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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| September 11, 2019 Views: 10|
Luke meets the black stallion
"A Horse Called Nightmare- Part 2"
by Marcus Miller
"Come pick you out a seat, Luke." Ray hollered out from the back. Like a kid in a candy store, I wandered down the rows of saddles in various states of wear, my hands running over the well-oiled leather, loving the smell of oil and horse sweat like a mother loves a powdered baby.
Butch and Ray were just watching me to see what my choice would be, when I stopped in front of a high-backed roping saddle, built on a Wade tree, with some wear, but not worn out, rough-out leather, not fancy, but a good solid working saddle like I liked sitting in for a day's work.
"I think this will work for me just fine if no one else is using it." I said, looking at them for confirmation.
"It's yours, Luke, A good seat for sure. Drag it out and hang it up front where you can get to it. While you're at it, pick you out a couple of lariats, these are all new, so you'll need to work the newness out of them, but that shouldn't take you too long, I figure?" Butch said.
I sorted through and selected two well-made ropes, one fifty-footer for in the round pen, and a sixty-footer for pasture work. I carried them with me, so I could break them in as time permitted.
"Now let's get you something to set that saddle on. Ray and I will bring up the remuda into the corral back here, just swing the gate open for us when we get close. We have about sixty head in the remuda right now. During roundups, we might have two hundred or more, but we always have some good stock ready all the time. Pick what looks good to you and swing a loop over it, then we'll take the herd back down to the pasture. You can use that stall that's open right there," he pointed, "switch out your ride as you see fit, you don't need to ask, that's what the remuda is for." Butch said as he and Ray tightened the cinches on their mounts and rode off to bring in the herd of ready riding stock.
I walked back to the stall that would be for my use and saw it was clean, with fresh wood shavings, ready for use. I hung the shorter rope on an upright horseshoe hook, then walked out to the coral and watched Ray and Butch circle the herd and head them up to the coral. The horses knew where they were going, used to this sorting, and needed little guidance to come loping up through the gate I'd opened.
Ray and Butch reined in short of the gate, which I closed and barred as the herd started circling the coral. I walked into the center and opened up a wide loop, that I tested with a couple of swings over my head, then dropped the loop and let it just follow me as I walked in a circle, letting the mounts flow past me, as I put eyes on the shape and form of the stock, looking for something to catch my eye.
There wasn't any crowbait in this bunch; any one of them would certainly work for what I needed. But I continued to look them over as they circled past me. Finally, I saw what I was looking for, a well-built red roan gelding, about fifteen and a half hands, with high withers and glossy mane and tail, and he was watching me, trying to catch my eye, maybe, but something told me he would work just fine.
I stepped into the herd as they loped around me and waited for the roan to come back around, timing his approach, I swung the big extended loop up over my shoulder and took two swings to open the loop and then released it, letting it sail up and over his high head and as the loop dropped over his nose, I took up the tension, easing the loop closed around his neck.
As I'd expected, as soon as Red felt the loop, he began to ease up, not fighting it; a horse used to being roped for sure. I drew him into me and holding him close, let my hand run up his neck and over his ears and down his face. I held him as I breathed lightly into his flaring nostrils, letting him know my smell. A horse will never forget you, once he smells you. And he will always remember how you treat him. Horses have longer memories than a woman, which I've learned over a long life, is fucking forever, but a horse is longer!
Ray leaned over and pushed the bar on the gate, then pushed it open. I heard him and Butch laughing as they eased through the gate and into the coral. "Well Luke, you just won me five dollars. I owe you, son!" Butch said, still laughing, "Ray and I made a bet on which horse you'd cut out, and I picked that roan, Ray thought you'd want that big chested bay over there."
I joined in on the laugh with them, knowing how cowboys will bet on how far a locust will jump if they get a chance. "Good choice Luke, he'll do you well, and he's fresh shod, we just put fresh shoes on him two days ago." Ray said, "we'll just take this bunch back and turn them out."
They pushed the herd out and headed them back towards the pasture down in the valley, as I led Red, as I'd call him, up to the stable, where I put a halter on him, and finding a brush, went to giving him a good curry. Butch and Ray rode back and told me they would go sort out some two-year old's and pen them for me, so I'd have something to start on. I finished cleaning up Red, gave him some hay and left him stalled, while I filled a bucket with water, and picked up a brick of hay, then went back to look at Nightmare.
