Western Short Story
I lay hidden in the ditch, surrounded by the tall grass, watching as the long train came slowly to a halt next to the stock pens, the big steel wheels grinding against the railroad tracks making a terrible screeching noise. The sun was beating down on my back and I pulled my hat down a little to keep the sweat from running down onto my face and also to shade my eyes.
On baited breath, I watched as the men who worked for the railroad unloaded three boxcars filled with wild horses into the holding pens where they would spend the next few days eating, drinking and resting from traveling on the train.
During this time of the year, wild horses were captured in the open country of Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota and even Arizona. They were loaded into boxcars and transported to the sales pens in various cities across the country where they would be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
But first, they had to unload them at different places from time to time to feed and water them. I knew that some of them would become just plain ole riding horses, while others became rodeo-bucking stock. They would probably be used in other ways that I didn’t know about, but right now my only concern was that they were wild, unbroken horses that had never been ridden.
Some time back I made up my mind to be a bronc rider, but here in the southern part of Kansas, as in Texas, Oklahoma or anywhere else, a bronc rider needs to practice riding bucking horses if he wants to get good at it. My problem was, I didn’t have any bucking stock to try and ride or practice on, at least until now.
When the men finished unloading the horses, they filled the feed troughs before climbing back aboard the train and signaling the engineer. The engineer blew his whistle and the train began to move.
As the train began to pull away, my heart began to beat faster and my breath was coming in ragged gulps. The palms of my hands begin to sweat and a slight bit of uncertainty plagued my thoughts. This was it – this is what I’d been waiting for. There was no one here to tell me, no. All I had to do was get up and go over to them.
I watched until the train was out of sight, then, full of excitement, my adrenaline running rampant, I jumped up and ran to the pens and looked through the rails.
There were black ones, white ones, roans, some with blazes and several with white manes and tails. There were pintos and dapple grays and even a palomino. I was so excited I could hardly stand it.
As I climbed to the top rail, my heart was beating so fast I thought it would burst right through my chest. The time I’d been waiting for had come and there could be no backing out, now. I knew in my heart I was born to be a bronc rider and now was the time to prove it, even if it was only to myself.
Sitting on the top rail, I waited until one of the horses came close. He was a large roan that looked like he had a lot of fight in him. It was now or never and I didn’t hesitate. I leaped from the top of the fence onto his back, grabbed a handful of mane and pressed my legs against his sides as tight as I could, while letting out a loud, “Yee haw!”
The big horse was startled to find me on his back and I reckon he didn’t like it much. He arched his back and jumped straight up in the air, dropping his head between his front legs and kicking his back legs out with all the force he could muster. I could feel his muscles ripple between my legs as I desperately tried to stay on his back.
He landed on all fours, then leaped into the air, again, twisting and shaking his head. I tried as hard as I could to stay on his back, but I felt myself losing my grip and suddenly I was airborne with several mane hairs still clenched in my fist.
Trying hard to keep my balance, I came down hard against the side of one of the other horses, who, by now, along with the other horses, was caught up in the excitement. They were all jumping around and kicking up their heels, nickering and making a lot of noise.
I landed awkward against the side of a dapple-gray and was knocked backward.
It liked to have jarred my teeth loose when I landed on the ground, on my rear. I ducked as another horse’s hoof barely missed my head and rolled over onto my knees.
At this point I wasn’t sure what was going through my mind other than getting back to the fence without being stomped on, or kicked to death. As I think about it, that part is still a blur.
Somehow I escaped being killed or maimed for life as I pushed and shoved until I made my way back to the fence and climbed up to the top rail, panting and filled with excitement.
Once I realized I had come through the ordeal, more or less, unscathed, I felt an adrenaline rush like I’d never experienced before. I may not have ridden him for long, but for the first time on the back of a wild stallion with no saddle or bridle, it wasn’t bad. I had ridden a wild horse and lived to tell about it!
After waiting for my heart to settle down, I decided to try it again.
Taking several deep breaths and building up my courage, again, I spotted the one I wanted to try next. He was as black as the coal we used in the potbellied heat stove.
It seemed like forever before he got close enough for me to make a leap and I was almost tempted to try another one, but then he moved a little closer and I felt my heart begin to pound even harder.
“Just a little more,” I whispered to myself, but had to settle for where he was.
I had to jump a bit farther than I wanted to, but it was now or never. Taking a deep breath, I leaped toward him and because I was so pumped up, I almost over shot his back, but at the last moment, I grabbed a handful of mane and was able to land astride him. His eyes were glazed over and wild looking. He snorted and shook his head, taking a dim view of me being on his back.
