Yes, Even A Horse Trader Can Have A Soul
There was a time not so many years ago when Charmin’ Carmen the horse trader began to feel regret about some of the ways he had treated his friend, Will the rancher.
It was for real. It wasn’t a story of middle earth, a Grimm’s fairy tale, a Tolkien story or something where Tarzan or Superman was offended by misdeeds. Yes, even horse traders began to have souls when some of their sneak-thievery was passed on to car salesmen and politicians.
Charmin’ Carmen was just feeling really, sincerely regretful about the time he helped Will out by buying a good saddle horse from him, having it die right there on the ranch before he could haul it away, and making a tremendous profit from it by putting raffle jars on the horse in convenience stores with a picture on each one showing it in good condition. Participants could put their names and addresses in the jar with a dollar attached to each entry. True, he had given the winner his dollar back. But, deep down, he felt Will should have gotten more out of it too.
As for the participants in the raffle, Carmen wasn’t advanced enough in the soul business to feel very badly about them. As he told his wife,Frances, “Well gamblers is sinners, ain’t they? Nothin’ can be wrong in taking advantage of their natural proclivities. They was created for the whickerin’, weren’t they? Poor old Carmen was just there to provide it for them. I got to make a living, don’t I?”
He would have done the same for somebody moving out from the city who wanted a “gentle horse.”
“They want to be close to nature don’t they, sweetheart? Well, old Carmen is part of nature. I’m here to meet their needs. They’re only going to pay attention to it for a little while anyway. Then they’ll put it out on a small acreage to graze, and they’ll half starve it because they don’t understand grazing rates, how many acres of grass it takes to feed a horse. When it gets really thin, I’ll come along to tell them it’s sick, buy it back for a fraction of what they paid me for it, fatten it back up, and sell it again. I love them people and their money. If I see them getting serious about horses, I’ll come back to tell them we made a mistake with that one, and make it right with them, upsell them on the first horse and the next one too. See, Hon, I really do meet their needs.”
Will deserved his best. Way back, he sold Will a horse that was too green, and bragged about what a good cow pony it already was. Then there was the time he sold Will’s wife a pet goat that got to nibbling their fruit trees until it stripped them off. No use yapping at them about the lead rope training and pet training that went into that goat. They’d paid a premium for it, and then had the good sense to serve it at a barbeque.
Gosh, for every two times he had done right by Will, he had skinned him a little on the trade in between—too many horses sold Will that were either too young or too old. What if Will wouldn’t deal with him anymore? Or, worse yet, what if he considered him a crook instead of a friend. Carmen couldn’t bear the thought. What if Will actually considered him a liar? Well, no use dwelling on his own natural proclivities.
So, there was the situation. He had to do something good for Will, and Carmen decided he had to do it right away before it was too late.
He and Frances had bought a dozen prime young Quarter Horse geldings from Clarklin Blarklin, one of the better Quarter Horse breeders in the region, a no-nonsense kind of an old boy who put out the kind of cow-sense horses needed on real ranches. Carmen had noticed one young sorrel right away with a special combination of energy and intelligence in the lustrous, large brown eyes.
“Look at him, just look at that one, Frances,” he said, nodding at the sorrel. “That’s one special young Quarter Horse there, ain’t he though? Look at the way he’s started prancing around the corral, knows we’re talking about you don’t you fellow. Lookee there, Frances, he’s broke into a gallop. I tell you that’s one smart colt. When he slows down, look at the way he still dances sideways on his toes. That’s a lot of spirit. He dances like a flamingo. That’s what I’ma gonna do. I’m going to name that cow pony Flamingo, and I’ll make a special deal on him to old Will just cuz Will deserves it after all his dealings with me in the past.. Only, don’t tell any of the Quarter Horse men that I called one of their own a pony.”
“Well, that’s commendable, Carmen, giving Will a special deal,” said Frances. “I like it that you have that in you, to do someone right after all of these years. But don’t you know it’s bad luck to name a horse you’re raising to sell. At least, that’s what you always tell me.”