My plan was to isolate him for a few days in the high sided round pen. I would bring him feed and water whenever I went into the pen, but I would take it away when I left. This would make him reliant on me for his sustenance, as well as being his only company. Horses like being around other horses, they have a very strong herd instinct, and as I denied him any company, he would, I hoped, began to see and trust me as his only herd mate.
Then I would start to slowly introduce him to halter, rein and saddle. The speed, at which his training moved forward, would be up to him. I didn't want to push him too fast. That would just back him up, because trust, is hard to develop with a horse, and I needed his total trust in me, to do what I hoped to do to him. I already was thinking of some off the wall techniques I might employ to speed up the development of trust. Time would tell if they worked.
I opened the round pen gate and went through, closing it behind me. The big black stood across the pen looking at me as I walked slowly towards him, his ears standing at attention, head high, muscles tensed, ready for whatever might come.
Bucket in one hand, fresh-cut hay in the other, I moved slow, talking low to him as I moved, telling him what a fine animal he was, that no harm would come to him, letting him hear, and get used to my voice, introducing myself to him. I moved dead center in the pen as he started to prance around, right up against the boards, as far from me as the wood walls would allow, never taking his eyes off me for a second, round and round he went.
I set the bucket down next to the hay I'd dropped, and took three or four steps back, turning to face him as he circled around me. I just stood, arms by my sides, low talking him, watching him move. He finally slowed up and then stood watching me, and looking at the bucket and feed, chest heaving, nostrils searching for any scent of danger. I stood there for at least thirty minutes, not moving, talking to him the whole time in a low steady tone.
He began to relax a little, his ears came down, flicking towards me a little as he realized I wasn't going to attack him. I picked up the bucket, spilling some on to the ground so he would know what he missed, and left about half the brick of hay lying on the ground, carrying the rest with me, straight out the gate -- not looking back at him at all.
I left the bucket and hay by the gate and walked around to look into the trap where the young colts would be waiting for me, just as Butch and Ray rode up. "We picked out five head for you to start on Luke, let's go grab some grub, Rusty will have something setback for us," Butch said, so I followed them as they rode towards Rusty's cookhouse.
Sure enough, Rusty had a mess laid out when we got there, a huge pot of beans, beefsteaks, and biscuits, real working man's food. We filled plates and coffee mugs and set down together at one long table. They introduced me to a few of the other hands that were getting a late lunch tucked away. As we filled up, Butch and Ray told me about Rusty and how he came to be running the cookhouse and bunkhouse on the Rolling R.
Seems, Rusty had been head foreman for Tom Randall, after a good career on the rodeo circuit, and he and Tom were real close. Tom trusted Rusty to manage the affairs of the ranch while Tom traveled on business. Well one day, Rusty was tallying a herd of cattle on foot, and a bull kicked him good, shattering his leg and knee so bad, the doctors thought they might have to cut it off.
Tom wouldn't let them and brought in, at great expense, specialists that agreed to operate and do what they could to fix him up. Rusty didn't lose the leg, but it finished him off for cowboy work as the stiff leg wouldn't bend enough to get his foot in the stirrup. Rusty, begged Tom to let him leave, not wanting to be a burden, but Tom wouldn't hear of it, and Rusty took Toms offer of managing the ranch headquarters and playing mother hen to the cowboys.
That was over ten years ago, and Butch told me, Rusty really still was the head foreman, as all the men come to him for everything, but Rusty plays his roll down, acting more like a train conductor, than a ranch foreman.
We finished up, and they went to work sorting through some breeding mares, and I saddled Red up and spent the afternoon, looking over the colts and periodically, checking on the black, and letting him get used to me.
Towards evening, I took him some hay and water and after setting it in the center of the pen, walked back and stood against the side of the pen, giving his as much room as possible. I wanted him to get a good drink before leaving him for the night. He walked back and forth, giving it a good thought, but finally, thirst got the better of him, and he slowly stepped up to the bucket, while warily watching me, took a long drink. Lifting his head as I low talked to him, he worked on the hay, standing and eating while he watched if I would surprise him.
I left him in the pen, much more settled than he'd arrived that morning, taking the nearly empty bucket with me, but leaving him the remainder of the hay. I was pleased with the progress of a few hours, but knowing I had a long way to go.
I kept the same routine with Nightmare for a week, not pushing him, not getting into his space. I would occasionally walk very slowly in a circle in the center of the pen, then stop and go the other way. Nightmare would respond by turning with me and moving along the pen in the same direction.
