Luke, The Quickest Feet in the West
- February 24, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
The three year old gelding I had bought at an August horse sale was a quick, catty individual. He had kicked a catalog out of the ringman’s hand as he waved it over the the pipe fence of the sale ring, so I knew he was no housepet when I wrote the check. Boy howdy. He was a hand full. I named him Luke.
I figured out very quickly that he had never had any groundwork whatsoever. Whoever had started him had just saddled him up and crawled on. He led, but off as far as he could get from me. He was goosey to curry off and quick with a hind foot if I went too far. I generally just brushed him off where my saddle went until we got better acquainted. He was really big and was operating on fear and defense. I offered him kindness and patience.
Closer examination, from a safe distance, of the scars on his legs proved them to be old rope burns. Bad rope burns to have scarred that deeply, and probably never doctored as he was so bad to kick. They were on all four legs, from pastern to up above the hocks behind. I couldn’t quite fathom how he’d gotten so badly rope burned, but it sure enough gave him a terror of a rope.
He wasn’t too bad to saddle, though he’d flinch, but would stand, so I figured he was hobble broke. The first time I rode him I found him pretty nice to get on, just watchy. Needless to say, I didn’t drag my foot over his butt when I did either. I got on very carefully. He supposedly had about 30 rides on him and that might be close to right. He handled a little bit, moved out nice, and would go where I pointed him.
The worst problem I found with him was getting off. He was absolutely a booger to get off of and could reach clear up by his ear with that hind foot when he did. I would bend his nose around to me and get off up by the star on his forehead, and most of the time he missed with the kick. Kind of threw his aim off having his head turned like that I guess. He would act like he wanted to buck when I first saddled him each time so I would gyp him around the corral loose until he was warmed up good before I proceeded with my ride. As I said, he’d stand to get on without offering to kick, which seemed odd, but I’d have to be pretty careful with my right foot going into the stirrup as I’d be putting my knee under my rope when I did it. If my rope made a sound he’d jump and kick my right foot. He really hated a rope.
I used him for short rides and little jobs just to get him used to me. He was only a three year old and huge for his age at well over 16 hands. So, I didn’t want to ride him terribly hard and hurt him so he’d be unsound. He didn’t seem to have much concern about hurting me and making me unsound, but that’s beside the point. After about 10 days of riding and sweating under the saddle blanket, his back started peeling where a bad saddle or pad had scalded him. It wasn’t my rig either, but came with him. I quit riding him until he healed up so he got turned out for a while. When I got him back in, he hadn’t reformed of course, and was watchier than ever since he was shiny and fat. But, I kept using him for little jobs and kept trying to get him sacked out on the ground and around the body. I don’t know how many times he kicked my foot or lower leg in my stirrup, but it was plenty. Same with the reaching up for me when I got off. His hind feet were getting downright tiresome. On the bright side, he didn’t bite and wasn’t bad to buck or strike with his front feet.
I hadn’t had occasion to open him up out of a lope, so didn’t know exactly what I had for brakes. I was riding through some cows one day and discovered a yearling heifer in with them that didn’t belong. Well, I was there on a horse, so figured it was time to step up his education. I sorted her off and started her back where she belonged. Of course she didn’t want to go and took off to try to outrun us across a meadow. I opened Luke up kind of easy and caught up with her, then she grabbed another gear and sold
out. I asked for a little more from Luke and man, could that dude run! I figured I was on a runaway the way he was going but when we passed the heifer and she set up, he did too and turned her. Boy, was I impressed! Speed and cow in one package! We got the heifer back to her own bunch and I was pretty proud of my colt. I let him know by rubbing on his neck and bragging on him. He was kind of suspicious of that. Naturally, he’d tried to kick me when I got off at the gate so I didn’t get too big headed about my new horse. But, I knew he had something going for him for sure. I just had to work through the bad start he’d had.
I rode him all through the fall and though he got handier he sure didn’t get gentler on the ground. Plus, he was growing like a weed and filling out. His long legs were even longer I swear. I remember one day I was helping some guys move some yearling steers and one needed doctored. They weren’t my steers or my responsibility and they all wanted to rope, so I just stayed out of the way. I knew he was still scared to death of a rope and hoped that it could be a good experience for him to hear and see their ropes but from a safe distance. One of the guys was riding a sorry horse that set up on him and made him miss his dallies and lose his rope. He rode over to borrow mine, so I undid my rope strap to hand it to him. When I reached out with it so he could take it, the coils rattled a little and Luke kicked it out of my hand. Mind you, I handed it about straight out from the level of my hip so he reached that high with his hind foot to get it. Then the wild ride was on as it made a noise and briefly caught on his foot as he jumped away. Oh boy, did I ever have my work cut out for me with this rope deal.
Fall riding wound down and winter started. I’d taken a job in New Mexico and moved down there after Christmas. I wanted to get a feel for the outfit before hauling any horses down, so I turned Luke out for the winter. In February I drove back to pick up a saddle I’d had made, and by then, I knew I could use Luke in New Mexico. Besides that, I figured if I didn’t get back to riding him soon I might never get the job done again, or worse, the nerve up to try. So I loaded him up and hauled him back with me. My fondest hope that amidst all those strangers and strange country, he might like me a little better. He didn’t, in case you’re wondering, but that’s a story for another day.
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....