Horse Tradin'

by Joe McCarter (In His Father's Voice)

Horses ain't a lot different from people. They come in all sizes and colors and dispositions and speakin' of dispositions it can make all the difference in the world in gettin' along with a horse. Some are all good, just as others are all bad. They're one helluva lot bigger and stouter than a man, and to come out best you gotta be smarter. This ain't always the case, but if it is, most horses – even up to the very worst – can be made useful.

I've never really said this out loud much, but I've thought it a lot of times, and I was thinkin' it as Eldon Sheppard and I rode back to camp after gettin' our little bunch of steers and dry cows cut out and started towards home. It'd took most of the day for the six of us who'd been in camp for beef gatherin' to gather the field and do the cuttin' out and ours had been last, though we were leavin' Pete's in the field to come back and get later.

Normally we'd be trailin' along hurrying 'em just a little cause we'd been in camp almost two weeks and it'd sure be nice to get home. But Eldon had finally traded horses with George Sparks that mornin' and was anxious to try 'im out. He'd traded a pretty good geldin', gentle with just a little age comin' on, for a bay geldin' and a three year old filly that showed some promise.

Not a bad trade by no means, but the bay was safe to go in the air some and, what with gatherin' and workin' the field that day, he decided to wait until our cut was finished and started towards home before testin' him.

The horse was a good-sized, good-lookin' bay with a nice blaze and one white foot and George was just scared shitless of him. From the ears back, he was plum pretty – good withers and back, straight legged, and well muscled – but his head was a little different. Just kinda too full between the eyes and the eyes themselves was small and set a little wrong. Pig eyes some called 'em, and I'd bet that everthing he learnt would hafta be pounded in.

He was probably six or seven years old and no story was ever told on 'im, but he'd evidently been pretty green when he figgered out how to scare George, and he'd had life pretty easy since. There wasn't a saddle or cinch mark on 'im and in the two years George had had 'im around, I'd never seen 'im lay a hand on 'im.

The trade had took mosta beef gatherin'. There never was a lotta talk between the two as they weren't overly fond of each other. Eldon only had three head of his own and, while Pete really owned all of Spark's string, George could do what he wanted with 'em.

Eldon wasn't particularly taken with the bay, but he knew he could at least get some boot and figgered, at the very least, the bay'd make a good practice horse cause Eldon was still young enough to feel the rodeo bug bite now and then.

They'd settled on Eldon's horse early, and Eldon was holdin' out for a grey three-year-old gelding that wasn't even broke to lead for the boot and, while George didn't know much, he was smart enough to know that Eldon's horse didn't have that many years left. He'd offered the filly and held out 'til early that last mornin' we were all in camp. Eldon said the filly would do, and they shook hands.

As we rode back to camp, we talked over how we'd handle 'im. Time was a little short, so we figgered it wouldn't hurt much to take all the short cuts we could. This horse wasn't gonna bother to return any niceties we'd spend on him anyway.

We'd left the bay in the corral alone that mornin', so he'd had six or seven hours to gant up a little and think things over. He whinnied nice as you please when he heard us comin' and did a round or two in the corral before he met us at the gate sure wantin' out.

Eldon stepped off and swung the gate open a little, and I was ready and spurred through quick cause I knew this horse wasn't gonna set any records for manners and would run over a man and horse both with half a chance.

As I was gettin' my rope down, he circled the corral another time and then trotted right up to my horse and with his tail kinked up, let out a big snort with a long whistle. I got the loop built and, givin' it a swing, started 'im up again, and as he turned and come by me, I picked up his front feet and he did hit the ground hard and with a big grunt.

Eldon is right there with his saddle hobbles, and he's quick gettin' 'em on. The bay is groggy enough to not figger just what's what for a minute, but he gets up without much trouble, and I can see more action in 'im than maybe I'd figgered.

Eldon had left my rope on one front foot since we figgered he wasn't hobble broke and, sure 'nuff, he gives a try at takin' off again and I take a couple of quick winds and bust him again, not as hard as the first time, but still hard enough. When he got up this time, he stood pretty still. Eldon had slipped a bronc bridle with a buggy snaffle on 'im when he was down the first time, and he had 'im saddled quick.