I had started working with the five-two-year old's, all geldings, at the same time, going back and forth between the two round pens throughout the day. The young colts were much easier to work with since none had ever been forced to do something that they didn't like before, so I had no barriers to gaining their confidence and respect. My morning started before daybreak with breakfast in Rusty's cookhouse, usually with Butch, Ray and some of the other ranch hands. Rusty always stuffed extra biscuits and sausage, (I let him know I didn't like bacon, but not why) into a paper sack for a morning snack, and I would usually find a moment to grab a hot coffee later, going between stables and pens.
I was getting along great with the red roan, a good solid horse, but without any fine-tuning, so I began to work him on some of the finer points. One thing I did right out, was stop using a bit, switching to a hackamore, to give his mouth a break. Many riders saw their reins hard on a working horse and ruin their mouths, leading to needing heavier and heavier steel in their mouths to control them.
I preferred, thanks to Grandpa Russell's instruction, to go the opposite direction. Get off the mouth and teach the horse to respond to a light touch of the reins, with pressure on their nose. I also would grab a handful of mane, right over the withers and tug it the same direction as the reins, teaching the horse to respond to that pressure as well. This training would come into play, when I decided to show off, riding without a bridle, something I intended to do at some point. Yes, all cowboys like to show off, anytime they get a chance.
Rusty found the time to sit and chat a little with me often, despite being busy from before daylight to well after dark. He did all the work, except cutting firewood for his stoves and ovens. That chore was handled by other ranch hands. He cleaned the bathrooms, eating tables and kitchen, cleaned all the dishes and pots and pans, and prepared all the meals, never repeating the same thing twice in a row with one exception. His sourdough biscuits were at every meal, with never a complaint. And for breakfast, he always had heaping stacks of sourdough pancakes, crispy fried around the edges, just like I liked them.
I asked him one day how he'd known I was from Oregon, the first time I met him. He told me he had worked at one time for a rodeo contractor up in Billings, Montana that supplied bucking stock for rodeos all over the country. Years ago, he'd delivered a load of sorry bucking horses to a big ranch in Oregon, owned by a man named Canfield. He had been told, by his boss, that the ranch was part of the Fetterman ranches in Wyoming and Montana. Rusty told me when he unloaded the stock that the ranch foreman had told him that Mr. Canfield wouldn't buy a decent horse for his men, only old bucking stock. Rusty never forgot that, and hearing my name caused him to remember the Oregon ranch.
After about two weeks, working slowly with Nightmare, one morning I stepped into the pen with hay and bucket of water, and the black horse nickered at me and started walking towards me from across the pen. At this point, he hadn't seen another horse or human except me, since he was put in the pen. It was obvious he was glad to see me that morning, and not just for the feed and water. He was looking forward to having company, and I knew I was starting to soften him up a little.
I walked slowly towards him, and as I got closer, he turned and went back to the side of the pen. Not quite ready yet, I thought, but close. Time to do something to bring him to me. I thought about it all day long, as I worked with the young colts, now on long reins in their round pen. In a week, I hoped, they would be introduced to a saddle, maybe?
That evening, a Friday, I think? I ate supper with Butch and Ray. Rusty served up huge thick pork chops, so tender they melted in your mouth. After we ate, the two wranglers were heading to a poker game on another ranch to the north of Steptoe Valley. I declined the invitation, thinking I would turn in early, worn out from a long day.
I thanked Rusty for the great meal and went to clean up and crawl in my bunk when an idea began to form in my mind. I don't know where the idea came from, and I don't think I'd ever heard of another horse trainer try this, certainly not from Russell, that's for sure.
Entering the empty bunkhouse, I went to my bunk, put on my denim jacket, rolled up my bedroll, and walked down to the small round pen. I didn't take hay or water, as I'd already fed the black stud earlier. When I stepped through the high gate, I saw him looking at me from across the pen, ears raised, watching for any sign of danger as a horse is born to do. I talked softly to him as I slowly walked to the center of the pen, to my space, the area I occupied when in the pen, letting the big stallion have all the rest of the pen, as his space.
I slowly kneeled, and very slowly, so as not to spook the black, unrolled my bedroll and sat on it. The black's eyes watched my every move. I sat there for at least an hour, maybe more, talking to him, as he stood there trying to figure out this new situation, something he'd never seen before.
Tired, my eyes wanting to go south, I finally succumbed and lay down, using my jacket as a pillow, and fell asleep. I don't remember waking up during the night, but when I did wake up, it was still dark, early in the morning. At first, I was unsure where I was, then feeling the hard ground under me; I remembered my bold move of the night before.