“I know, I know, but it’s special for Will. He’ll know that I know that horse is really special since I gave him a name. Have you been workin’ him in the round pen?”
“Oh, yes, and you’re right he’s a special one. He caught on right away to come to me. I’ve even been up on him a couple of time. He never offered a buck or sideways flinch. And Ernest has had him out riding across the pasture two or three times.”
“Is that right? How did he do for Ernest. About the same, except he wanted to dance or shy when something didn’t look right or he wasn’t familiar with it. Ernest said he jumped hard when he went past the windmill, and it turned in a fresh wind.”
“That settles it then. It’s only two miles over to Will’s house. I’ll ride Flamingo over there tomorrow. It’s far enough just to take the beginning edge off him. Will can notice what an addition young Flamingo can be when even I trust my hide to him when he’s just green-broke.”
“There, you said it right there, Carmen, trusting your hide to him when he’s just green-broke. Do you think that’s very wise for you to ride him over there like that? What if he spooks, and you take a spill. You’re no spring chicken any more. You can get head banged or break a bone.”
Carmen clenched his long white teeth together in a big open smile on his broad Siouxian face, and let his big brown eyes sparkle in their best practiced trader light. “Now, Honey Bunch, you know old Carmen is always careful. No young horse like this here Flamingo is gonna get the best of me. I’ll take it easy, and just enjoy the ride. It can be so relaxin’ to get up early in the morning, ride in the cool of the day’s first sunshine while your head throbs cookin’ up deals. It’ll just be a special time for me. And, I’ll really be lookin’ for that smile on old Will’s face when he realizes what I’m doin’ just for him.”
So it was the next morning that Frances helped Carmen saddle and bridle the young Flamingo after the horse had been around a few times in the round pen to take any edge off him. Carmen even tied a canteen of water to the saddle horn. No sense being dry.
Frances held Flamingo’s bridle while Carmen put one foot in the stirrup, and grabbed the saddle horn to swing the other leg over the horse mounting rather gracefully for a heavy man. Flamingo exuded a heavy breathing sigh as Carmen settled into the saddle.
“He’s saying you’re a little heavy, I think, Carmen,” Frances said. She opened the gate. “Now you be careful old man.”
“You know I’m always careful, gotta be,” Carmen replied as the colt stepped out to walk down the driveway. “Hey, old Flamingo’s good ain’t he, a swell colt, got a long stride to him.”
The young horse seemed to pick it up right away to walk down the gravel road on the paths worn smooth by car tires. Carmen was pleased. Flamingo tried to turn around twice whinnying so loudly his body shook to call back to the other colts he was leaving behind. But Carmen just used the reins to keep him turning until he was facing the right direction to go again. Flamingo finally just put his ears forward in curiosity as he stretched into a long ground-eating walk, waiting to see what that next tree was blowing in the wind. Three times he tried to break into a trot, but Carmen easily held him in.”
The man easily petted Flamingo once above the shoulder murmuring, “Yes, you’re a good old colt, ain’t you, Flamingo. You’re smart, and you’re going to make a good old cow pony for Will.”
Off down the road, Will was too busy to have been thinking about Carmen because he, a veterinarian and a couple of cowhands were busy running cattle through a squeeze chute, giving them shots and working them over. He had been thinking about Carmen lately, but the weathered old straight-shooting rancher was thinking about his horse trading friend in ways that might have confirmed Carmen’s fears.
Will was feeling badly because he decided he’d done something wrong by taking money from Carmen for a horse he’d known was already dead. He felt more than doubly bad when he thought about how Carmen had raffled off the dead horse, and made a big bunch of money from unsuspecting people, even if he had given the winner his dollar back. The whole experience was beginning to turn into a chronic guilt burden that sometimes woke Will up at night, leaving him running his fingers through his red hair, and shaking his head.
