The Blue Roan, First Place Youth Division
By Caitlin R. Halone
Slam! The sides of the round pen quivered as the Appaloosa colt crunched my leg against it. I tried to pull his head around with all of my strength, but it was too late. With a last great heave, the colt flung me onto the sand. I lay there watching his white-socked feet gallop past me.
I pushed myself into a sitting position real slow. A low snicker came from the fence.
“Awww, I knew you couldn’t ride him through that, Nicki.” Danny leaned on the fence, smirking at me. “He’s always bucked with spurs and you ain’t gonna change him now. Maybe a good rider could have ridden him through it.”
Sitting in the sand with my own sense of failure and his smugness was too much. I snatched my hat up and slapped it back on my head.
“Whoa!” I hollered at the colt as I staggered to my feet. Rowdy stopped and pivoted towards me. “You jug headed horse.” I struggled to keep my voice sweet as I snagged his reins.
“Don’t you ever, ever do that again.” I said as I flung myself back into the saddle. My Wranglers hadn’t even hit the seat when he threw a buck. All of my vertebrae chattered as he hopped into the air, the ground was beckoning me as I began to slide.
“Not again!” I shoved my toes back into the stirrups and pulled as hard as I could on the left rein. Rowdy turned out of his buck as I spun him in a tight circle. When he stood still, I urged him back into a lope.
“Bet a dollar you can’t get him to lope one circle without bucking.” Danny hollered.
As he spoke the colt arched his back, springing into the air again. I pulled his head around and turned him into a circle again until he calmed down. The next time, Rowdy loped around the pen with only a single buck. I wanted to shout in triumph.
When I led Rowdy out of the round pen, Danny couldn’t resist putting in his two cents.
“He’ll do it again next time.” Trying to look like a cowboy, he spit into the dirt. “I’ve seen him throw you too many times before. The good circle was just a fluke.”
“He bucked me off because I didn’t have control of his head.” I snapped. Danny could always get on my nerves with his goading. “I couldn’t have stayed on him the second time if I hadn’t pulled his head around. You have to out think horses, not out muscle them.”
“Right.” Danny snorted. “I could have stayed on him every time. I would have ridden him through it all.”
I brushed Rowdy down, stewing as he rambled about all of the times I had been bucked off. Finally I exploded.
““Danny McCarthy, you could never have stayed on him.” I spat in his face. “Why that little mule of yours only shies away from birds and you go flying off. You couldn’t stay on the gentlest mare in pasture if she threw just one buck. I’ll bet-.” I had more to say, but Rowdy swiped my back with his sweaty head, sending me staggering. Before I could make a dignified recovery, Danny was laughing.
I grabbed a handful of dirt clods and threw them at Danny’s head. He had pushed me past the point of no return and he knew it. When he bent to grab his own ammunition, one of my clods caught him in the ear.
“Ahh!” he yelled. “That hurt!” Danny grabbed his ear in agony.
“Well it wasn’t supposed to feel good.” I hollered. Then an iron hand clamped around my belt.
“What’s goin’ on here, Nicki?” Our cowboy, Ross glared down at me. “You kids fightin’ again?”
“We were playing tag? Yeah, that’s it.” I crossed my fingers, hoping he hadn’t seen me clobbering Danny with dirt clods.
Ross quirked an eyebrow at me. “Hmm, I never knew dirt clods were a part of that game.”
“Umm, it’s a new addition we just put in.” I smiled really big.
Ross frowned at me and I could tell he knew I was lying. “I don’t buy it, but your dad wants you saddled and heading out to get bring in the saddle herd right now. That blue roan colt needs to be started and you might as well bring the whole saddle herd with him. So you and Danny get to bring in your dad said to take Rowdy because he needs the experience.”
“Why does Danny have to come!” I threw the rest of the dirt clods on the ground. “Rowdy bucks me off and I have to do tons of chores to take care of him, but I still like him! Danny doesn’t do anything except talk but he is ten, no a million times more annoying than Rowdy!”
