“What the Sam hell do you want with one of them spotted horses?” Selby asked me. “They’re knot-heads and they’ve got an evil fire in their eyes. They’re unpredictable and can explode without warning. You should be getting yourself something like a 10 year old, kid-gentle, Quarter Horse gelding. Something you can put your boy on and know the horse will bring him home safe and sound. Besides, I wouldn’t buy a horse from that guy, John Raines. He’s just not a straight shooter.”
My old friend Selby had “horse sense”. He was an 86 year old “real” cowboy. Not some drug store “flatlander” version like me. Everybody needs a common sense friend like Selby, especially if you’ve moved from the city to live on a ranch or a farm in the middle of nowhere.
It’s also a good idea to learn something about animals especially if you’re going to have cattle and horses. It’s even more important if you have a child or children who are going to be around these animals and you happen to be a single parent. A simple accident when you live in a remote area can be very unforgiving and even fatal.
Did I listen to Selby? Hell no. I just had to have that Appy. I paid no attention to Rule #2 in my Cowboy Philosophy 101 notes…”Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
John Raines delivered the five year old Appaloosa gelding to me two days later. It was a cool spring morning. The horse unloaded from the trailer without incident. Raines saddled him and put him through his paces so I could see he was okay. I paid him six hundred dollars in cash like he requested and he was on his way.
My son, Jonathan was excited at the beauty of this sorrel colored spotted steed as we led him to his stall at his new home.
“What do you want to name him, Jonathan?”
“I want to call him, Buck,” Jonathan said with excitement.
“Buck it is my little buckaroo,” I replied. “We’ll give him a day to get used to the corral and the stall and then I’ll teach you some basic things about horses. I don’t want you getting hurt. Things can happen fast with animals.”
I knew some about horses. I had been to farrier classes and knew how to trim hooves and shoe a horse. I rode pretty well and Jonathan could handle my little roping horse very well for a kid.
The next day we went to the barn where I was going to show Jonathan the safe ways of being around a horse. All the animals had been fed earlier that day so they were pretty much calm and content in their stalls.
“I want you to sit right here and watch while I check old Buck out,” I said as I lifted Jon up to sit on top of the stall next to Buck.
“The first thing you don’t want to do is move fast. Always talk soft and gently and try to look right in the horse’s eyes. Next get the lead shank on the horse. Open the stall gate slowly and lead the horse out to the paddock and tie him to the tie ring,” I said as I did everything so Jon could see.
“Now I’m going to check his hooves and then brush him down,” I said as I checked all his hooves. Buck stood very relaxed.
“Horses like to be brushed but always keep your free hand on the horse to let him feel where you are as you come down his back and side. Never walk behind a horse without your hand sliding over his rear. He needs to feel safe and know you’re there as you come behind him. If you don’t let him know, he’ll kick you,” I told the intently observant Jonathan.
Suddenly a burst of pain shot through my groin and I was airborne. I felt my left shoulder explode as I crashed through the flimsy tack room door and I ended up laying on my back in shock. The horse was standing where I had last seen him, still tied and his head was turned as he looked at me.
I slowly rolled over onto my hands and knees and crawled to the doorway, collapsing against the door jam, groaning in pain.
Jonathan came to me and stood looking down at his crumpled father.
“I thought you said never walk behind a horse,” he said calmly.
“I did,” I replied with a slight smile. “Let this be a lesson to you.”
The next day I called my friend Selby and I told him what happened.
“How are you feeling now?” he slowly asked.
“Well, let’s see…my left arm is in a sling, my balls are still swollen, and my left thigh is one huge black and blue bruise. Other than that, I’m okay. How are you today, my old friend?” I asked sarcastically.
“I’ll be right up,” Selby calmly replied.
Selby showed up about an hour later to look in on me and the horse. He came through the back door and flipped me a package that I caught with my good hand.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Martha sent them up. She said you could probably use them,” he replied as he watched me open the package.
“What the hell are these, Selby?” I asked as I stared at the open package on my table.
“They’re a perfectly matched set we took off of a four week old bull calf yesterday. He’s a steer now. Martha thought you might need ‘em,” he answered with a grin. “If you don’t think you can use them you can slice them and fry ‘em up. Rocky Mountain Oysters are good for you.”
“Some sense of humor that Martha’s got,” I responded shaking my head and smiling.
“Yeah, she’s become pretty witty over the last sixty years,” Selby replied, spitting his chew into a soda can he was holding. “Let’s go see this noble steed of yours.”
I hobbled behind Jonathan and Selby as we made our way to the barn.
“How’d the horse get back into the stall?” Selby asked.
“I put him back in there,” Jonathan proudly answered. “I did it exactly the way Dad told me to do it.”
