I suppose you’ve learned over the years that I like kids and horses. I grew up in a family that liked kids and horses. We would trim horses up and go to the races in Kenmare, or the Fourth of July parade in Berthold. We went to play days in Stanley or Blaisdell. You learned to saddle up and check cows after school and to leave a horse tied up during calving.
You learned that you had chores to do in the morning. And in the evening. And you had chores to do tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.
You learned to pull your toes back when saddling because that darn Shetland pony would step on your toes, and you may have thought it was an accident, it wasn’t. And that pony would nonchalantly brush you off on a post or a tree, or a low hanging branch. It wasn’t an accident. Ponies are an instrument of the devil to teach little kids how to swear.
That is why we gravitate towards old ranch and rodeo horses.
I’ve told you about many of them over the years. Some have gone on to greener pastures. They are missed. Deeply missed. We miss them and the kids miss them.
But there is always another bunch of old warriors to fill their horse shoes. I saw many of them at the Buffalo Youth Rodeo last week.
If you want to see why we love kids and horses, you go to Buffalo on a Wednesday night during the summer. You will find a bunch of kids and horses that compete on a grand scale. Kids that can barely walk are roping dummies and running barrels. They are roping steers and calves and flag racing and pole bending. And they are doing it on ranch horses that drug calves and sorted pairs for twenty years. Maybe more.
There is Payton on Smoothie. Smoothie has won championships all over the nation. Competed at the national circuit finals and at the biggest rodeos in the world. And Smooothie loves it. And loves the competition.
Cisco is another. He is an old rope horse that won Tom several saddles decades ago. He’s been in our family for several years. He taught Gage how to rope and RJ how to rate a steer.
Now he is teaching Slate. At home he will walk around the barrels and with a lot of kicking and a swat on the butt he may break into a trot.
But at the Buffalo youth rodeo, he knew he was in competition. Maybe it was the voice over the microphone. Maybe it was all the trailers around the arena. Maybe it was the tractor working the arena.
Whatever it was, Cisco, who plods along and teaches young kids to watch cows and watch out for wire, heard the roar of the crowd.
He shed twenty years off his aging frame, threw his head in the air, and imagined he was in Las Vegas or Calgary.
Cisco and Slate came in that arena and Cisco was breathing fire. Grandma and Grandpa and Mom and Dad held their breath as Cisco and Slate blew by the barrels and made a victory lap. A very fast victory lap. Slate hung on. Barely. Lucky he is sticky. Afterward he said his horse was “dumb”. He wasn’t. He was five years old instead of twenty-five.
But the highlight of the night was a little four-year-old boy who wandered over to the concession stand. His dirty face had tear trails through the dirt. He was quietly sobbing.
Concerned, I asked him what the trouble was.
“They don’t have a beer garden here,” he sobbed.
I explained he was too young too drink beer anyway.
“I don’t drink beer”, he replied, “But how will I find my dad?”