It's winter and really cold here already. Loveland ski area has 100" of snow already, yesterday's high was 10 degrees and the low this morning was -9. It's too cold to do much with the horse, and I'm sure you all don't want to hear "we rode four circles to the left and five circles to the right" any more than I want to write it, and unfortunately, trail rides are going to be more difficult in the cold. So, for entertainment and all that, I present to you the new Thursday Truth or Tall-Tale. Also known as, "Is she crazy or is she a liar?"
Remember, these events, true or not, happened thirty-five years ago. The methods of horse handling that occurred are not recommended by me (although I am sure they are still in use in the West today) and not something I am advocating. These stories are told entirely for entertainment purposes only.
Popcorn and the Red Mare
When I was fifteen my parents got divorced and my mom moved us from Firth, ID (pop. 723) to Pocatello, ID (pop. 55,000). It was quite the experience. The number of students that attended my High School was twice the population of Firth. I think I spent the first couple of months feeling like a fish out of water. But population and lack of space wasn't the only issue I was dealing with. For the first time in my life I had to board my horses off property that we owned. We found a barn that offered a stall with a run that would hold my three horses for a fairly minimum amount (I don't remember the cost, but I do know that I started working part time at Taco Bell that same time frame and made enough to pay for hay and board.) There were several other boarders at the barn, one of which was a black Wyoming Cowboy named Dick.
He was in his early twenties, was great with a horse and the first black person I had ever talked to. (There is a reason why Idaho is called the Great White State.) He was also pretty darn gorgeous, even if he was several years older than me. He brought four BLM horses from Wyoming about a month after I started boarding there and through sheer persistence I started working with him. He had a big, mean buckskin stallion he named Pissin' (short for piss and vinegar), the little black mare with the tore up face I got under saddle, a big, rawboned chestnut mare he thought might make a bucking horse that eventually became his roping horse, and another small chestnut mare he eventually sold. I spent a lot of time riding with him, especially after the stallion tore through a fence and led us on a merry chase around the county in the rain. There's nothing like bonding over disfunctional horses. Thankfully, he came to his senses and gelded the boy. Pissin' went on to be a pretty decent barrel horse.
Dick also owned a nifty little 14.3 Red roan appaloosa gelding named Popcorn. I got to know Popcorn pretty well, since he was Dick's go-to horse when anything needed to be done. Dick roped off of him, trail rode, moved cattle, chased horses, you name it and Popcorn had probably done it at some point in his life. He was tough and savvy and worked really well with Dick. What we would have called a good, all-around cow pony.
One of my first experiences with Popcorn was when we were trying to get a halter on the big, rawboned mare for the first time. She was in a huge arena and Dick's idea was to get a rope over her head, then a rope on her hind feet, then get a halter on her. He brought Popcorn into the arena to work as his roping horse, while I was on foot. I was the one that was supposed to get the halter on her head. Mind you, these BLM horses were mustangs pulled off the prairie in Wyoming and had been in captivity for maybe two weeks at this point. She wasn't exactly housebroke yet.
Dick got on Popcorn, dallied his rope around the horn so it would hold with him out of the saddle. (For those of you who aren't familiar with western events, this kind of dally is used when roping calves.) He planned on getting the rope around her neck, then get off, trusting Popcorn to keep the tension in the rope taut, and get a rope on her heels from on foot (this was a couple of years before I learned to rope cattle, and even then the header job is much easier than the heeler. I didn't volunteer to try.)
The first part of his plan worked. He got the rope settled around her neck on his second cast. She hit the end of the rope and swung around to face Popcorn. Dick launched himself off, second rope already twirling, when that darn mare, pinned her ears and charged at him, feet flying. Dick saw her coming and veered for the fence. Popcorn, doing what all good roping ponies do when there is slack in the rope, started to back up. The Red Mare dodged after Dick, mouth wide open and a front foot striking out. Her target ran for the fence and she followed, perpendicular to Popcorn, who was still backing up, but not facing the mare. She hit the end of the rope, which had settled around the base of her neck, and yanked Popcorn off his feet sideways, hitting with a noticable ummphf. It stopped her, but not before she had dragged him a couple of feet through the sand of the arena. Popcorn was squeeling and struggling to get his feet under him. By this time, Dick had hauled ass up the side of the arena and was sitting on top of the bucking chutes, hat gone and rope all tangled in his left hand.
The big Red Mare turned away from where Dick was hanging on the fence, to find an absolutely enraged cow pony. Popcorn, who had gotten to his feet, went for her with bared teeth, screaming with frustration, and the mare bolted away from him. I had, by that time, climbed the fence and was perched on top watching the fray. The Red Mare tore off with a pissed off, dirt covered gelding chasing her. That horse was so smart. Once he had her running away from him, he set himself and slid to a halt, head down and hind legs tucked up under him. She hit the end of the slack rope and flipped herself head over heels to land on her side in a huge billow of dust. The impact almost knocked me off the fence.
By that time, Dick had come down off the fence and gotten a second rope around the mare's neck, hoping to control her ability to go after anyone by lining her between Popcorn and whoever was holding the second rope. He decided that should be me, while he tried to get a rope over her feet. (I might point out that at that time I was 4'6" tall and ponying horses at the race track in my spare time. I was not going to do a whole lot of good at the other end of that rope.) For twenty minutes or so, that Red Mare led us a merry chase around the arena. She was too canny to let Popcorn get enough slack in the rope to pull her off her feet again. Popcorn was smart enough though, to keep her lined at the end of his rope though. She was too wiley for Dick to get a rope around her legs. And I really didn't weigh enough to do much more than annoy her. The rope burned through four fingers of the gloves I was wearing before we were through.
Then Dick had a brilliant idea (you can read the sarcasm from there, right?) He released the rope from Popcorn's saddle. In his defense, Popcorn was pretty wiped out by that point and tired enough he was becoming a liability. He had worked himself into a pretty frothy mess and was tired of holding the rope on this 16.3h big-ass mare. That meant the big-ass mare was now being restrained by a 65lb kite and a 180 lb man. Yeah, there was lots of dragging, and dirt and rocks being kicked in our faces. I had about a third of the arena sand in my clothes by the end, which came about because the mare got tired of dragging our sorry asses around. She was pretty wiped by this time and Dick managed to run his rope around her back legs and pull her down.
I threw myself on her head with a gunny sack I had tucked in my waistband, covering her eyes. She quieted then and Dick hogtied her. We put the web halter on her head, attaching a long lead rope to it and tucked the gunny sack into the halter. Then we sat down and inspected our wounds. We were both pretty bruised and beat up. Dick staggered over and pulled the saddle off Popcorn, checking him for injury, while I sat and talked to the mare, rubbing my hands up and down her neck. Popcorn checked out okay and was walking sound when Dick led him out of the arena to his own pen where there was water and feed waiting for him.
After a long twenty minutes, Dick came back and released the ropes holding the mare's legs, then motioned me away. He carefully removed the gunny sack and stepped back, holding the lead rope in one hand. The mare blinked and surveyed her options. Carefully, she sat up and then got to her feet. Dick dropped the rope and went to get hay. The Red Mare followed him, walking sound, her head cocked to one side to avoid the rope. That was the beginning of Dick's process to break her in and get her under saddle.