Saturday, October 24, 2020

Rollover Gunsmoke

When I was twenty, I spent a summer working as a wrangler at a guest ranch in the mountains outside of Pueblo, Colorado.

The ranch owned fifteen horses outright and leased another fifty to sixty from Colorado's well known gentle horse source, Sombrero Ranch.
Sombrero Ranch brand, photo by Regan O'Keefe
The problem was some of those horses weren't actually that gentle. Some were barely even rideable. Although we spent the entire summer trading horses back and forth with Sombrero, there was no point at which we had enough truly bombproof for our guests. We were forced to make do with some not quite optimal horses, including this roany Appaloosa named Gunsmoke.
Gunsmoke was dead broke and dead quiet, a perfect beginner horse in every way except one. He liked to roll, and he didn't care if there was a person or a saddle on him when he did it.

This is how it went: Every Monday, a new group of guests would be paired with their mounts for the week. We'd give them a basic riding lesson at the barn and then hit the trail. Midway through the ride, we'd stop in a meadow and BAM! Gunsmoke's knees would buckle and down he'd go. We thought about sending him back, but he was so good otherwise, we tried to fix him instead. Each member of the wrangler staff took a turn riding him. We sat on him slumped and off-centered, trying to convince him we were beginners. It didn't work. Gunsmoke was too smart for that. 
Eventually, he went back into the dude string and the Monday roll became a thing we had to live with. Our boss told us to feign surprise when it happened. 

"Wow! He's never done that before!" we'd say, as we helped another victim back into the saddle. "He must have been really itchy. Now that he's got it out of his system, he won't do it again."

And of course, he didn't, at least not until the following Monday.

This was not a great strategy, but it worked well until the week when Gunsmoke was paired with an older doctor. The ride started normally. There was the lesson, the trail, the meadow and the roll. Except this time - unlike all the others - Gunsmoke's rider wasn't able to step off in time. Instead, he got caught on the ground with one leg pinned under the horse. The wrangler - thankfully, not me - jumped off and ran over to assist. Gunsmoke stood up and the doctor did, too.

"That would have really hurt," he said, "If it had been my real leg."

Yeah, we'd assigned Rollover Gunsmoke to an older beginner rider with a prosthetic leg.

After that, the wrangler staff revolted. We were no longer willing to take people out on Gunsmoke without warning them first. From that point on Gunsmoke's riders were younger, athletic looking beginners (he really wasn't the kind of horse a good rider wanted to ride) with a sense of humor. That worked better, and Gunsmoke happily continued to roll on his rider and saddle every single Monday.
Gunsmoke was not my favorite horse at the Don K. In fact, I spent most of the summer actively disliking him. Looking back now, however, I remember him quite fondly. Wily, old Gunsmoke, king of the Monday roll.

1 comment:

  1. I was barely awake when I sat down and read this. I hope my laughter didn't wake up Craig! Appaloosas and their quirks!

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