Monthly Archives: January 2018

How to Rein a Horse with a Feather

Tom Lea, the famous artist and author from El Paso, Texas, tells about a horse trainer in his book, The Hands of Cantu. This was a bronc starter of the old-school, probably the late 19th or early 20th century. In those days, a horse was “used.” They had no infernal combustion engines, cars or trucks, so everything was done horseback or horse drawn. The “pure-quill” horse trainers were usually divided into amansadores or “gentlers” who did the initial training, and arrendadores who were the reinsmen, or finishers. The end result of the old Spanish method was a trigger-light stock horse. It could be reined by taking a hair of the mane, tying it to the reins and galloping to sliding stop, or a spin, while holding only the hair between the thumb and forefinger.

In this book, the trainer tells  the young amansador,

“There are only four qualities that a horse trainer must have, they are: perception, judgment, fine hands,and patience indestructible! To lack one of them is to lack them all!”

I have seen a few followers of this art; some still exist among the hackamore men, especially those west of the Rockies who train for the spade bit. It is an arduous long drawn-out process. It takes at least two years to get a horse in bit. That’s starting with four and five-year-olds. Then finishing can take a few more years. But those horses are as light to the rein as a feather. It’s like one trainer said, “Don’t wear a wrist-watch when training horses.” Probably you ought not to even use a calendar, especially if it has a horse show on it as a deadline.

Salt’n the Beans

Mexican strawberries! That’s one of many pseudonyms for pinto beans. They are one of the staples of the chuckwagon cook’s menu. Many stories and poems have been concerned with the “lowly free-holy.” It has been said by Stella Hughes, the famous Arizona chuck wagon cook, that “More railroads were built, more cattle drives made, more round ups held, more expeditions carried out successfully, and more honest-to-gawd hard work done by bean eaters than any other kind.”

As a food the bean is one of the finest sources of soluble fiber, you know, the stuff that takes the cholesterol out of your bloodstream and makes your heart healthy! They are inexpensive, keep forever, (nearly) are easy to carry, easy to cook, and are also a fine source of protein, good carbs, and low in fat.

In a cow camp there was always a pot of pintos soaking, another simmering, and one serving. The seasoning is usually a piece of fat back, sow belly, salt pork, ham hock, or bacon. If beans are salted, it’s at the very last just before serving, because salt makes them tough if it’s added too early.  We often add onions, chilies, chili powder, oregano, or comino. But often the less you do to them the more their good bean flavor comes through.

Once at a cow camp there was no cook, so the cowboys had to take turns cooking. Whoever complained about the food was designated as the next cook. Well, it seems there was this pot of beans simmering on the fire. The designated “pot-slinger” tasted of them and thought they needed more salt, so he added a dose. In a little while another “puncher” rode in from the herd work a little early, and was asked to taste  the beans. He did, and thought they needed more salt. After a while several hands were in camp, including one who knew the “belly-cheater” never used enough salt, not knowing that one of his comrades had already added salt. So he dumped in a pretty good fist full. Finally the meal was served, and the last cowboy to come in tasted his plate of beans. When he loudly proclaimed

“My gawd, them beanies is SALTY!”

everybody looked up and then looked at each other, knowing that he was about to become the next cook. He saw the looks and quickly added

“and that’s just the way I like them!“

Remember you heard it here first.

Runaway Pair

I gotta tell this one. It’s an old story here in Burleson County, Texas, told to me by a good friend and cattle buyer/auctioneer Skelly Strong, Sr.

It seems that the Chance Farm down on the Brazos River near the town of Snook had a pair a beautiful gray mules. Now, this was the day of equines and wagons and mostly dirt roads. Not many cars and trucks were seen around here. These mules were a gorgeous matched pair, and they had only one fault – they were known to have run away with a wagon. So the owner put the word out that he’d take anything in trade for them. Finally this fella shows up, driving a grain wagon, empty, with a team of really ugly mismatched mules. The trade being made, he hitched the pair of grays to his rig. The owner of the farm said to him

“Now one last thing, be careful not to get them stirred up because they might run off.”

The new owner nodded and grinned back from the wagon seat, then set off down the one mile dirt lane to what was later to become Farm to Market Highway 50. Suddenly he stood up and slapped the driving lines on the mules’ back and squalled “Come UP, you sonsabitches!” and the race was on! They took off like thoroughbreds out of a starting gate! The wagon wheels were singing! They were slinging dirt as the big rig fishtailed and went up on two wheels as he cranked them into a right turn to head north, still racing at warp speed.

  He crossed  the road to Snook, then known as Jones Bridge Road, if I remember correctly, at a dead run. People who saw it from their work in the cotton fields gasped

“He’s trying to kill hisself!”

But they ran on, streaking northward.

  They crossed the main highway at Cooks Point still galloping with him still standing in the front of the wagon. When the mules acted like they wanted to slow down, he’d slap the lines to them and shout

“Oh, no, you dirty hayburners. You wanted to run so RUN –yeeHAW!”

   I’m told that observers near the bridge on Six-mile saw him yelling at them to gallop as they thundered across the bridge. And sometime later a sweat stained, panting, frazzled looking pair of mules clopped sedately into the town of Gause,  approximately 30 miles from Chance farm. It is said that these gray mules never ran away again. In fact it was hard to get them into a decent trot!

That was long before my time, but I believe horsemen in those days understood psychology pretty well, what I call perverse psychology.

Running like a “Haint”

It’s January 4 as I’m sitting here in the kitchen waiting for the sun to come up, sipping my Arbuckle’s. The thermometer reads 27°; it looks to be clear. We’ve already repaired three busted water lines, and checking cows horseback is truly a chore with the north wind shooting down my collar. The old Bohemians used to tell me that the first four days of January would foretell the four seasons. If that’s so, we don’t need to be looking for rain this year. There hasn’t been a drop so far. Yesterday and today were sunny, but the first and second we’re overcast and cold. I guess summer will be sunny and dry as usual, and now it looks like fall will be also. Reading my cattle publications, it looks like cattle prices aren’t promising much for 2018. So, with forage probably going to be short and prices low, cattleman better tighten their belts. From my porch it looks like the oil business is running like a “haint” as I see oil rigs in every direction. Today’s crude oil prices up around 60+ dollars a barrel.

Image of tree thru the base of blown glass vases with clear bottom and blue top

Well,like the saying goes you can’t change a hair on your head by worrying (though you might change its color to gray) , so probably the best course of action is to do what you want to do, enjoy life and each other, and smile a lot! Kinder reminds me of the rodeo announcer after a cowboy gets bucked off.

“Let’s give that cowboy a big hand, because that’s all he’s going to get tonight!”