A Man And His Horse


There are five living components to a rodeo: flies, queens, cowboys/cowgirls, cows and horses.

Flies basically fly. Queens basically wave. Cowboys/cowgirls basically ride. Cows basically run.

This means the truly complex part of the rodeo equation is the horse, a fact that I have verified through owning one the past two years a horse that has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about horses, most often the hard way and always on his terms.

I bought my horse because I liked his name (The Son Also Rises), and because I had no idea what I was getting into.

The first time I got on my horse, he knocked me off with a tree branch. I wrote a column about the experience, and then vowed not to do another one on the subject until Son and I reached a milestone 100 rides.

By counting rides, I figured I could avoid getting knocked off again. If, for example, Son decked me on ride 74, I would just skip that ride each time the number came up kind of like avoiding bad luck by not having a 13th floor in a high-rise building.

As my quest to reach 100 unfolded, I actually found myself measuring time by horseback rides rather than the calendar.

At ride 60, for example, I got divorced. At 94, Son went lame for a few months. At 97, the great drought of '02 closed the Tonto National Forest.

That gave Son and I some down time this summer to sit around the corral together, and that's when we collaborated on what you're reading now. Horses don't really use words like Mr. Ed did, but any horse owner will tell you they most definitely do talk.

And the time we spent together proved most productive in that Son and I made some serious progress on our new book "A Beginners Guide to Horses," subtitled "White Men Can't Canter." Here is a sneak preview:

Inside every horse is a frustrated clown.

Since it seems to them that might should make right, horses express their displeasure with the concept that people are in charge in the most whimsical ways. Mine will sneak up behind me and give me a playful shove with his head. Or nip at my shoulder. He'll spin, duck and dodge to keep me from doing whatever it is I'm trying to do to him. He'll sneak some extra hay out of the barn if I forget and leave the door open. But always with just a hint of a twinkle in his eyes.

Horses are just big kids really, really big kids.

At about 30 times the weight of your average child, Son is a bit large to put over your knee and spank. Instead I try to call his bluff by saying, "Stop it Son, or I'll do something really scary to you."

It is not hard to scare horses.

While my threats fall on big furry deaf ears, horses will spook at just about anything including their own shadow. Talk about your roller coasters and your bungee jumps, but there is nothing quite like the thrill of being aboard a horse when right out of nowhere he spooks at absolutely nothing visible to the human eye.

Horses are not as dumb as a lot of people think they are.

Son, in fact, would have been the perfect horse for Houdini. He is a master escape artist whose goal in life is to get out of his corral. He spends every waking hour trying and is successful way too often.

Horses are giant pooping machines.

No discussion of horses would be complete without mention of their single largest by-product. The bad news is that horses poop eight or 10 times a day. The good news is that horse poop is just about the least obnoxious kind there is. The really good news is that my dogs love the stuff (and the vet says that's OK).

Horses bite really hard.

The average horse bite has been compared to slamming a car door on one's finger. I have only been bitten by a horse once, my ex-wife's when I didn't disengage from a carrot fast enough. It's a memorable mistake not likely to be repeated.

Horses are accident prone.

Especially my horse, because he doesn't pay much attention to where he's going. He's way too busy enjoying the scenery to watch his feet. And as any horse owner will tell you, if there is anything in the stall or corral that a horse can hurt himself on, he will find it and hurt himself.

Horses cost a fortune.

Well, at least a small fortune. When they have one of their frequent accidents, it seems like the vet charges by the pound. And when you go to your local feed store and price stuff for horses, you will find nothing under $50. In fact, the first rule of feed store pricing is, "If it's for a horse, it must cost at least $50."

Horses weigh a ton.

Well, at least half a ton. You may wonder how you weigh a horse. Actually one of the best ways is when he steps on your foot. You will most likely say, "(Blankety-blank-blank!), this sucker weighs a ton!"

Thankfully the forest reopened before I was hauled away for conversing with a horse, and Son and I finally reached the century mark our 100th ride.

And so rodeo lovers, enjoy August Doin's. Just remember one thing.

A rodeo may be made up of five living components, but the brains behind the operation clearly belong to the horses.

And that's a scary thing.

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