Without moving, I opened my eyes and looked around me. Not two feet from me, just behind my head, Nightmare stood sentinel.
Still, without moving, I spoke to him, and he nickered a response softly, but he didn't move. I slowly rolled out of my canvas bed and stood up. His ears were perked and head high, looking at me closely. I slowly raised my hand, and he, for the first time, allowed me to touch his neck as I stroked him gently, I continued to low talk to him. I felt his muscles quiver under my hand, but he didn't shy away. He accepted my touch, finally confident, I was not out to hurt him.
As I stood there bonding by touch and voice, I glanced at the side of the pen and saw Rusty, standing on the viewing platform, just looking at me, shaking his head in disbelief. He finally turned to go, and Nightmare's ears went up, and he nickered softly, letting me know he had seen Rusty too.
I left him and went and got some fresh water and a brick of hay and as treat, two big handfuls of rolled oats in the crown of my Stetson. I held my hat as he stuck his nose into the sweaty interior and lapped up all the sweet grain. Then, leaving the hay and water with him, picked up my bedroll and went to break my fast.
I walked into the cookhouse, and everyone's eyes turned to me, and it wasn't hard to guess that Rusty had been wagging his tongue about my escapades. I filled a plate, suddenly very hungry and sat on a bench across from Butch and Ray. I didn't look at them and just put my head down and tucked into my food. After a bit, I glanced up and saw smiles of approval creasing the faces of the two cowboys. I heard boot heels beating the floor behind me and glanced over my shoulder and saw Tom Randall heading for me. I hadn't seen Tom but a few times since I got here, as he traveled a lot.
Tom slid in next to me as Rusty brought him a mug of coffee. "Want me to load you a plate, Tom?" Rusty asked our boss, as I stopped eating, wondering if I was about to have my employment terminated early.
"Sure thing, Rusty, thanks." Tom answered, "Well young Luke, the word around here this morning, is that our nice accommodations that we've provided for you in the bunkhouse aren't good enough. Instead, it seems, you feel you need to bed down in a round pen with a high spirited black devil horse that a week ago, no one even wanted to be in the same pen with unless they were on horseback. What can you tell me about that, Luke?" Tom said easily.
"Tom," I started to explain, "Nightmare showed me yesterday, that he was becoming receptive to a little more attention. Last night, it just came to me, that maybe he would accept my staying the night in the pen with him. I was sure he wouldn't hurt me as he's never been aggressive to me, just untouchable.
This morning he let me touch his neck and stroke him, and then he ate oats from my sweaty hat. I think I can move forward with him now. I'm sure I've gotten past his bad experience, whatever it was, though I expect he was whipped or even worse. I'm going to go slow, not rush it, but I feel good about it this morning, I hope you're not upset with me for doing what I did? My grandfather always told me that a horse will let you know real quick if he'll let you do something with him or not. I felt okay, giving it a try."
Tom just sat there looking at me, as Rusty set down a plate loaded with hot food. "No Luke, I'm not upset, though it's as crazy a stunt as I've ever heard. This is one story I can't wait to tell! I'm just glad we didn't have to wrap up your stomped broken body in a blanket and bury you up in the high pasture." he said, getting a laugh out of everyone. Tom chuckled at his own joke and went on, "Just promise me you'll be careful with him, but use your own judgment. You've already gotten farther with that black stud than I thought you would, after just a couple weeks. I can't wait to see what you can do with him in the next few weeks. Now, how are you doing with those two-year old's?"
I went on to tell him about my progress with the young colts, as we finished our breakfast. Then Tom and Rusty started discussing ranch affairs as I got up and left, followed by Butch and Ray. I was going to saddle the red roan, and Butch asked if I would ride out with them to look at a pasture of yearlings they were fixing to sort.
Glad for a little break from my routine, we all rode out together, heading up into the hills under the watchful gaze of South Schell Peak. The morning air felt good on my face coming down out of the mountains, and we rode for a while without a word between us, lost in our own internal dialog. Finally, Butch broke through our thoughts by saying, "Luke, when Rusty told us about you bedding down in the round pen, we thought he was trying to pull one on us. No one could believe a sane person would do such a thing, is that some trick you learned from your grandfather? Cus I've never heard anything like it my whole life!"
"No," I said, "grandpa never did it, not that I know of, but he had such a way with horses; they just knew they were safe with him. I don't know, it just came to me, so I tried it, and I think it worked out okay. I'm going to try and get him in a halter in the next couple of days. If I can do that, well, I hate to say it will be downhill from there, but it's a good first step, anyways."