To compound Will’s troubles, he was beginning to wonder if Carmen really might be a crafty crook instead of a relatively good natured old horse trader, and he might be pausing to hook his thumbs in his belt loops somewhere, and chuckle to a group of listeners how Will had out-traded him—the dreaded credibility of a crook labeling him a crook.
So, when he saw Carmen riding a young sorrel gelding toward the working pens, he felt a sense of fatigue over trying to get his work done, and now here was this trader to try to stress him further with his presence. He tried to ignore that Carmen was there, keeping his back to him at first, but then decided to acknowledge him, and find a way to send him away.
“Hi Carmen, what is it? I’m awfully busy here right now. Don’t have time to talk,” he said, looking up at the big, broad man in the saddle.
“That’s OK, Will, but first look at him, just look at him, this Quarter Horse colt I brought over for you to see. Look at that smart head, Will, don’t it just say cow sense all over it. I tell you this here horse, Flamingo that I named myself is prime, one of best you or I will ever see. I saw you look. Didn’t you notice the way he was striding out with me, eager, beautiful. “
“I’m not looking to buy a cow horse today, Carmen.”
“But, Will, I tell you from the bottom of my heart,” Carmen said leaning out over the saddle horn to try to look Will in the face as intently as he could for emphasis, “he’s already yours. It’s time for me to make up to you the times whenever I might have gotten the best of you in a deal. You can pay me what you think is fair for him, or you can just have him free, what ever you think is right. You ain’t gonna hear this often from old Carmen in this life, Will, but you’re my friend. And, this is your chance to feel right about me and you.
“Ain’t you gonna say anything, Will? You’re just standing there lookin’ at me like someone run a knife through your gizzard. I’m tellin’ you this here horse is yours. Surprised you too much, I reckon, didn’t I?”
“Look, Carmen,” Will said looking into the other man’s huge grin, “I am not saying right now that I am or I am not taking this horse. I’m just too busy right now. You’ve caught me off-balance. I’ll talk to you later though. I really will talk to you about it. Maybe you could do me a favor while we’re getting this done if you were planning to spend some time here anyway.”
“Sure, Will. You just name it. Ol’ Carmen is here for you today, gonna make any bad times go away.”
“Well, you better hear me first. What I want, since you’re already mounted up on a good horse, if you’re up to it, is to ride up into the hills on my north quarter to look at a bunch of new calves we just dumped on grass there yesterday. You know, just make sure they’re still there, and didn’t get to running, and go through a fence or anything.”
Will smiled a little despite himself. He knew that he was sending Carmen on quite a ride when the man, not used to being a cowhand himself, probably already was beginning to tire.
“That’s quite a ride, ain’t it Will,” asked Carmen, therefore confirming the other man’s thoughts.
“Yeah, but that’s the deal here. You know I don’t have time to talk this minute.”
“Well, hey, I’m just glad to be able to help you out.”
Once he got started, Carmen found the additional riding began to add immensely to the pleasure of the day on such a fine young horse. The pathway to the north took him almost immediately over a small hill where Flamingo had to wade belly-deep through a tall stand of prairie cordgrass brushing his sides. It was a wet slough area where the muddy water came up through the grass around the horse’s hooves.
It began to excite Flamingo, and he tried to dance sideways, Carmen reassuring him, “Hoa, ho,” and tightening on the reins to hold him in a bit.
Again the colt straightened out as though confident of the support of his rider, and Carmen petted his neck reassuringly. “Lord, but you’re a fine young horse. I almost wish I wasn’t born to be a trader, and could keep you myself.”
Carmen became so confident, he began to trot Flamingo even though he sensed the horse was excited by this trip into the open grasslands. He alternated trotting and then walking, Carmen relaxing in the seat balance that treated sitting a horse like a rocking chair. Flamingo shied once when a covey of quail flew up from an adjoining plum thicket. “You’ll get over that though, won’t you old Flamingo. Yes, you’re a good, level-headed horse, and you’ll soon have the experience for things like that not to surprise you,” Carmen spoke again in his most gentle low murmur.
