cowboys leaning on brown fence

Bad Water, Hobbles, and Rattlesnakes

If I am remembering correctly, this happened between my junior and senior years of college 26 years ago. I had had enough of the big city in Tulsa and for the first time left it to cowboy for the summer back home in Guymon. Now, let be me very clear. I can’t rope. Tried it many times. Never got the knack. But I can check cattle and ever since I have been knee-high to a grasshopper, I have ridden many horses over lots of miles. Good horses. Most of them cow horses. I can remember many of their names. Horses I have ridden in Oklahoma, Colorado, and the fringes of New Mexico. I don’t like riding a horse to just ride a horse. I rode one in in a parade. It didn’t do anything for me. I sure don’t like the idea of going to a dude ranch and getting on something that is ready for the soap factory.

When I get on a horse, I don’t want it to buck. But when I get on if the need presents itself, and I give it some pressure from my knees or tickle it with my spurs, I hope to get some response.

Summertime. Working for my dad. He told me tomorrow to pick out a horse, saddle him and put him in the trailer, make your rounds to check cattle, then go to this particular pasture, unhook the trailer, take the horse out and hobble him, and drive around the fence and fix it where it needs mending. Well, I didn’t have a pair of hobbles and didn’t know how to use them. My dad handed me a pair of hobbles and explained how to use them.

The next morning, I went to the corral and picked out a horse. Stick was gentle and nice…but not too good out of the arena. Charger was not nice and would give you a ride for your money…depending on what mood he was in. Baldy was my favorite…great disposition and gentle…but when I asked him to go, he would go! My dad said he bought him off someone who had been barrel racing on him and I believe it.

Baldy was a gentle soul, but the only horse I have ridden that had a fifth gear…except for Lucky, my Granddad’s horse. Meaning, if I completely let him have the reins, we would ride so fast that he would accelerate out of fourth gear into fifth gear and give me one of the best adrenaline rushes a cowboy could ever ask for as he dodged those yuccas and jumped those prickly pears. He also wouldn’t take a bit. To ride him, you had to use a hackamore. In my mind, I think that was his way of saying, “Trust me.”

That morning, I picked out Baldy, saddled him up, put him in the trailer, and made the rounds checking cattle. After we were done, it was time for me to go to this particular pasture and drive around the fence and fix it where needed.

I unloaded Baldy from the trailer, then unhooked the trailer from the pickup. Next, I took out that pair of hobbles. He looked at me as I was looking at him. We kind of had a connection. He was probably thinking, “What’s about to happen?” Those were my same thoughts. I took those hobbles and gently put them on his front legs. Then I removed the bridle and let him go, still wearing the saddle. At first, he didn’t know what to do. He tried to take a step and was so confused that he started crow hopping across the pasture but stopped a few yards away and just stood there.

Now, my dad had told me not to drink any water from the windmill pumping water in this pasture because it was bad for humans and could give you Montezuma’s Revenge. And he told me to watch out for rattlesnakes. At this point and time, I was starting to get a little thirsty. I saw the cold water coming out of the pipe attached to the windmill and resisted. I guessed I would need to rely on the warm water from the water jug I always carried.

I took the pickup and started driving around the inside perimeter of the fence. Shortly thereafter, I found a piece of barbed wire in the fence that had broken. I got out of the pickup to splice it.

This is when it happened. I heard a rattlesnake and saw him too close to my feet. If any judges could have seen it, I bet I would have gotten a Gold medal at the Cowboy Olympics. I cleared the top of that pickup bed and landed inside with my boots and spurs on.

After grabbing a shovel, I slowly made it back to the ground to kill this snake. Couldn’t find him. That sucker had slithered off into the weeds on the other side of the fence.

I spliced the fence and kept driving around the perimeter and fixed what needed fixing. Finally, I made it all the way around and there was Baldy, standing in those hobbles I had put him in.

I hooked up the trailer, walked over to Baldy, and apologized for my absence. Yes. I probably talked to him. We had an understanding and could communicate. I put on the bridle and took off the hobbles and he loaded right into the trailer. We made it back home and to his corral 30 miles away. I took the saddle off, brushed him down, gave him some extra oats, and left him to let him rest.

After that summer, I went back to Tulsa and finished my college degree. It was the greatest summer of my life.

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