I had no more than landed on his back when he went straight up in the air and twisted. I was determined to last longer than five seconds this time. I gritted my teeth and grabbed his mane with both hands and pressed my legs as tight as I could against his sides. He went up and down and sideways. He twisted and went around in circles, with me hanging on for all I was worth. He crow hopped and kicked his legs out behind him, but I held on, feeling an excitement I’d never felt before, and probably a bit cocky because I was still on his back, which wasn’t the right feeling to have about then.
He went into the air, again, and instead of twisting the way I thought he would, he went in the opposite direction, causing me to lose my balance, and I went flying off his back and high into the air.
Right about then I wished I had wings and could fly away. I wasn’t looking forward to what I went through the last time I was thrown. I just hoped I would survive, again.
What happened next, even I had a hard time believing. After being thrown high up in the air, I landed squarely on the back of a pinto, who was as shocked as I was.
At first, I couldn’t believe it. Instead of landing on the ground and possibly being kicked to death, I was sitting on the pinto with brown spots!
Without conscious thought, I grabbed two hands full of mane and hung on for dear life. She sort of crow hopped around some before she began to buck in earnest.
She was smaller than the others and I found I could hold on better. I was elated and had visions of grandeur, believing I might even be able to break this one; my ego a bit over inflated. I gritted my teeth, preparing myself for the ride of my life. Then it happened without any warning of any kind. She stopped dead still and just stood there, breathing heavily.
This was no way for a wild, bucking bronc to act. I yelled and kicked her in the sides, but instead of bucking, she turned her head and bit me on the toe, causing me to let out a scream. If a horse has never bitten you, let me tell you, it hurts.
Wanting no more of this, I swung my leg over her back and was about to drop to the ground.
As though she was waiting for this moment, she went straight up in the air and I felt my chin slam against her back, jarring every tooth in my mouth loose.
She twisted away from me and her left hip slammed against me, knocking me against the horse next to her.
She didn’t like my being there, either, and kicked out at me. If I hadn’t dodged, she would have put both feet into my belly, along with doing who knows what else.
As luck would have it, I landed in a place near the fence. With my nerves in high gear, I jumped up and hobbled toward the fence. I was still a short distance away when I noticed the pinto right behind me. Her ears were laid back and her teeth bared.
I reached the fence and started scrambling toward the top rail and freedom as fast as I could go. I hadn’t quite reached the top when I felt her bite me again - this time on the butt. I kicked out at her, but she had already swung away, bucking and kicking and holding a small piece of my Levi pants in her teeth.
As I sat there, catching my breath, several of the horses were driven against the fence, almost jarring me loose, and I was afraid they would knock it down and escape. But as luck would have it, when I wasn’t out there trying to prove to them I was a bronc rider, they calmed down, but milling around, eyeing me cautiously.
With great effort and hopping on one foot, I made my way back down into the ditch and pulled off my boot. She hadn’t bitten my toe off, which made me happy, but it was bruised and swollen and turning purple. It was beginning to throb and hurt like the dickens.
I took an old piece of rag I used as a handkerchief and I wrapped it around my toe, then tried to put my boot back on but my toe was too swollen and it was too painful, so I left it off.
As I moved around to stand up, the place on my butt where I’d been bitten sent a shock of pain clear up my spine. Being very careful, I undid my pants and checked my rear. It was bloody and would be sore for a few days, but she hadn’t taken a big bite and I guessed it would heal if I put some of that purple liniment we had out in the barn, on it. It was what we used for sores on the plow horses that were so tame, even a tenderfoot could ride them. I figured if it was good enough for the horses, it should be good enough for me, too.
As I pulled my pants back up, I was grinning from ear to ear. I would have scars to prove the stories I was anxious to tell.
I looked back at the horses and several of them were looking at me over the top rail of the fence as if to say, you want more of the same, come on back, but I’d had enough for today. I needed to go home and soak my foot and rest my injured rear end.
Looking around I realized I had lost my hat, which I guessed; now lay trampled inside the wild horse pen.
I hobbled over to the fence and looked around, and sure enough, there it was, just inside the fence all rumpled and dirty. I got down on my knees and waited for the right moment, then reached in below the bottom rail and grabbed my hat, just before that ole pinto tried to take a bite out of my hand.
It was going to be tough enough explaining the bite on my butt and my injured toe, but my hand too?
Losing my hat on top of everything else, well, that just wasn’t something I wanted to add to the explanation I was going to have to come up with.
After dusting it off and straightening it to fit my head of red, curly hair, I headed off across the pasture.
I could hardly wait until I healed up and the next trainload of wild horses came in.
Of course, maybe next time I should bring one of my friends along to witness my bravery, and to be there in case I got trampled or seriously injured.
My biggest problem was how I was going to explain the hole in the rear end of my pants. My injuries probably wouldn’t even be noticed, since I was always cutting or bruising something – but my jeans were another matter entirely. They cost money, and there wasn’t much of that to go around.
No matter how mad my mother got at me for ruining my pants, it was still the best birthday a ten-year-old boy could ever have.