They both agreed with that as we rode up Worthington Canyon and crossed Berry Creek and into a big pasture of young yearlings. We stayed up there most of the morning, before riding back down the mountain to the ranch headquarters. After a plate of beans and biscuits for lunch, I took several halters and lead ropes into Nightmare's pen with hay and water. He greeted me, like he was glad I was there, and stepped right up to me and started eating the hay I was holding before I could even put it down. He'd never done that before. While he ate, I scattered the halters and leads around the pen, then I spent the rest of the day with the colts.
I bedded down again in the round pen that night, with Nightmare taking up sentinel duties near me all night long, and the next morning, before I went to breakfast, I picked up a halter and the black let me rub him down with it, before I hung it around his neck, and buckled it. A huge step!
I walked on clouds that morning, a Sunday. Day off for the ranch hands, so everyone that was there was moving slow, many having been into Ely drinking the night before. I worked colts that day, getting a saddle on two of them for a few hours, and then putting them back out in the trap.
"Always finish on a high note." Grandpa Russell used to say.
I took the halter loose from around Nightmares neck that evening, but left them in the pen with him, and slept in my bunk for a nice change. I slept easy that night, looking forward to the week ahead, and hoping for great strides with the big black, called Nightmare.
I woke up the next morning, and my first thought was of the Coeur d`Alene and the Farris's, wondering where they were. I was certain they had made it through the Panama Canal by now and were somewhere into the islands, maybe Jamaica or the Cayman Islands. With no idea, if I had gotten away from my abusive father, I wondered how long they would wait for me, if at all, after outfitting the schooner in Miami for a long cruise taking charters. I lay in my bunk, working my mind over how long it would take me to finish this set of two-year old's, and more importantly, get a saddle on Nightmare. I hoped the money from them would get me to Miami, so I could join the Farris's, and I thought I'd better get to work. Time was slipping away quickly!
At the end of another two weeks, I had all the two-year-old geldings carrying a feed sack strapped to the saddle, in the round pen. Nightmare had slowly accepted the halter, and I was leading him around the pen without a fight. On that Sunday morning, with several cowboys, including Ray and Butch watching, I rode out of the round pen, leading Nightmare with a long lead rope, into the east pasture for a good lope.
It was the first time he'd been out of the pen in almost a month, and I was wondering if I could maintain his concentration. He did just fine, and didn't fight the lead at all. When we got back, Ray opened the gate for me, and I hollered across the pen for Butch to open the other side, I was going to stable the black as a change of routine and reward for making some big steps.
From that day on, he only went into the round pen to train.
That afternoon, almost the whole ranch showed up, including Tom's wife, Roberta, who I had only met twice before. She traveled with Tom quite a bit, and stayed in the big house, where they entertained frequently. Rusty told me Tom was thinking of running for some political office in the state, so he, in Rusty's words, "needed to glad hand" all over Nevada.
I had let it be known I was going to saddle and ride all five of the two-year old's that day, and as the saying goes, everyone likes a rodeo! If that was the case, then I disappointed everyone that day. One at a time, I brought in each colt and saddled them and eased up into the saddle and rode them back and forth around the corral. Not one of them so much as hopped, jumped or bucked!
I think Russell would have been real proud of his great-grandson, as I showed off what soft-breaking a colt looks like. Everyone clapped and yelled their approval! After I pulled the saddles off all five so they could cool off, I finished the show by riding the red roan into the corral. I rode him into the center, and as everyone watched I leaned over his neck and took off his hackamore, then holding only a handful of mane, I backed him up, turned him and rode at a lope first one way around the corral, then pulled him to a sliding stop, and spun him with my spurs and loped off the other direction.
As a big finish I turned him and rode across the big corral, right at the crowd sitting on the top rail and with a good pull on his mane, slid Red to a sliding stop right in front of the crowd of cheering cowboys and my boss.
"Always finish on a high note," Russell would tell me.
I don't think Rusty stopped smiling for two days! He said that was a great performance, "Blue Ribbon Worthy" he called it. Tom asked what I wanted to do with the colts and I told him I wanted to spend a week or so, working them on cattle, roping, and cutting before they went into the remuda. He agreed and told Butch and Ray to help me every minute they could spare from their regular duties.
Rusty fixed a big barbeque that evening out on the covered patio of the cookhouse. Everyone showed up including Roberta and some of Tom's rich friends from across the state. Tom decided after everyone except myself had imbibed in cold foamy beer and dark liquor, to tell the story, that he embellished plenty, of me sleeping on the ground in a round pen with the devil black stallion!