They came to one of those climax points in the hills where a high incline of loose shale, algae-covered outcrops and grass interspersed with low herbs climbs to give a view of the surrounding countryside.
Carmen turned the colt to look up the hill. “See here, Flamingo, I know it can be kind of spooky for a young horse going up a hill like this for the first time with a rider on his back, but we got to go up there to take a look around so we don’t just ride all over the place looking for those calves. So, come on now, chick, chick, chick.”
Carmen tapped Flamingo’s sides lightly with his boots to urge him on, but wasn’t too surprised when the colt began to leap forward to climb the grade. “Whoa, whoa, easy now. Ain’t no hurry tryin’ to jump your way up there like any lame-brained new horse,” he said gathering back on the reins to hold Flamingo in.
The colt gradually slowed his pace to go at a quick, climbing walk again. “That’s better, that’s better, shoooh.”
Carmen pulled the horse to a stop, and looked off to the north. He saw the calves way off, grazing together only slightly dispersed in a way that showed they were calm----a part of the great vista of broad, green prairie. “That’s good, that’s good, ain’t it, Flamingo. Come on now, we’ll go on out there for a ways to have a closer look if we can do it without spooking them. Easy now, easy goin’ down.”
Carmen thought for a moment of getting off to lead Flamingo down the hill, but no. No, he was getting tired, and he didn’t want to have to try to mount the colt at the bottom without someone like
Frances there to give him a little shove into the saddle. He felt too tired to do it on his own. “We’ll get down there just fine, old Flamingo. Easy now, easy, just step out slow, and find your way.”
Carmen knew Flamingo was sure foot, probably had gone up and down such hills a thousand times on his own. But it would be different to do it with the unfamiliar weight and balance of a man in the saddle when combined with the natural excitement of youth. Carmen gripped the saddle horn, and loosened the reins a little to allow the colt to find his way down through the rocks. “Easy boy, we’ll go on a little bit of an angle here to help you find your way.”
They were doing fine for a ways, but then Carmen hollered in surprise, “Huaagh!” as the colt pivoted downhill, and tried to leap through it as he had done uphill. It was one of those mistakes of youth that even a good horse will make.
Flamingo began to slide as his front feet hit the loose shale hard from the leap, and he tried to turn sideways to regain balance as he went. Carmen was thrown sideways in the saddle, and instinctively trying to rein the colt in just when he needed his head for balance. Flamingo hit a rock outcrop hard with his front feet, and Carmen gripped the saddle horn as he went down.
Carmen’s mouth worked back and forth for a moment in an interrupted yowl, but the wind was out of him now. He was stunned from the impact where the base of his neck had hit the ground. Flamingo was on his side with Carmen’s right leg under him, the left leg stretched out at nearly a right angle to it.
Then Flamingo rolled himself back away from Carmen with his feet under him, scrambling and struggling back on his hooves to stand. Then he shook himself like a dog fresh out of the water. He began walking away on down the hill behind Carmen until he was out of his sight.
Carmen’s consciousness began to creep back in as the horse moved away, and the next time his mouth opened it was to a long howl of agony, “aaaughwl. Geeze, Louise! Lord, Lord, what have I done?” His entire body was pinpoints of pain, and the back of his head felt like he had been cracking walnuts with it, a dull ache of haze that seemed to envelope him.
Then there was one agonizing overwhelming pain that overshadowed everything, putting his guts into knots that threatened to tear him apart. It was from his right leg. Carmen knew the leg had to be broken, probably in more than one place.
“My God, what have I done to myself,” he cried, big tears beginning to roll down his cheeks. He felt the world receding before his eyes, and began to panic against losing consciousness. It might be hours before Will decided to come looking for him, or before Frances began to think he had been gone from home too long.
Carmen had never been religious, but he thought there might come a day when he would make amends with God before he died. He just hadn’t expected it all to have to happen in one afternoon. He remembered vaguely some bible quotation that “it is appointed man once to die, and then the judgment.”
Then he hollered loudly, “Oh crap, the judgment! Gawd almighty help Carmen out of this one!