Selby looked at me with a smirk and said, “Well, son…I’d be careful doing what some older folks tell you to do sometimes. They can be wrong y’know.”
I knew I wasn’t going to live this down anytime soon. Selby’s dry wit had a hold of this like a Pit Bull with a leg bone from a one ton bull.
Selby looked the horse over for about two minutes and said, “C’mere. I want to show you something.”
I have to admit as I got next to Buck I could feel a twinge of fear and an icy chill run through me. It got stronger as Buck snorted when I got next to him.
“This horse ain’t no full gelding,” Selby said. “He’s been ‘proud cut’. That’s when one ball is left up inside and he can keep that stallion spirit, like these damned Appys need that. You can reach up under him and feel it up there if you want.”
“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll take your word for it. I’ve had quite enough of old Buck’s ‘spirit’.”
“C’mere and look at this, too,” Selby beckoned.
I limped over and Selby said, “Spread his mane where it meets the withers.”
I did as he instructed and he asked, “See those numbers there?”
“Yeah. What are these?” I asked.
“Those are tattooed rodeo numbers, Ron. This horse came from a rodeo stock supplier. My guess is it’s an old buckin’ horse. I think ‘ol John gave the horse a shot of something to keep him calm for a few days when he delivered him to you. From the looks of his teeth he’s better than ten years old and he probably chews wood. It’s called ‘cribbing’. How’d you for pay him?”
“Have you got a bill of sale?”
“Yeah. It’s on the dining room table.”
“Have you got a phone in here?”
“Yeah…it’s right next to where the tack room door used to be on the wall,” I answered pointing.
Selby looked at the mess and said, “Boy! You sure give ‘Cowboy Up’ a whole new meaning, son.”
“Well, I didn’t stay ‘up’ for the full 8 seconds. It was more like two,” I answered with a laugh.
Selby dialed the phone and said, “Bobby this is grandpa. Get the stock truck and go get Dan and his two boys. Meet me up at Ron’s place in an hour. Don’t dally. We got work to do.”
“What are you doing, Selby?” I asked totally ignorant of what was happening.
“We’re bringing this horse back to John. He’s going to give you your money back and he’s going to do it without any conversation. This just ain’t right. Furthermore, he’s gonna pay for the damages to boot. You’ll be staying here and we’ll be back in the morning.”
I’d never seen Selby this intent. I don’t know what had gone on between him and John Raines in the past but whatever it was it wasn’t good. You could see in his eyes he was very upset.
The next morning, bright and early, Selby and his grandson, Bobby showed up at my ranch. They backed the stock truck up to the loading chute. Jonathan and I went out to meet them.
“What have you got there, Selby?” I asked.
“Well, we got your money back, so to speak. When we got to Challis and found John we talked to him for a bit and told him we wanted your money back. Seems he had celebrated the night before and only had a couple of hundred left. However, he did have this dog-gentle eight year old Buckskin gelding named Dusty he could part with for another four hundred. His daughter had trained and rode the horse in 4H shows. We went and looked at the horse and deemed him ‘fit’. Bobby rode him and said he was pretty much ‘push-button’ and would make Jonathan a good horse. We told John we’d take Dusty and this youth saddle for the same six hundred you paid him. It didn’t take long for him to agree when we told him what further ‘negotiations’ would cost him. Open the chute Bobby and let that horse run a little.”
Bobby did as his grandfather asked and Dusty slowly walked out of the truck and down the ramp into the corral. Dusty was a good looking Buckskin. He whinnied and trotted around and then came over to where I was standing with Jonathan. He sniffed me and bent down to Jonathan.
Jonathan hugged Dusty’s head and asked, “Can we keep him, Dad?”
“He’s your horse now, son. He’s your horse,” I said with tears in my eyes and turned to Selby. “Thanks, Selby…thanks to you and the boys.”
I looked at Selby and asked skeptically, “How did you convince Raines to do a deal like this?”
“Well,” Selby said as he spit some chew on the ground, “I handed him a package of Martha’s Rocky Mountain Oysters and told him he could look like that if he waited too long to say yes.”
“That’s a little over the top don’t you think, Selby?” I asked with a laugh.
“It’s called frontier justice, Ron and it’s righteous,” Selby replied as he put his hand on my shoulder. “By the way, John Raines is on his way up here with Dan and his two boys. They’re escorting him up here so he can fix the damages and give you a few bucks to go to a doctor. You do have some cold beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels for Dan and his boys don’t you?”
“I’ve got cold beer and a bottle of Crown Royal,” I replied smiling.
“That’ll do,” Selby said as he spit and then smiled.
Dusty was a part of our family for the next ten years.