He probably could have got elected with that story alone, if he'd have tried. I left the party early and went to check on Nightmare or 'Night' as I called him. I took him out of his stall and brushed him down until he gleamed, then as a surprise to Tom and the rest of the party crowd, I took off his lead rope and walked out of the stable, with Night following me
He had taken to following me around the pen, giving me little pushes with his nose. As I came out of the stable, I didn't even turn around just walked normally out and past the stunned group with the 'Devil Black Horse' following me like a puppy, pushing me with his nose, without any lead rope to control him. I walked past a little, then turned in a wide circle and walked past again and on into the stable. I heard the crowd, of slightly inebriated cowboys and rich ranchers erupt!
I hadn't planned on doing it in advance, so it was a surprise to everyone, including myself. I gave Night a big hug and put him away, with an extra ration of rolled oats. Those cowboys couldn't stop pumping my hand and slapping my back when I joined them again. Tom came up and told me I'd earned a bonus that day with my performance, and Roberta gave me a big hug, before I headed for the bunkhouse, happy as a lark on a spring morning.
Tom surprised us with a semi-trailer load of what he called, 'Mexican Roping Steers' from Arizona the next week. These were young steers weighing around five hundred pounds with long horns sticking out about a foot long on each side of their heads, perfect for swinging a loop over!
It was just what I needed to get the colts used to roping behind cattle. I also worked them on cutting, to see which had the most cow in it. Only the one sorrel gelding showed much promise right off, but time would tell as they got more time in once they were in the remuda. Ray and Butch rode with me quite a bit and were very pleased with the young colts training. None of the colts were ridden with a bit in its mouth, and all worked with just the lightest touch of the reins. After another week working the colts on cattle, I turned them over to Butch for the remuda stock. All the cowboys wanted to get them as their mounts, so the five young geldings would get plenty of work. I could now concentrate on Night.
I started Night on long reins and began to get good results. I moved an old saddle into the round pen and hung saddle blankets all over the pen walls so he could get good and used to them. This was where it might get tight, as I suspected whoever had tried to train him, had tried bucking him out. So, he might have a real fear of the saddle.
I spent part of everyday brushing him, so he would get used to being handled. It was time to get him shod, and I wanted him used to having his legs bent, and hooves worked with. I also draped myself across his back every chance I got, getting him used to my weight on his back. Finally, I figured he was ready, and Butch told Toby, the ranch farrier, to put shoes on Night. Toby, did a great job and Night was a perfect gentleman, although I'll admit, I heard there was a betting pool running to see how long it would take Night to kick Toby. There were no winners on that bet, and as I walked Night around on neatly trimmed hooves and new shoes, I was very proud of him and glad that people were beginning to stop referring to him as Nightmare.
The second week of August, I put a saddle on Night and cinched it up. His muscles quivered as I took my time drawing the saddle down on his back. I walked him around about an hour, letting him feel the stirrups brush his sides as we walked back and forth. Then I got a feed sack of oats and laid it over the saddle, and tied it on tight with sisal twine. I'd had more than one train wreck when a feed sack slipped off the saddle on a colt!
I left Night in the corral carrying that feed sack all morning, then after lunch, unsaddled him and brushed him down, then saddled him and unsaddled him about twenty times, getting him used to having the cinch pulled up tight. I left him saddled with the oats while I went and got a cup of coffee. I stood with a mug, on the porch of the cookhouse, looking down on the corral and watching Night carry it around.
Rusty came out, favoring his messed-up leg, and stood beside me drinking from his cup.
"Its time." I said.
Rusty nodded his head, "Yup, I think it is. You've shown great patience with that stallion; not sure anyone would have eased him along so? Mount him clean, and show him no fear, the horse loves you, and I don't believe he'll hurt you."
I pitched the rest of my coffee over the railing and handed Rusty the empty mug. "Well, I guess I'm about to find out?" and I walked down the hill into the corral.
I led Night up to the stable and removed the feed sack and training saddle. I swung my high-backed saddle up, settled it over his withers and cinched it up, leaving it a little loose. Then I led him back to the corral, not the round pen that I would normally use for a first ride, and once inside talking low to him the whole time, I tightened the cinch good and stepping into the stirrup, swinging my leg over his back, settled into the saddle and lightly touched my spurs to his flanks.