“Jesus, I know you ain’t a horse trader, but please help old Carmen today, right away, and maybe I can do some of those things back for you I always been thinkin’ of.”
He almost immediately felt a big “whuff” of warm air sound against the side of his head. It came from Flamingo’s nostrils which were nearly touching him. The colt was standing alongside him, a bright red welt of blood showing on his foreleg that Carmen couldn’t quite focus his eyes on.
“Lord, Lord if only Flamingo would hold still for me. You ain’t been trained to do that have you boy? If I try to get a hold on you, are you going to move, and maybe hurt old Carmen some more? On the other hand, what if I just die here? What if there’s more wrong than I know? Jesus, give Flamingo a thought to hold still for me, an I promise I’ll be better. You’ll hold still for me, won’t you Flamingo?”
Carmen rolled himself to grab a saddle stirrup with his left hand. The colt stood still. In a supreme effort, he pulled the top half of his body up to grab the stirrup with his right hand too. Then hand over hand, he pulled, and tried to turn to get his left leg under him while the right leg stretched out still, uselessly.
He suddenly realized that he was hearing a voice that was going “aaagh, aaagh,” and it was him. Flamingo still stood still, so he decided the sound must not make any difference. He kept doing it. But he could still die here.
As if to confirm his thought, Carmen felt drops of light rain beginning to hit his face. He hadn’t even seen the clouds move in. It gave him a heavy surge of fear, and a heavy shot of adrenaline kicked in. It was just the stuff to give him strength as he pulled hand over hand with the left leg suddenly under him. Carmen’s “aagh” turned into a scream as he pulled on the saddle horn to raise the left leg over Flamingo’s back while the right leg dangled.
Where were the reins? Carmen didn’t know. He loosened his belt to loop it around the saddle horn, and tightened it back as much as he could. Would that help hold him in the saddle? He didn’t know. He only knew he didn’t think he could take falling out of the saddle again. He gripped the horn then with his hands, breathing heavily, saying, “OK, Flamingo. Let’s go. Please, God, help Ol’ Flamingo not jump forward any more, and just walk. Please keep Ol’ Carmen stay on him, and have somebody find us.”
And, that’s what the young horse did, carefully went up the hill to go down the other side, keeping his footing sure, and moving deliberately as if he somehow understood the fragility of the burden he carried.”
Some time later, Carmen slowly regained consciousness. He was wet, very wet, and he was on Flamingo’s back numb from his waist down. The rain fell lightly on the top of his head. He was looking at Will’s cattle pens where the squeeze chute still stood in place in the dimming light. He realized that Flamingo’s head was down, and he was holding one front hoof in the air.
He heard an engine, and there was a truck stopping by him with Will and the veterinarian getting out. When he came to again, he knew he was laying flat on his back while the veterinarian tied his broken leg into place with a temporary splint made with a straight tree branch.
“Bear with us, Carmen,” Will said seeing his friend’s eyes focus on him. “You’re with us now, and we’ll get you to a hospital.”
“Will,” Carmen said, “Please listen close to me.”
“Sure, Carmen, just take it easy.”
“You see that your veterinarian takes care of that colt really good. I don’t care if it costs me $5,000. He’s never to be put down, or sent to a meat wagon. He’s fine, Will. He’s really fine. He’s a gift from God Almighty. He’s proof that a horse trader can keep his promises. I guess I had me a religious experience out there, Will.”
“Carmen, you’re a little out of it right now. Just stay still. We’ll take care of the horse. You take it easy like I said. Quit trying to talk.”
“Why would Gawd Almighty have to help someone when they ain’t a little out of it, Will?”
Then Will smiled. And he and Carmen both began to feel good.”
In the future, Carmen liked to tell his friends, “That Flamingo is the best cow pony on Will’s ranch, I mean cow horse. And, it was me that got him for Will. That horse has quite a head on him, Ima’ tellin’ you by the Lord Gawd Almighty.”
. Copyright 2008, Jerry W. Engler