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JOCK:  THE RODEO   . . . the next thing we knew he had pulled away from me, spun around and started bucking toward the gate with the saddle dangling underneath him. He demolished the wire gate and bucked his way halfway down the alley before he stopped, eyes rolling, sides heaving, with the saddle hanging under him with a broken stirrup leather. He allowed me to walk up to him and take the lead rope and I fumbled to unbuckle the flank strap before he could blow up again. . . .

The school of hard knocks was now in session. It was time to put away the books and learn the rest straight from the "horse’s mouth."


MOLLY:  MY FIRST FALL . . . . . I’ll never forget our first trip to that stable. Remember, I was the kid who had read it all and knew it all and was unthrown despite the head-tossing best efforts of countless prior stable plugs and despite my being an experienced cowpuncher by this time.

Having been trained through countless books to ride English and having had a whole two days’ experience in Alpine on an English saddle, I had decided that riding a Western saddle was too "easy" for someone of my vast experience and knowledge.

With my friends looking on, hopefully properly impressed, I asked the wrangler if there were any "English or bareback riding" at that stable. The wrangler raised one eyebrow and said, "You can go bareback if you want to."

It took Molly probably less than five minutes to make her point. We decided to canter. Tanna went out in front and I took careful hold of a handful of mane before nudging Molly into a smooth canter after her.

And within 20 feet I received another lesson in the school of hard knocks. Molly grabbed the bit, made a hard left turn, and just like that -- no rearing or bucking or anything, just a hard left turn -- the unthrowable suburban cowgirl hit the dirt for the first time. I was fifteen.

Up until that moment, I had felt invincible, arrogant, cocksure, and oh, so smart. Suddenly I realized that the reason I had never fallen before was because no horse had ever cared all that much whether I rode it or not. None of them had ever wanted me off!

I had never known before how little I did know about horses. It took a buckskin mare with more arrogance than I had to teach me that simple lesson.

But we never seem to learn those lessons all at once, do we?


SANDY:  I GET MY DREAM HORSE . . . . Woody took one look at her and gave a low whistle. "She’s all horse and a yard wide," he declared. (I supposed that was Missouri horse trader talk for "pretty durn good." ) He looked her over, picked up her feet, looked in her mouth. The man saddled her up again and I took her into the arena. He said her name was Sandy. She was eight years old.

We walked, trotted, cantered, and then I asked her to open up a little. She did everything I wanted and was smooth as glass at full gallop. But the real surprise came when I asked her to turn at a run. She leaned smoothly into the turn, and without needing the entire width of the arena to do it either. All those stable horses I’d ridden, all those dull-sided, unresponsive, ruined horses I’d learned to ride on couldn’t have turned in a forty acre field at the speed this mare was running, and she was turning around in less than half the width of the arena. I’d never before ridden a horse that could be turned while running.

I wanted her more than ever . . . but I still didn’t have the money.

Sandy pranced back to the gate, neck arched and proud. I felt like Alec Ramsay on the Black Stallion. She was all fire and spirit, but gentle as a lamb and responsive to my slightest touch. She did everything I asked, and did it with fire and beauty. I wanted her so badly I nearly cried when I got off her.

We got in the car and headed home. Halfway there, Woody surprised me when he said, "If you want her, I’ll loan you the money to get her. She’s too good to let go." I couldn’t believe my ears.

The suburban cowgirl finally had her dream horse. I had found my "Black Stallion" and it was a buckskin mare.

Thanks, Woody.