“This is just a hunch I have, but maybe he thinks that you two should learn to get along.” Ross squinted at me. “You know Nicki, your dad wants to get the training started on that blue colt tomorrow. Maybe he’ll let you help- if you do this job right and learn to be nice to Danny.”
“Awwwgh!” I stamped off towards the barn to get Rowdy, disgusted with this turn of events.
I hurried over to Rowdy. “C’mon boy, we’ve got to bring in some horses. If we hurry we might be able to lose Danny.” I smiled at the thought.
Just as I was bridling Rowdy, I heard boots scuffing in the dirt. Danny ran up, dragging his mule Lily. “C’mon Nicki, we’ve got a job to do. Are you going to take all day, girl?” He was trying to sound like a cowboy.
I clamped my mouth shut as I swung up into the saddle. Danny was such a- such a- I couldn’t think of a word that I was allowed to say. Danny jumped on his little mule and trotted after me. He kept talking as we trotted towards the hills.
“Golly, we get to bring the whole herd in. Your dad’s a great guy you know? I’m going to be a great cowboy when I grow up.” And on and on and on it went. Danny was the most annoying when he was happy. I ignored him and began to think about the lovely Idaho morning that we were riding through. Blue sky, a bit of a breeze, mountains in the distance… and then there was Danny. He wouldn’t have been able to stop talking if his mouth had been glued shut.
As we rode through the open gate at the end of the valley, I saw a flicker of motion out of the corner of my eye. It was an old paint mare walking through the saddle herd which was dozing underneath the aspen trees.
“Danny.” I said softly. “They’re right there.”
He actually stopped talking long enough to look at the horses. Before he could start again, I gave him his orders.
“Rowdy and I will go to the right around them and you and Lily will go left. We just have to herd them through the gate and they’ll head on the path home.”
“All right.” Danny was so happy to be playing cowboy that he didn’t argue with my bossiness.
I reined Rowdy to the right and we maneuvered around the herd, getting them started towards the gate.
The saddle horses seemed in a hurry to get on the trail. They must have been remembering the alfalfa we threw into the pasture on cold nights.
Finally there were only a few mares and the blue stud colt left in the pasture. I moved slowly in the hope that the blue roan wouldn’t make a break for it.
He glided towards the gate, head high and blue coat gleaming. Rowdy’s ears flicked towards him and his nostrils trembled as the roan pranced in the sunlight. He was so beautiful that for a second, I couldn’t think about anything else.
My trance was broken when I heard a yell from behind me. As I turned Rowdy, a stray chestnut mare came streaking out from the trees. Danny and Lily were right on her heels.
“Danny, what are you doing?” I yelled. “You’re not supposed to chase them!”
Lily began bucking as she ran and Danny was desperately trying to hold on. It was like riding a long eared windstorm. With a final whirl, Lily sent Danny sailing though the air.
After dumping Danny, Lily swerved straight towards the gate. The stallion tried to bolt away, but I whirled Rowdy around to cut him off. The blue roan was blocked by me, the mares and Lily running straight towards him. He hesitated for a second and then galloped through the gate and down the path towards home.
When Lily came running up behind us, the fragile control that I had on Rowdy evaporated. He was nervous from the tense situation and because all of the other horses had deserted him. Lily galloping up behind him was the last straw. He was going home and running scared. I was just getting his head turned, when he jumped away from a flower in the grass. I flew through the air so fast that hitting the ground never really hurt; I just rolled down the incline.
I pushed my face away from the dirt and stood up. Then I saw Danny limping towards the edge of the oak trees.
“Danny!” I shouted.
He turned and stumbled towards me.
“Are you hurt?” I asked, watching him limp.
“Lily doesn’t watch her hooves when she bucks you off.” Danny’s grin was more like a grimace. “You sailed off Rowdy nice though. I really liked the hill roll!”
“I can’t believe that the great Danny McCarthy got bucked off!” I tried to fake shock. “Did Lily take off for home?”
