they were, but eventually he came loping up on his saddle horse. John told him the situation and told him to get out his rope and slap the horse on the butt, and after John took a deep seat in his saddle, thats just what Roger did.
It surprised the chestnut a might and he jumped straight in the air and when he came down again his legs were already churning as he hit the ground. Away they went again, first with a hop and a skip or too and then flat out, with Roger trying to keep them in sight.
This time he didn’t last more than a mile and the horse locked up again. So Dan repeated the process until the wild thing was finally trotting along like a somewhat decent horse would. A somewhat decent horse that took an extraordinary amount of work to keep moving.
The horse had no clue how to steer or go or stop using the bridle so it was an almighty zig zaggy pattern that they cut across the country. In fact they probably covered about twice as many miles as they would have riding in a straight line.
As they went along however, the horse was getting a crash course in turning and was starting to get the general idea. He was still completely unsure of himself and was spooking and jumping sideways every time the wind moved a blade of grass or he saw his shadow on the ground.
All the jumping to this side and then that side was making it awfully interesting and even more tiring to ride.
John recalls now that even though they were moving very fast in the beginning of the ride, the rest of the ride took so long that it was well after dark when the finally reached the edge of town.
The main street in Conrad is only a little over a mile long, but that horse didn’t particularly like town any more than it liked its shadow. It balked and snorted at every single new thing it saw, which was pretty much everything.
Being a small town, John and Roger stopped someone on the street and asked them where the owner of the horse was.
The person they asked told them that he was on the other side of town at the drive in movie theater, watching a movie in his pickup.
It took quite a while to get through the whole town, but they finally made it to the parking area of the outdoor theater and spotted the owner’s unmistakable bright orange Chevy Truck.
John being John, he rode the snorting spooking horse, sometimes going sideways through the other parked cars, right up to the window of that Chevy and knocked on it.
The owner stepped out of the vehicle with a question in his eyes, having completely forgotten about their bet.
“What are you boys doin?”, he asked quizzically.
“Don’t you recognize this horse?”, John answered with his own question.
The man looked close at the sweating horse, but not with any recognition on his face.
“This is one of the horses I bet you this morning that I could ride.”, John said.
The man looked closer as it came back to him. “Naw! It can’t be”, he said with disbelief. “No way you could ride one of those horses into town like this.”
“After the ride I’ve just had, you better believe it is!”, John said with a challenge. “And you also owe me five dollars.”
The owner could not believe that it was those same wild horses, but had to grudgingly agree that it was.
They put the horse in a corral at the edge of town, as even John did not want to ride him any farther, especially in the middle of the night.
This event only took place because of John’s true Cowboy spirit. He just wanted the thrill of the experience, and the risk was part of the fun.
I know this story and that John is a true Cowboy because John is my father.
(As a side note, I don’t believe that the owner of the horse ever made good on his bet!)