Okay, money in hand, I was ready to buy a horse that didn’t suck! How hard could this be?
The first horse we got at the ranch for me to try out looked pretty good. At least he wasn’t swaybacked or 200 years old. I saddled him up and got on. Not once did he try to bite me, which put him way ahead of Lady already. In my book, any horse that resists the urge to bite me gets a gold star right off the top.
I clapped the spurs to him and he moved into a trot, then a lope, without too much trouble. He turned when I pulled on the reins. As an added bonus, he stopped when I wanted him too. Not once did I come close to being crippled for life, which put him ahead of Misty.
A person could get used to this, I thought.
I looked in the horse’s eyes. There was no dull glaze. No incipient madness lurking. He was beating out Beauty, the zombie horse, too!
This could be the one, I thought. I’d never enjoyed riding a horse before but I’d heard there were people who did. Maybe I could be one of them.
That day we were gathering the pasture down the creek. It was a big pasture, encompassing most of the land between the house and the highway, which was about four miles away.
The pasture also included Date Creek, which back in those days only flowed above ground as far as the house and then only in the wintertime. The creek was wide and sandy and lined with big, old cottonwood trees, mesquite thickets and granite outcroppings. Once out of the creek bottom the land on both sides rose pretty quickly into rocky, cactus- and mesquite-covered hills.
We rode out pretty early in the morning. The plan was to spread out and sweep any cattle we found toward the highway. About two-thirds of the way there and a couple miles kind of south of the creek was a dirt tank called Possum Tank. That’s where we would all meet.
(A quick side note, for those of you who live in normal places and don’t know what a “dirt tank” is. You’re probably picturing some sort of big water tank made out of mud, right? Well, you’re wrong. That’s what you get for thinking sensibly based on the name of the thing. A dirt tank is a place where the rancher gets a bulldozer and scrapes away a bunch of rocks and dirt and piles it up into a low dam. They are built along natural run-offs and preferably in places where a high content of clay in the soil makes the thing good for holding water without it all leaching away.)
Because this was one of those rare occasions where Dad had hired some outside help, i.e., real cowboys, for once I got an easy circle. I got to ride down the creek, flushing out all the cattle hiding in the cottonwood trees and mesquite thickets there. So far, so good. This was looking like a pretty easy day.
The first hour went all right. I didn’t find much and I was just sort of moseying along, daydreaming. At one point I rode up this little side canyon to check it for cows. While there I decided I needed to take a leak and I jumped down off my horse.
Unfortunately, at that point I made kind of an elementary mistake. The kind that involves keeping a good hold on your horse. See, I never had to hold the reins when I got off Lady. I never even had to take them off her neck. She wasn’t going anywhere. She was so old and tired she wouldn’t have moved if there was an earthquake. Beauty would have just stood there with a glazed look in her eyes. Even Misty wasn’t much of a risk of running off.
But not this horse.
I barely got started with my business, standing there with one foot kind of casually on the reins, when that horse just jerked his head and stole the reins!
Then the damn thing took off down the canyon!
Well, there wasn’t much I could do. I couldn’t really run after the horse in my condition and he had a look in his eye that said he wasn’t going to let me catch him anyhow. I cussed at him—something I’d well and truly learned from Dad—but damn it that didn’t help either. I finished up as fast as I could but by the time I was all zipped up he was out of sight.
I scrambled up the side of the canyon to where I could get a look back down into the creek and sure enough, a few minutes later there he was, running back up the creek toward the house.
Just like that I lost my ride.
Then I had a dilemma. I could walk back to the house and get the horse. But that would put me seriously behind schedule. If I didn’t show up at Possum Tank there’d be hell to pay. And Possum Tank was closer than the house.
So I started off for Possum Tank on foot and let me tell you something. Unlike that woman in that famous song, my boots were definitely not made for walking at all. They blistered my feet pretty quickly. On top of that, I had to hustle. I ran whenever I could, always mindful of that clock ticking.
I finally made it to Possum Tank just about the time everyone was finishing their lunch. The hired cowboys all hooted and hollered and had a good ol’ time. Why, there was nothing finer in the world than the laugh they got at me losing my horse (which is pretty much the cardinal sin for a cowboy). The good part was that for once Dad joined in on the hilarity instead of yelling at me, so I could count that as a win.
I’d missed lunch, though. It was time to drive the herd to the next pasture and there was no time to waste standing around watching Eric eat a sandwich, even if laughing at him was sooo much fun. I had to grab a sandwich and eat it on the go.
Naturally, I didn’t get out of the work just on a no-account thing like having no horse and a few angry blisters. I simply got stuck in the drags, tossing rocks at the recalcitrant cows and moody bulls and swallowing all the dust I could eat. Now and then one of the cowboys would happen on me and get a few more thigh-slapping laughs out of it.
Yep, everyone had a good time that day.
Oh, and by the way, I did not buy that horse. He was definitely not my friend after that.
(In case you’re tuning in late, the Tales from Date Creek Ranch posts are stories from my childhood, growing up on Date Creek Ranch in west central Arizona in the 1970s. Click here for the first Tale.)