Danny smacked his head. “Shoot! Last I saw she was headed to the trees, I think. She spooked away when you fell off. Wait-there she is!”
Lily turned her head and brayed at us. Her reins were wrapped around a huckleberry bush and she bobbed her head happily as we ran over and began untangling her.
“So who’s walking?” Danny asked.
“Why can’t we both ride?” I looped the reins over the mule’s fuzzy neck.
“Because she hates it.” Danny retorted.
“I am not walking.” I crossed my arms.
“Me neither.” He crossed his arms.
“Well, I’m for sure not.” I glared at him.
“Well I wouldn’t ever walk home.” Danny glared back. “She’s mine anyway. Your dumb colt has probably galloped clear to Rexburg by now.”
We went on like this for some time before I told him that riding double was the only option.
“She’s never liked it before, but if you’re crazy enough to do it, then go right ahead.” Danny shrugged as he got on Lily.
“Don’t you DARE buck, girl.” I said, gripping the saddle as I climbed on. Lilly flipped her long ears back and took a hesitant step. Her brown eyes rolled and she kicked out against my misplaced weight. Two steps later I was in the dirt.
Danny turned Lily around and smirked down on me. “Told you she wouldn’t do it.”
“Danny McCarthy!” I said. “I am going to ride home whether you do or not. If you want to walk, fine. Otherwise I’m squishing into your saddle.”
“This little saddle!” Danny’s eyes widened. I must have looked mad because he just said. “Oh fine, but it’s your funeral, ‘cause trust me I am not going off.”
I squeezed into the saddle behind him. Before I even had a grip, Lily took off at a jolting trot.
“Dannnyyy…” As I slid from the saddle, I grabbed Danny’s belt and pulled him off with me. This time Lily wasn’t waiting around and her long ears were pointed towards the ranch as she loped away.
“Aww shucks Nicki.” Danny moaned as he wiped dirt off his face. “Why did you have to take me down too?”
“On a ranch you have to stick together.” I grabbed my hat out of the dirt and jammed it back on my head. “Come on cowboy. Lets start walking and we might get back home before sunset.”
Dad and Ross met us on the trail home. After they saw our horses without riders, they had come looking for us. Dad told me that Rowdy had wrapped himself up in his reins and could barely move, but he hadn’t panicked and gone crazy. I was so relieved when I heard that he hadn’t freaked out because he probably would have broken his leg.
“All that time on de-spooking was worth it.” I said as I patted my tired, sweaty colt.
“It seems like you’ve done a good job with Rowdy, Nicki.” Dad patted me on the shoulder. “Do you want to help Ross train that blue roan colt? I’m thinking that he’ll come around faster if he has a girl to love on him and spend a lot of time with him.”
I sucked in a breath and looked at Dad. “Well Dad.” I smiled at him. “I guess I couldn’t do it by myself.”
Dad looked disappointed. “I thought that this is what you wanted Nicki.”
“No, I couldn’t do it, at least not alone. I was thinking, maybe Danny could help me train him?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Danny’s mouth drop. There was a smile creeping across Dad’s face.
“I think that could be arranged.” He said, grinning down at me.
I reached over and punched Danny, who looked like he had gone into shock. “Quit wasting time cowboy, there are chores to do and blue roan to train.”
“Gosh Nicki.” He spluttered. “I don’t know what to say. Can we start working with him tomorrow? What’s his name? Does Ross have to help, or can we do all of it?”
“Danny!!” I bellowed. “That’s too many words for not knowing what to say. Real cowboys listen more then they talk.”
That shut him up real quick and I began to unsaddle Rowdy.
I could hear his boots shuffling in the dirt. “Hey Nicki.” He said. “Umm, thanks for umm letting me help.”
“You’ve got it, cowboy.” I said. “Get ready to muddy and bruised because we’re training a horse tomorrow.
“That’s great!” Danny hesitated. “I can’t wait to ride him.” Then he grinned slyly at me. “But I think I’ll let you ride him first.”