Feb. 5, 2015
I may be considered “over the hill” now, but boy, in my day I sure was hard to beat. Fifteen years ago, when my family rolled up to the rodeo grounds and backed me out of the trailer, I could hear the muttered curses from the other contestants. Yeah, my family had plenty of other horses, good horses, but I was the one they saddled up for the “money runs.” Be it speed or roping events, Mom, Dad or their kids, I was the one they rode when the race got tight and they needed a solid, fast run.
That was before the navicular set in; when my legs were like iron and making fifty runs a night was no problem. I could bring first Mom, then each of the kids around the barrels, then the poles, then down to their goats and follow that up by carrying Dad to the roping chutes and tying up the heading and healing before loading up and heading home. And I could do it all again the following day, and the day after that.
That was before the arthritis set in my old shoulder so bad. They called me “the babysitter.” I taught more kids to ride than I can count, and if some of them never learned to ride, at least they had fun. I wish I had a nickel for every time some little kid had been plopped on my back and I’d been led around the arena or the pasture because he wanted to get a taste of “the cowboy life,” I’d probably have enough nickels to buy a sack of feed!
When I was a youngster myself, I quickly guessed that following my rider’s direction made not only the rider’s but also my own life so much easier. Oh, I’ll admit it; the first time I had a saddle on my back, I didn’t like it one bit, and I let everyone know it. But my people were really patient with me, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to be hurt. It even became fun.
Yeah, there were a couple of times when I let my enthusiasm get the best of me and “Mom” wound up on the ground, but afterwards I was really sorry that I’d hopped like that, especially when she made me lope in tight circles for 15 minutes. “Okay, lady! I get it; I won’t do it again!”
Now if I had a nickel for every run I’d made out of the roping box, I’d be able to feed the whole herd of us for years! If I’ve come blasting out of that box once, I’ve done it a million times. Until my shoulder got so bad and I got to favoring it so much, I took “The Boss” and the boys, and plenty of their friends to so many roping in so many arenas in so many little towns that I’ve lost count.
Those were the good old days, indeed. Luckily, I had a great family, and they’ve certainly taken good care of me over the 26 years we’ve been together. I know I’ve served them well, and as my aches and pains got worse, (if I were a human, I’d be in a wheelchair), they’ve retired me and have moved on to younger prospects. I spend my days now grazing the pasture and keeping the youngsters in line as best I can.
I don’t know that I can make it through another winter, though. Winters are getting hard on me, despite the extra rations and warm blankets the family pampers me with. The damp cold of this old barn just seems to seep into my bones, and I ache something terrible. I can’t lie down because I wouldn’t be able to get back up. I can barely walk because of the stiffness in my ankles, knees, and shoulders. I’d say it’s time for the to “ride off into the sunset” as the saying goes. I’ll welcome it, even, if it will end this pain I’ve been living with these past several years. Yeah, I’ve had a good life, but I realize that even the best things must come to an end.
. . . .Kelly, our twenty seven-year-old Paint mare, had to be put down in October of 2011, two months after we’d lost Daddy. She rests beneath the big oak tree in our back pasture, right next to our old cow-dog, Skye. The horse and the dog share a headstone made from a large slab of Arkansas limestone adorned with a rebar cross made by my two sons. When we ride back there, I always make a point of stopping at the gravesite and having a little chat with whatever horse I’m riding; “Oh, if you could only be as good as Kelly was.”