He stepped out and didn't show any sign of wanting to drop his head into a buck, as I clicked my tongue signaling a change in gait and he easily slipped into a slow lope around the corral. I brought him up short after a few turns, turned him with reins and heels and loped around the other direction. I rode him for more than an hour, then opened the gate, and we rode out into the east pasture and circled the ranch buildings, then turned him up into the hills.
I could tell Night was glad to be out, away from the training routine and buildings and pens. It was therapeutic for both of us. I didn't press him, just lightly directed him along, slowly climbing higher into the hills. After about two hours, I turned him, and we rode back to the ranch. The cookhouse was filled with ranch hands getting into their supper when I rode up to the stable on Night.
I saw men standing up from the tables and getting a good look through the windows, and Rusty, Butch, and Ray walked out on the porch and watched as I unsaddled Night, rubbed him down and stabled him. I was tired. Bone tired, after all the anticipation, finally having this big step behind me. It had never taken me so long to ride a colt for the first time, but then again, I had never worked on a damaged horse before. Now I just needed to spend a few weeks tuning Night up and getting him ready for Tom.
It was all downhill from here!
I walked over and joined my friends on the porch, and without a word, we filed into the sweet smells of roasting meat and fried potatoes. We ate and talked about the day's accomplishments and my plans for the rest of Night's training.
The next couple of weeks went very fast, as I spent almost every hour of the day in the saddle putting Night through his paces, and starting him on cattle. The first time I rode Night into a herd of young calves, I knew this was a horse with a lot of cow in him! His ears went up, and his total focus was on the movement of the herd.
I'd been doing some light roping on small calves in the corral, just enough to get him used to stopping a calf and holding him, very basic stuff. With Butch and Ray's help, I spent one afternoon working on the longhorn steers out of the roping chute. Then we went out in the pasture the next day and roped calves in the open pasture, much different than an enclosed roping pen. At the end of the week, I was satisfied that he was ready for any roping duties he would be asked to perform. He was a pure athlete!
Finally, I was ready to turn him over to Tom. I'd spent more time than I had planned, but truthfully, I couldn't get enough of the big black stallion. Every day he reminded me more and more of Shawnee, sometimes to the point of hurt.
After lunch on the first Sunday of September, I saddled Night, and with everybody gathered, Tom and Roberta front and center at the big show corral, I put Night through his paces. I roped a couple of steers and loped him this way and that, showing off his moves with just a light touch of the reins from his hackamore. Then I walked him a bit to cool him off as Butch, Ray and a couple of other cowboys brought in twenty head of fresh calves.
I walked Night over to the stands, and leaning forward in the stirrups, slid the hackamore off his head and handed it to Roberta. Grasping a handful of mane, and directing him with my spurred boot heels, turned him and walked him calmly into the herd.
Butch and Ray and two others worked as turnback riders as I chose a brindle calf and signaling Night, cut the calf out of the herd. Once Night had pushed the anxious calf clear, I touched him with my right hand on his neck. The calf moved its head, its body language telling of a move to the right and Night dropped! With his front legs bent and head down, so low I felt my chaps brushing the ground, he swept left to block the calf, then right as the calf began to move the other way!
Swiftly crossing the open space in front of the herd, blocking every move the calf made to get back into the herd, Night worked that calf for several minutes, until it gave up, and moved into the deep area on the other end of the corral.
One more time we entered the herd and cut another calf, a baldy this time, and Night, showed off his supreme athleticism, moving so swiftly sweeping right and left, that it took all my focus to keep from being unseated from the saddle! Moves that you can't train into a horse.
They must have the cow sense bred into them.
Finally, the baldy gave up, and I patted Night's neck, leaning forward to whisper in his ear, that the show was over, I rode him up to the stands and stepped out of the high-backed saddle. While Ray and the other two cowboys pushed the herd out of the corral, Butch brought Tom's saddle, while I pulled mine off Night.
I replaced the hackamore, as Butch saddled Night, and handing the reins to Tom, now waiting next to me, he stepped into the saddle and turning the horse, formerly known as Nightmare, and rode around the corral to a speechless crown of ranch hands and cowboys.
Later, after stabling our mounts, we all returned to the cookhouse for the last time I would supper with this great group of westerners. Rusty had barbequed a whole calf over a huge spit, and we all filled up to the point of splitting!
