Once in a while you come across a horse who loves to buck. We had one that fell into this category. He was a tall, rangy, palomino gelding with golden eyes like you see in orange cats.
The guy who’d brought the horse to auction claimed he was a trained cow horse and dad was in desperate need. Slim was the name of the big yellow gelding. The horse seemed a little edgy but he looked strong and fast enough to catch a cow on the range.
Now Slim had an attitude problem from day one. He had a tendency to tip one ear in your direction as the rest of him was skittering away. That being said, he wasn’t difficult to handle from the ground — if you kept in mind who you were dealing with.
It turned out that he was a pretty good rope horse. Once he was put onto a cow, he’d follow her through the thickest trees at a full gallop. He was no coward.
But he’d buck once a day . . . hard . . . and he was good at it.
Dad had to ride deep in the saddle because the timing of this bucking session was on a schedule determined by Slim. He might choose first thing in the morning or wait until afternoon. And he gave no warning.
After being piled in a heap in the grass a few times, dad traded in his roping saddle for a bronc saddle and it became a competition. I don’t know which of them was more stubborn. The palomino didn’t hate people, he just loved the game. After he’d buck my dad off, he’d stand there and wait for him to get back on. I swear he had a grin on his face.
One day the horse was having a particularly energetic day and bucked seven times. He’d wait until dad was leaned forward to throw his rope to catch a cow and he’d pile on the brakes and go to bucking. If dad was fast enough, he could ride him; if not, he’d better look for the softest spot he could find.
On the seventh session, dad went flying, his shoulder jammed into a badger hole and his head slammed onto the ground. Seven vertebrae were ‘adjusted’ and dad was lucky to avoid a broken neck.
Usually, Slim would stop after he’d bucked but this time, he kept going. He bucked so hard the saddle skidded forward until his front legs and nose were all that were sticking out. The horse fell to the ground and dad’s hired help, a quiet man named Little Jim, dismounted and walked over to the prostrate horse. He lifted the edge of the saddle blanket and peeked in at Slim’s golden eyes.
In a slow, soft voice, he said, “Well, there ya are, Old Yeller — which gave the horse an instant name-change.
Old Yeller commenced to struggle again and, in a few minutes, the saddle, blanket and bridle were scattered across the prairie grass. He bucked until he’d kicked off every item of gear he’d been wearing. Then he galloped to the top of a nearby hill, stopped in silhouette and screamed in triumph like a stallion.
Dad, in major pain, picked himself up and dusted himself off — again. Then and there he decided he was going to ride that horse every day until he quit bucking.
I know! I know! My dad was bordering on crazy at this point! He wasn’t used to losing out to a horse! Fortunately I didn’t inherit his level of bull-headedness — I hope.
The next morning as he limped to the barn to saddle up ‘Old Yeller,’ my mom met him there with a loaded .303. Since mom wouldn’t hurt a fly and had never shot a gun, dad asked what she was planning on doing with the rifle. She said since he was obviously dumb enough to keep riding that horse until it killed him, she was going to put Old Yeller in the ground.
Dad had to admit defeat. If the rope horse loved bucking so much, he might as well go into show business where he’d work less than ten minutes a year. His new job was as a bareback bronc. Few cowboys could ride him and, if they did, they won the competition.
‘Old Yeller’ was his stage name and he performed for three years before perishing in a highway accident en route to a rodeo. I was told he won the title of ‘Bareback Horse of the Year’ all three years he was in show business and was always selected to perform at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. Truly a phenomenal accomplishment for a rope horse.
It seems some horses have a destiny, and Old Yeller absolutely loved his new job. He loved the lights, the excitement, and he especially loved throwing cowboys to the ground. He’d found his place at last!