Written by Preston Bates
A long year later found I found myself in Pietown, New Mexico homesteading and building a cabin when I got word to call my old boss. I did as soon as I made it to town hoping he had another deal lined up. After the usual how ya doing stuff, he got right to the point of his call, “I got one of those damn mustangs back!” “Which one?” I asked but deep down I sorta, kinda, had a feeling... I hoped. “That damn bay you ruined!” My heart soared!!! “Why? What’d he do?!” I queried. “Well hell! He bucks everyone off! He bucked me off when I went to get him and let me tell you that son of a bitch can buck!” “You’re lying!” “The hell I am! You come ride the son of a bitch yourself!” “I’ll be there mid-day!” I said as I was running out the door. “Sooner if you don’t want me to shoot the son of a bitch!” With that, he hung up the phone.
Before daylight I was on the road, I had money with me - $700 - It was every damn dollar I had. And I was towing my rickety old half-top trailer along with two-ass-pockets full of fight. I was coming home with that horse no matter what. When I got there, I saw the boss man near the corrals and pulled to a stop there. He pointed at the horse who was standing on the far side of the corral looking really pissed off, stiff-legged, and looking away from us at some far-off concern. “What did you do to him?” I asked. “I didn’t do anything to him! They said they didn’t either. He got surly, grumpy, and then started pitching tourists. Went from good to bad just like that- ” he said snapping his fingers. I’d noticed when I talked that the horse’s head had swung my way. “HEY, YOU THERE, BUDDY,” I said loudly but not a yell. My heart leaped and my breath caught as his ears popped up and he headed to my side of the corral. I watched the anger in his eyes fade as they started to glow, and his pace picked up. I climbed through the corral rails and met him. He fell into my arms as I wrapped them around his thick neck, and we absorbed each other. We soaked in the comforting ball of energy that was us for a few minutes, neither wanting to break the spell. But finally, the boss man did. “I guess that’s your horse.” “Yep,” I said wiping the tears and snot from my face and swinging up onto his bare back. As I shifted and settled in, he took in a deep breath and let out a big, contented sigh. We just sat there, just feeling good.
“Bring your wallet?” Bossman asked.
I pulled it out and tossed it over the fence to him.
“Seven hundred dollars?! You gotta do better than that.”
“The cash, the 30/30 in the rack of my truck that you’ve always wanted, and my eternal gratitude.”
He chewed his ‘stache a moment in pondering and then broke a smile and blue eyes twinkled as he stuck his hand through the rails.
Again, I let the horse watch and again he learned...
He nearly ran me over getting on that scary old trailer, and on the way home, he was hanging his head over the top smiling at the world going by.
He was the only equine I had for a while. He was like a dog. There was no real fence, he’d hang out in the yard and often he and the dogs would run circles chasing each other around the cabin. He’d wander off grazing but never went too far. There were no neighbors, so it wasn’t an issue where he went. He was always ready for a ride and man we had some great ones in that pinon, juniper, volcano country.
But then there was the one day I tightened a twisted cinch. He showed me what he’d been doing to the tourists... My! Oh my! When I stepped on him, he cut it loose! He jumped, twisted, and turned this way and that, pogoed up and hammered down, doing it to extremes by all measure. I’ve ridden a lot of rough horses, and there was no riding him that morning. He left me in a pile, and he bucked till he wore himself out, and it was then I saw that twisted cinch. That was one of those pileups that left me pissing blood for a week, along with a few more busted ribs. Those things are my downfall! But never, ever in the following 15 years and the thousands and thousands of miles we spent cowboying and packing wild country together did I ever come off his back. A few times, it was close, but he always managed to stay under me. We had some amazing adventures, went to amazing places, and saw some amazing things. Twice I put my life in his hooves. Honestly, in dangerous situations, I allowed him to make decisions that could prove fatal to us both with a single wrong step. That is how bonds are made.
Many times, after a long day, or a long night for that matter, I fell asleep lolling in his smooth as glass walk. His trot would make you smile. He was just a perfect ride. I always rode him in just a halter, never used a spur or a kick. He knew what I was thinking before I did and always told me what was going on. I never had to shoe or trim him. Oh, every year or so I might have to rasp off a flare but that was all. Black, hard, and solid. He would stay fat on dry oak leaves and didn’t like treats. Women were OK but he was a man’s man. He loved life in camp and seeing new country. Don’t fuss and mess with him unless you were going to rub his belly button. He was the first horse on the ranch when I arrived here and over the years, he saw the number of horse residents rise to over 80. He was always head honcho no matter who showed up or how old he got. He was always the boss horse, and he was the boss’s horse - that makes a difference.
Finally, after grinding away in this rough old country for years and years and miles and miles, his joints got sore, and I let him out into the old folks’ pasture one day, never to ride him again. But we remained close, he was right here next to the house and barn, and we spent quality time together. He had a couple of old mares he hung out with, making him feel young and studly and every year when we weaned the foals, he was put with the colts to teach them the ways of the world, push them around a bit, and settle disputes. He was a good storyteller and had plenty. Many were the time you’d look out and see him with a half dozen colts standing wide-eyed in a circle in front of him, listening to his horse tales. And none of it was bullshit. Stealing a few lines from Charles Goodnights’ tribute to Bose Ikard, I ascribe them to my great mustang horse “Tang,” along with a few of my own: “He served with me for years, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many a stampede and always displayed splendid behavior. He was always disposed of good cheer and humor and was a true and steadfast friend to the end.”
Painting of Tang & Preston