After dinner, Tom asked me to join him outside, and on the front porch, spoke with me. "Luke, I wish I could talk you into staying here on the Running R. If you stayed, I would put you in charge of all the working horse training. I've never in my life seen any cowboy with the soft hands you have for a horse. I never thought you would get through the bad spirit of the black stallion! You know, the Paiute Indians around here, say that a warrior has the spirits of his ancestors guiding him through life. If that is true, I'm betting your grandfather is, sure enough, one of your guides! Your way with horses is uncanny?
But I've watched you close since I met you in Ely, all those many weeks ago, and I feel you're on a quest of some kind, maybe to find yourself, or something? So, I want you to know this; when you get done searching, for whatever it is, you have a place on this ranch for as long as you want. If you need money to get here, from wherever wire me, and I'll send money to Western Union to get you here."
With that Tom paid me, one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the five-two-year old's and one hundred, as agreed, for breaking the black stallion to saddle, then handed me another two hundred as a bonus, "for the fine work," he said I'd done with the horses. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart! Then we rejoined the group, planning on meeting at daybreak for the ride to the bus station in Ely.
I stayed after almost everyone left, talking with the three men I now considered my friends, then left to pack my gear, ready to leave early in the morning. Rusty told me to take what I needed and leave what I didn't on the bunk. He said he would have hot food ready early and to come eat as soon as I got up in the morning.
I hardly slept, my mind turning so much in unknown anticipation of what was before me. I finally got out of bed and finished sorting my gear. I left my old Hudson Bay Coat, as it really didn't fit me anymore. I'd had another, growth spurt. probably from Rusty's good cooking. I traded it for the fleece lined denim jacket that was lighter anyway. I figured there was no need for a heavy coat in Florida
I folded the batwing chaps that had served me well, and placed the pair of spurs on them, on the lower bunk. My riding boots were almost too small anymore, so I left them as well, one of the last things I'd brought from my father's Oregon ranch. The old well-worn Stetson I kept, I guess to hold onto something from the Running R.
I had sown pouches inside my boots to hide paper money, in an attempt to learn from past mistakes. I strapped my knife on my right leg and put one sap in my left boot, and one in my back-right pants pocket.
Wearing the Red Wing boots I'd arrived in, I carried my bag, bedroll and full canteen to the cookhouse and left them on the porch. Rusty, Ray, and Butch were drinking coffee already, waiting for me to show up. We chatted, ate breakfast and with the first hints of daylight spreading fans of light through the peaks of the Schell Creek Range, I said my good-byes and walked over to the stable.
Night nickered at me before I could even see him in the dim light. I talked to him as I haltered him and led him from his stall. With a brush in my hand, I curried him and stroked his powerful neck and spoke my good-byes.
I have known many good horses in my life, in youth and later in life, but few will hold my heart like the lineback dun stallion, Shawnee, that my father stole from me, or the big black stud, Night, that I had grown to love unconditionally! More than a few tears streamed down my face as I hugged him one last time, then put him away and left the stable for the last time.
Night must have understood I was leaving him because I heard him loudly nicker at me as I loaded my gear in Tom's waiting '67 Chevy Apache C-10 pickup.
I didn't look back. If I had, I might never have left.
Not much was said between Tom Randall and me as he navigated the roads from Steptoe Valley into Ely, Nevada. We got there well before the bus would leave, and Tom tried one more time to talk me into staying. Then he shook my hand, gave me a fatherly hug, and drove away.
I walked inside the Greyhound Bus station and bought a ticket to Provo, Utah, then asked what it would cost to get all the way to Miami. Realizing I had more than enough money to get there, I thought maybe I should protect myself from theft on the road, and went next door to the Western Union and wired two hundred of my dollars to Miami, Florida in my name.
Getting instructions on how to pick it up once I was there, I, for the first time, realized I was lacking in any form of identification. Of course, I didn't have a driver's license, nor any Social Security card, not even a wallet to carry any I.D. if I had one. The agent told me I would have to present my receipt in Miami to get my money, so he said I best not misplace it.
With a little time left, I went into the Ely Cafe and had a cup of coffee, quickly filling Molly in on my experiences working for Tom Randall. I said good-bye to her and thanked her for her help when I heard the bus pull into town.
I was seated on the Greyhound Bus to Provo, Utah when it drove out of Ely, Nevada at 8 a.m., eighty-four days later than I had originally planned. Though I would always hold hate in my heart for Carol Ann, and what she did to me, I honestly have to thank her, for the time I got to share in the foothills of Nevada's eastern mountain's, on a ranch called the Rolling R, with friends I still remember fondly, and a horse named Night, that holds a place in my heart to this day.
This is an excerpt from my novel, The Redemption Wall-available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
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