In no time, Eldon's got the hobbles off and back on his saddle and made sure my loop was well let out and layin' on the ground. Pullin' the bay's head around with his left hand he steps on. This brought the ol' horse out of it a little and he gave a few short jumps – nothin' like we both knew he could – and in no time Eldon had him lopin' around the corral and turnin' him back a time or two, testin' out how bridle-wise he was, and it was about what we expected.

Well, I've got my rope done up and back on the saddle, and I ride over and unhook the gate, and we're feelin' pretty good as we head on out of the field and pick up our little bunch of beef.

I watch the bay close and can see he's doin' some figgerin'. He knows he's been blind-sided a little, and he's the disposition I was talkin' about at first – he's gonna want to get even. He's travelin' long peacable enough, but one ear's laid back and I mention to Eldon that when the bay figgers he's got an edge, he better be ready to do some ridin'.

It's just startin' to get dusk and the cattle are trailin' along single file nice and easy. We're followin' a good trail half-way up around the side of a good-sized and steep hill. I'm just behind the last steer and Eldon and the bay are just behind me. All of the sudden the bay lets out a groan and takes the first jump straight down hill.

Now I don't need to tell ya that the ground can look far, far away when a horse does this to ya. I'll bet the sonofabitch covered thirty yards with that first jump. I'm right behind makin' sure if there is anything I can do to help, I'll be close enough.

Eldon gives me one look, and I can see he's scared, so I yell out "Stay with 'im ol' kid. If you can ride 'im any place you can ride 'im here." Eldon settles in a little and for the next three or four hunnert yards or so, puts up a nice piece of ridin'.

About half way down, the slope eases a little and there's a small meadow with some scrub willows around, and the ol' horse really does his damndest here. Eldon's fear by now has most turned to mad, and he's givin' 'im a damn good spurrin'. I'm figgerin' the horse is about played out, when he heads for a big gully that leads on down off of this little meadow.

The gully's pretty narrow and six or eight feet deep in places and the sonofabitch goes right down it. Not buckin' now, but fightin' his head and sullin' and with Eldon spurrin' he'll go a ways with his head down between his knees and Eldon can't get him out of the damn gully even when they come to a place he could.

I trot on ahead and find a place where I can cross the wash and ride down in figgerin' I can turn 'em out. When he sees me he stops, and Eldon gives him a little extra spur, and what did the sonofabitch do, but come bullin' right on down the gully and knocks me and my horse over against the side of the wash, but never turns a bit.

Well, I think 'all right you sonofabitch' there's a big fir tree a little ways on down and ridin' under I break off about three feet of a dead branch and gettin' ahead of the bay and back in the gully again, I'm ready for 'im.

When he gets close enough this time, I bring the club down right between his ears. I'm hoping to knock the sonofabitch clear down, and he does go to his knees. When he gets up this time, Eldon rides 'im outta the wash as nice as you please.

Well, the rest of the trip was kinda uneventful as the feller says. We get home about nine and had a big supper and reunion with Janey and the girls.

When we was all gettin' ready for bed, Eldon says, "Bill, I sent a saddle bronc entry fee down to the Hagerman rodeo for tomorrow. Will you help me get that bay sonofabitch over to the lanes? If you will, I'll have him goin' by the time I get back." I was a little surprised, but I said sure and the next morning about four we've got the bay saddled agin and over in the field, across the second bridge, before he offers any objection.

But again, he lets out this awful moan and has at Eldon about the worst I've seen him yet. Eldon's ready and puts up a damn nice ride. With enough spurrin' the bay don't last too long and, when the bucks out, damned if he don't get in a big irrigatin' ditch and try the same act as last night, only this time I just have to get in front and wave my arm, and he comes outta his trance. I get 'im through the last gate and Eldon hits a long lope and holds it for as long as I can see 'em.

Eldon's back in a day or two and said he rode into the rodeo grounds just as his name was bein' called. He hadn't drew much of a horse and rode 'im, but was outta the money. The worst was, when he'd left, he'd had three or four dollars and a watch in his levis, and they were gone when he got there. The silver dollars were all the money he'd had, and he'd had to bum meals till he got back home.

Afterwards, the kids followed the bay's tracks over in the field and managed to find the watch and two of the dollars where he'd bucked 'em right out of Eldon's levis. I guess he'd got back a little even with Eldon, anyways.

Eldon rode that bay for two or three years before he traded him off, and said he never got back down in a gully with 'im again.

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