Tarzan Gets a Headache

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We had gathered a big chunk of country that morning. The owner had made the outside circle and “rode” the canyons out in his Bell Jet helicopter. The New Mexico ranch was huge and rough, so that helicopter really saved some horse sweat when he was able to get in the air.

We had the cattle gathered into a big holding trap and were going to sort and go several directions with them. The owner had landed his chopper and decided he really needed a saddle horse so he could help with the sorting. I was standing close by and got sent back to headquarters many miles away to get his horse. The cowboss had left Al’s horse in the corral just in case when the cavvy was turned back out, so it wouldn’t be a big deal to just catch and saddle him, load him and head back. I have no idea why we didn’t bring him to begin with, but I wasn’t in charge.

As I was hobbling my horse in preparation to leave, the cowboss came over to me and very quietly told me to watch that horse when I went to catch him and that he would run flat over the top of a person if he could. I appreciated the tip.

When I got to HQ, I grabbed Al’s bridle and went to catch the horse. He was a big dun colored gelding called Tarzan. There weren’t many geldings in the cavvy by this horse’s sire as they weren’t the most satisfying horse to put a day’s work in on in the brush. I think there were only two or three others like him. They were huge for that country at about 16 hands and they were big boys, weighing about 1300 lbs. Most of the horses on the ranch were just over 15 hands and maybe 1200 lbs at most.

He was in a big pen so I opened a gate and let him into a smaller one before trying to catch him. Al never roped his horses, so I figured I could walk up to him, but I remembered what the cowboss had said and was watching him pretty close. As I eased him into a corner he turned to face me with his head way up in the air, kind of sizing me up I guess.

I was holding the bridle by the top of the headstall with the split reins hanging over top of it. The bit was, of course, hanging down as I approached. It was a grazing type bit of average weight. Tarzan was eyeing me with nearly a smirk and when I was within a half dozen feet, he launched out of that corner headed right at me. I stepped aside and followed him to another corner where he once again turned to face me. This time I had my hammer cocked, so to speak.

As I approached, I turned my hand over so the bridle was hanging a bit behind me but not in a threatening way. Once again Tarzan let me up close before he launched himself. This time I swung the bridle overhand and laid it straight down the middle of his head, the bit making a whonking sound between his ears. I was pretty stout back then and put my whole arm into that swing, so he got whacked hard and it stopped him in his tracks. To say he was surprised would be a big understatement. He whirled away and ran to another corner.

I followed him and made my approach again, once again turning my hand over ready to swing the bridle if he charged me. He faced me as I walked up to him and he knew I was ready. Tarzan was clever and not stupid, so he chose to stand his ground. He blew through his nose and watched me with great big eyes as I stepped to his shoulder. I ran my hand down his neck and eased the reins around so I had ahold of him. Then I stepped him out of that corner and bridled him. His amazement at what had happened caused him to stand like a rock while I saddled him. He was actually pretty gentle, just ornery.

Tarzan and I had no more difficulties as I loaded him, then unloaded him at the pens and led him over to Al. Al never knew that Tarzan and I had had any difficulties, and there wasn’t a mark on him to tell the story. My guess is that Tarzan’s head hurt all day to remind him of the sins of his trangressions.

I never had occasion to have to go catch him again, so I don’t know if that lesson stuck. But, my guess is if I had, he’d have sure enough remembered me and that I didn’t play his “run over the cowboy” game worth a hoot.

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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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