I pulled onto the ranch one night after a roping in Coweta, Oklahoma, released Smoky from his horse trailer, rubbed him down good and fed him some grain. He nuzzled me and whuffed in that way a horse will when he knows you’re not quite with him.
“Don’t worry, big boy,” I reassured him. “It’s not your fault.”
I had been riding either my sorrel Smoky or Bud the palomino most of the season, team roping two or three nights a week and doing pretty good work. Not that I set any arenas on fire, but I could horn a steer three or four times out of five and I even won now and then. Not too bad for an old cowboy.
In headin’ ’n heeling’, team roping, two cowboys chase a steer full blast out of the chute. One rider ropes the horns, the other the back heels, and then they stretch him out for time. It goes back to when real cowboys worked real ranches and had steers to brand or treat or whatever. I like headin’. It was faster and more exciting running up on the steer, dropping a loop over his horns, making a quick dally and peeling off to bring the critter up short. It takes a good, strong, fast, savvy horse—and Smoky was one of the best. I trained him myself.
I hung around the corral, talking to Smoky and watching the moon until I saw the porch light flick on up at the ranch house. I knew my wife, Donna Sue, worried about me rodeoing sometimes. I was past 60 and heading for 70 years old. Tonight, I looked my age.
I was beat up pretty good and mud-caked. I gave Smokey a last scratch behind the ear and trudged to the house, trying to slap off some of the mud with my hat. As soon as I walked in, Donna Sue knew.
“What happened to you?” she asked, looking me over. I tried not to let her see me limp.
I took a deep breath. “I fell off my horse,” I confessed.
I guess it was because I was starting to have equilibrium problems. I had been working rodeos—bareback horses, bullfighting, roping—most of my life. I also trained horses. I trusted a good roping pony more than I did most people.
Donna Sue didn’t say it, but I knew what she was thinking. There comes a time in life when you have to start giving up some things.
Besides, it’s really embarrassing when you’re competing against 100 cowboys or so—and you fall off your horse. Twice.
“I shouted curses at the bottle and at the mountains where I had left my hand. I shouted at Wilson Ring and Ochoa and at the renegade American in the airplane. I shouted at her, too. I shouted at her.” From The War Chaser by Charles W. Sasser. Now available on Kindle.