Cow Horse Humor
- November 15, 2022
- Jan Swan Wood
He was an average sized, plain bay gelding and when I hired on to the New Mexico ranch, was in another guy’s string of horses. I soon discovered that there were three kinds of cowboys on that ranch: Real Ones, Wanna Bes, and Never Be. This bay horse Charlie was in a Never Be’s string. Every other day a bunch of us would go to gather and feed the calves that had been bought to run as grass cattle. They were in big pastures with mesquite, cholla and lots of tall prickly pear, so many hiding places. We would ride the pasture, gathering all the steers as we went and take them to the feed ground, which was by a windmill and fairly well in the middle of the pasture. We’d cake them there and doctor anything that needed it. A creek ran through this pasture and it was up to 15 feet wide in spots but only a few inches deep. On cold mornings it would have a rim of ice along the edges and over any pools. We’d have to cross this creek with the steers to get to the feed ground.
Without fail, as Charlie and his rider Tommy crossed this creek, Charlie would let a calf lag back and then make a really quick cowhorse move to get him back in the bunch. Also without fail, Tommy ended up in the creek. Now Charlie was quick, no doubt, but it was like Tommy woke up in a new world every day and never anticipated the fancy footwork that would lead to him getting soaked. I never saw him screw down, hang on or try to keep Charlie from doing it. We all thought it was hilarious since none of us had to ride the rest of the morning in wet, cold clothes.
Tommy finally had enough of Charlie and turned him back from his string. I was, at that time, out of a single broke horse in mine, so Charlie was put into my string. The deal was though, I had to share him with a good cowboy, Alan, who was also without a broke horse in his string. It was an acceptable deal as we rode the same chunk of country every day and worked together well. My first day with Charlie the cowboss uncharacteristically warned me that Charlie could really buck when he was younger. It had been determined that any gunsel in the bunkhouse could ride him without him bucking, but Pete wasn’t sure if Charlie would take me as a challenge or not. Forewarned, I rode him for quite a while just finding out what he knew, where his buttons were and suchlike. He had been a gunsel’s horse long enough that his brakes were dragging and he was hard mouthed. We’d gathered some cows to sort off dries and Charlie had missed every opportunity to impress me. He let cow after cow by and I was getting tired of his work ethic. I had a feeling there was more to Charlie than he was showing me, but didn’t have the opportunity to push any buttons extra hard to find out.
The owner was riding with us that day and would tolerate absolutely no perceived abuse of a horse. I agreed up to a point. Charlie needed his fanny spanked but I dared not do it in front of the boss. So, I waited for my chance.
I was told to trail the dry cows to the pens in the Bar T pasture, which was about a mile or so away. So, off we went, Charlie’s brakes squealing, the cows not wanting to leave the bunch, and my temperature rising. Finally, we rode over a little ridge where no one could see me and I got my rope down and built a loop. The next time Charlie tried to lag and let a cow back, I asked him to move and when he didn’t, I spanked him over and under back where a colt sucks. Man, was he surprised! His head came up, he had his eyes big and he really moved out and turned the cow back. He watched me for a while but as we went along, he got quicker and quicker until those cows didn’t even try him. I got them to the corrals and
locked them up, recoiled my rope and hung it back on my saddle, then Charlie and I hit a trot back to where we were to meet.
Charlie never cheated me again. He absolutely woke up and started acting like a working partner. He was a good son of a gun and I really liked him. He was cowy, moved well, quiet in a bunch when one was sneaking a loop on a steer, and would work a rope like a pro. One day my co-worker was riding Charlie. We were moving some pretty waspy cows to a fresh pasture where we were going to cake them. We were going down a fence line on a narrow strip with rough breaks on the one side. Charlie had been working like a trooper since the day of his awakening. The guy on him was watching something else when a cow ducked back with Charlie’s help, and down the fence they went. Charlie let that cow get plenty of speed up then turned back hard. My friend had been riding green colts so long that he was a bit gapped out, not expecting a fancy turn back. He didn’t quite make the turn and Charlie rolled him in the dirt. To add insult to injury, Charlie returned the cow to the bunch and then went out around the cows and through the gate to the pickup and trailer. Smug would describe his expression. Of course, we gave a lot of static to the cowboy who was brushing the dust and grass off of himself. I brought Charlie back to him. Pete rode over and said that Charlie had done that to everyone that had ever ridden him. I was, at that point, the only one who hadn’t been the victim of his funny sense of humor.
A few weeks later, I was riding through pairs and bringing them to the feed ground for cake when Charlie tried to sucker me on a steep trail up out of the creek. The only thing that kept me in the middle was my saddle with the deep seat. I won’t even claim any skill on my part as I didn’t dream Charlie would do such a thing in such a place. Silly me. The cow didn’t get away and Charlie’s mane grew back where I’d pulled it out.
Charlie was on call for every difficult job that came up for me or Alan. A mature Hereford bull was finally located in the willow thickets along the creek. Charlie was the broke horse that day and my friend was riding him. We finally got the bull out of the thickets and he was in a very bad mood. We’d parked the pickup and trailer as close as we could, so when we got close to it, Alan stuck a loop on the bull’s horns and we got him up by the trailer. We’d brought another rope along so while Alan and Charlie held the bull, I slipped another loop on him and ran it out through the side of the trailer. Alan took the rope and with Charlie pulling and me working on the bull’s backside from my colt, we got him right up to the back of
the trailer. The bull braced his one good leg under the trailer and that was where motion stopped. Tying
off, Alan stepped off Charlie and came and helped on my end. Between the two of us, the bull finally took a hop and when he did, Charlie snatched him into the trailer and then held him while we got the divider shut. He knew exactly what we were doing and never made a mistake doing his part.
It finally was time to move on and the hardest part of leaving that outfit was leaving Charlie and another horse in my string. If the owner would have said I could have Charlie but only if I rode him home, I’d have saddled him up and headed north. He was sure a good one and after his failed attempt to roll me in the dirt, never tried it again. He was all about doing his job and was a real partner. His sense of humor was just part of his personality.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....