Real Cowboy

This is the first installment of a two-part story I wrote years ago about events from 1986. 

“I need to have these replaced.”

“Certainly, Mr. Cope. My goodness, what happened to these? Were you in some sort of accident?”

If I had been walking, I would have swaggered. “Let’s just say that a certain horse and I didn’t see eye-to-eye.”

“Oh, my! Do you spend a lot of time with horses?” the optometric technician looked across the counter with something akin to admiration in her eyes.

“Let’s just say I’ve put a few in their place.”

She carried my shattered glasses with reverence back to the lens lab to try to revive them. I felt my way back to the waiting area and pretended to be able to see the magazines that were crowding the table.

Actually, the only time I’ve ever put a horse in its place was when the horse had already decided what place it wanted to be in. Just as an example, there was that time I cut a dashing figure while aboard Buster, my brother-in-law’s quarterhorse.

Timid Rick Harrison via Compfight

We were out in the pasture “herding cattle” toward the pens. In other words, my father-in-law, Jack, was in his pickup with a fresh load of hay spilling over the sides. As he drove slowly toward the fenced-in area, he leaned on his horn. If you’ve never worked on a farm, the sound of a pickup horn has much the same effect on cows that Pavlov’s bell had on his dogs. Of course, cows basically slobber all the time so it’s not exactly the same effect. But the point is that the cows react to the horn in the same way every day — they run after the truck expecting to be fed.

So, the cattle herding wasn’t particularly difficult. I was bringing up the back end of the herd — riding “swing” as us-cowboys like to say. Suddenly, a young mother cow and her calf stopped, turned and began moving away from the pens.

I leaned forward in the saddle and raised my hand to get my brother-in-law’s attention.

“Hey, J—-!!!”

I didn’t quite get his name out. Buster, being a trained cutting horse, had mistakenly taken my action as the signal to pursue these two lumbering beasts. Springing into action, Buster quickly cut in front of the heifer. The bovine locked her knees, dug into the turf, and reversed her ground — once more headed in the right direction. I sighed, unlocked my knees and settled back into the saddle.

That cow knew she had met her match with Buster. Unfortunately, her calf lacked the experience to recognize that he was up against a formidable pairing — Buster and me. The calf sprinted for the opposite corner of the pasture. As a great horseman, I decided to call in reinforcements.

“Hey, J—-!!!”

I don’t know whether it was the fact that my voice was now operating a full octave above its usual range or whether Buster just sensed the great confidence I felt while sitting astride his back, but he virtually leaped forward to intercept the runaway. I can remember only two other occasions when every vertebrae in my back was adjusted at the same time like that.

Buster rapidly gained on the calf and soon had us racing parallel with this diminutive behemoth. I’m not sure, but I think I saw Buster looking around at me. “This is where you jump off and wrassle him to the ground.” He pointed his ears toward the speeding calf. “Or at least rope him.”

I knew then what I had to do. Gathering all my strength, I stood straight up in my stirrups and yelled, “Hey, J—-!!!”

This decisive action on my part seemed to spur Buster on to greater heights. He suddenly passed the calf as if it was standing still, wheeled in front of it, and came to a stop. The abruptness of it all jarred the last half-syllable from my lips, “—immmmmmm!!!”

I’m certain it was my verbal barrage that brought the calf to its senses. The little fella turned and ran at full speed toward its mother — and the pens.

My brother-in-law, Jim, was waiting for us at the gate. “That was quite a show you two put on back there. You’re becoming a real cowboy. By the way, what were you yelling at that calf?”

A little later, I had a few minutes alone with Buster and we formed a life-long partnership of understanding. I promised to never ride him again and he promised not to ever try to scrape me off on a tree or fence post or whatever the closest immovable object might be.

That was a pinnacle moment for both of us. Buster and I have never had so much as a cross word between us since that time. (I’m not much of a puzzle fan anyway, and Buster has trouble holding a pencil with his hoof.)

So how did my glasses get broken? Well, that’s a story for another day. And it just happens to involve a horse of a different color.


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