I pull back on the reins, whoa Shotgun, and the corriente bull, Gus, stops in his tracks to face us. His two heifers, Julia (a brindle mix) and Mary Lu (red clay) are with calf, and they run to the front pasture without much encouragement. Pensive, Gus stares as Shotgun makes his decision, the bull turns in the opposite direction and runs around our flank. Shotgun is not trained as a cutting horse, his movements are sluggish, and I can’t get him to respond to boot toe touch or the reigns. I am using Dad’s bit less Hackamore, and Shotgun is not as easily led with out the added tweak to the gums and teeth.
Shotgun trots forward, but stops at the fence. I pull back hard on both reigns to reverse, and dip his head sharp to the left to turn quick. He shakes them, but abides. We chase after Gus. I pat his neck to affirm, and he revs up to a gallop in pursuit. Gus turns his head back and increases his pace. We catch him, and turn him towards the front pasture. It’s the first time I’ve ridden fast on a horse.
My inside legs grip to hold on, and I lean forward to stay ahead of gravity. Eight feet off the ground, bouncing up and down, I struggle to sync with Shotgun’s rhythm. My eyes are wide, breaths short, and the gate to the front pasture quickly approaches. Gus runs through, and since the footing is less level¬¬ (tractor and tire ruts), I pull back on the reigns to slow Shotgun, whoa Shotgun, whoa.
We walk through the gate, but Gus keeps running. We follow him to a corner. He turns. Shotgun is hesitant to get too close to the business end of Gus’s horns, so he stops. They stare each other down. I turn Shotgun’s head and head for the training corral in the mid-pasture. Dad is running Scar around and around in circles, training him to obey the reigns. Scar is not broke for a rider, and he kids me about my opportunity to whisper. I know what it is like to fall from eight or so feet, and I don’t know the first thing about taming a horse. If I were 20 or so younger, I would give it a go. Ribs, wrists, or bones heal much faster when we’re young.
Shotgun reaches his head over the pin, and Scar nuzzles up. Dad warns me about running the heifers too much; they’re due in March, and he’s worried about the almost-calves. While I am talking, Gus makes his way back to the rear pasture. He is attracted to a couple of heifers across the property line. Dad’s two heifers are sitting where I left them. I lope Shotgun back towards Gus, and as he sees us coming he runs along the fence line. I give chase and he turns 180. Shotgun stops at the fence, and before I can get him turned Gus is back in the corner.
We catch up, and Gus turns toward the front pasture. He doesn’t really have a choice. We run after him, and Gus stops next to the sitting heifers and turns toward us. His posture is stiff, and he shakes is horns at us. I don’t press him and turn the Shotgun back to the pin.
The inside of my thighs throb and I can feel individual discs in my spine. Discs that are not use to a syncopated jarring stretch or pounding. As a modern man, I have no fucking idea how historic cowboys were able to ride hundreds of miles in a saddle. I think those drugstore, armchair wranglers are more clueless than a five-day pile of cow chips in the summer.
Shotgun is covered in sweat, and a light red/tan Mandelbrot shoreline moves open one leg and down the other; my pants are moist from crouch to ankle. I dismount to bowed elastic legs. I always thought bowed legs were a myth, but now, when I see them at horse shows, it’s a sign of a real hard leather saddle time. I’ve fantasies about a tall tom-boy girl, full on woman riding me on top of the sheets with her bowed legs wrapped tight around a bucking bull.
I lead Shotgun around the sheds and middle pasture for half an hour to cool down, and then remove his saddle and tack. I smell wet horse, or is that me? I comb down his fur for about 15 minutes and feed him a couple of sugar cubes. Out of my palm Shotgun gobbles ‘em up, and although I can feel them, his huge teeth are little concern. He shifts his weight from leg to leg, swings his head back and forth in small movements as he stand next to, above me seem as natural as anything I’ve ever done. I never imagined that after 3 or so rides that I would feel so at ease next to such a large creature. I wonder if he feels the same?
A couple of hours later, as Shotgun stands around the stable, he lifts one leg for a few minutes and then the other. Dad says, he’s going to sleep well tonight. He’s not had to work so hard all winter. A Dodge dual-lee pickup with a white trailer drives up to Dad’s garage. The driver gets out, walks around to the back. He is 5’8”, Caucasian, worn gimme cap, John Deere, Wranglers and a tan works shirt, Dickies. I follow Dad as he approaches and shake his hand. The gentleman opens the side of his trailer and pulls out a heavy, double or triple depth, canvas and leather apron, Dad introduces us. Jim Macintaugh is a furrier, and he’s here for the horses’ six-week hoof trim.
His palms are rough with calluses but the grip is confident and gentle. He smiles and looks straight into my eyes. He seems to be a happy fellow. Jim ties the apron around his middle and each leg. He pulls out a couple of tools I’ve never seen and crams each one into small pockets one either side, two thirds down on the apron, puts on a pair of well-worn work gloves.
Dad tells me Jim manufactures his own trimmer for the job, and he hands it over to show me. Jim says no one combines the two primary hoof shaping tools into one on opposite sides of a mesquite handle. He tells me he is looking to get into knife making, kitchen knifes, and tells me about an expensive grinder he needed would have a taken a year to save for if not for coincidence, synchronicity, or grace of God.
“Today, I am blessed.” Jim says and smiles as he bends down to pick up the horse’s leg.
Dad holds the reigns and wraps his arm half around Shotguns neck, and pats him to reassure. Jim uses his tool to clean out the inside of the horse’s huff to the pad, and shapes the edge. I touch Shotgun’s pad, and it is similar to Jim’s hands. I pick up a four-inch, three-quarter semi-circle hoof slag, and it’s light, the texture is consistent with a giant toenail. Jim moves from leg to leg, and then starts on Scar. He makes his way around every six weeks or so. Dad asks him if also cleans a horse’s sleeve. Jim laughs, and like Beavis and Butthead, we join him. I am so not going to describe the service, and that should wet and stiffen your curiosity. Jim says no.
Blessed? Coincidence or synchronicity, I don’t know; but I am learning more about horses than I ever predicted or desired. Even if I grew up on the steps of the plains, where the west begins, Panther City, Hells Half Acre, I never dreamed I would be rapt with horses.