Emergency Brakes

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When I was in high school I always had summer herd cattle to ride on, besides doing the riding on my folks’ place, so I had miles to put on horses and could work the kinks out of horses that just needed time and wet saddle blankets. A guy had sent a horse to me that was so fried by people that he was a nut. He’d run well on the race track, then right from the track was sent to a calf roping trainer with no let down, no further education, just right to the roping pen. The trainer, to use the term loosely, was a brute and had this horse so scared and worried that he just couldn’t think any more. Then he got in a wreck and nearly cut his tongue off, so he was sent home to heal up.
The guy that owned him was who sent him to me at that point. He wanted him ridden and a handle put on him, and I could do that. First day out, I deduced that the horse had about one brain cell left and needed lots of time to just relax and unwind. He was very afraid of men so me being female helped him some. The fact that I wouldn’t beat on him or abuse him helped more. Seeing as how his tongue was a mess, the guy had sent a Trammell brand mechanical hackamore for me to ride him with. It was in a nice one ear headstall and I put split reins on it. It worked for this horse. He didn’t have the added worry of anything in his tender mouth, and I still had some brakes and steering with it.
I’d ridden the horse for several weeks and I really liked him. He traveled easy, had a running walk, and was kind to the core. Even scared, he would hurt himself before he’d hurt a person. I was quiet with him and he and I were getting along well. We had a few exciting experiences due to his big engine and panic buttons, but we were making progress. Enough progress that I was trying to figure out how to buy him.

A neighbor had asked me to gather a little bunch of cows into a set of corrals way out in the middle of nowhere. The pasture ran parallel to a highway for about a mile. In the center was a huge prairie dog town for a hazard. The pens were on the west end along the highway. We had gotten the cows gathered and I had them in the wings into the pens. The cows were just about all through the gate when a calf turned back for no apparent reason. He didn’t just turn back, but this 400 pound calf took off like a rocket down that fence line. I pushed the cows on into the pens and got them in the next pen with the gate shut before I went in pursuit of the calf. I had hoped that he would find himself alone out there and come back to the bawling cows, but he had not.
I knew I needed to get him turned before he got into that prairie dog town, so I let the throttle out on Rebel and, man oh man, did he overtake that calf. Just as we got even with the calf, Rebel jerked his head and I saw that the curb chain on that hackamore had broken and had swung up and hit him on the face. The headstall had no throat latch and it could come off quite easily and I’d be out there bridleless, so something needed to happen pretty fast to keep both of us from a wreck. Not having any brakes at all, my mind raced. It popped into my head that some calf horses stopped when the roper put their hand on their neck. I didn’t have anything else to try, so I did that. Rebel parked it, dragging his tail on the ground. Just as all motion stopped, I stepped off and had ahold of him with a bridle rein around his neck.
To say my heart rate was a bit high would be an understatement. A rough pasture runaway on a AAA racehorse had held no appeal to me, somehow. I led him over to the fence and found a piece of wire that I could use to hook the curb chain together with. Bridle repaired, I got back on and followed the calf back to the corrals. He had turned back when we went by and apparently started missing his herdmates and mother.
I had cussed that trainer pretty steady for the abuse that Rebel had endured at his hands, but that day, I sure appreciated the calf horse stop that he had put on him! Oh, and I did buy him that fall and he was an amazing partner until I lost him to lightning.

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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....

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