Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


Something big put the desire in me. I always wanted to do two things - to be a good horseman and a good writer - a good rider and a good writer. While there was no question the Spirit placed the desires in me, I wondered on more than one occasion why He apparently forgot to include any ability or talent in either area.

When I tried to write, the words became tangled, twisted, and kinked like the coils on an old rope. Terrible in all aspects of school, it seemed my weakest area was the one I loved most. My efforts at writing consisted of long run-on sentences that galloped in circles, and when we came to the period at the end of the trail, we were most always right back where we started.

Same with horses. Roped all my life, and while I had a few that were passable, in my mind at least, never seemed able to find that really good one. While they could all run, rein, and rope a little, never seemed able to find that really good one with the silky sliding stop, or the flawless honey-smooth rollover. My horse-training skills produced a room full of unruly fourth-graders that didn’t really listen, had their minds not on the inside of the pen, but on the pasture outside - on getting away from the teacher - on recess.

Lack of experience wasn’t the problem. My daddy put me on the first one when I was three. He was a buckskin mustang named Buddy. As I grew older, I broke my share of them using the old ways. Snub’em up to a post, cinch the girt up tight and let them go. Then ride’em ‘til they quit bucking. That was the only way we knew. I broke my share of them that way. I’m sorry about that now.

Same with school. Sat there in hard seats, grinding it out, wondering when it would all be over. The process wasn’t important, results were all that counted. Love the thing? Not me, no one could love this.

And life swept me along, and the days sped by, their wings beating faster and faster. Not much to show for all my efforts, never had found a good horse, and even after repeated attempts, my writing resume was scant indeed, and I was disappointed with my days.

Then everything changed.

It all started slowly at first. On my way to a little country church in Oklahoma, I saw him…it wasn’t the first time I had laid eyes on him. I had seen the baby blue colt, the color of an old pair of wranglers; I had seen him thirty years ago standing in a pasture much like this one. And today, so many years later, I saw him again. I pulled the truck over to stare. “Do you know that baby?” asked my better two-thirds. “I know him,” I said. “I’ve known him a long time.” And I told her the story.

Like a lot of kids in those days, I hitchhiked to school. It was 1966, and good horses and good cowboys had booted me off the rodeo trail, and for the first time in my life, I was serious about school. Every early morning in the just breaking light, while waiting on some kind soul to take me the rest of the way to the community college, I stood on the shoulder of the highway by a stranger’s farmhouse, watching the blue baby standing by his momma in the pasture with dreams in my mind of one day owning one like him. Watched him grow for a year, in the cold, in the rain, and in the heat of the summer.

Eventual completion of courses caused dreams of a living with a blue colt on my farm to change to dreams of graduate school and making a living. But I never forgot him. On the last morning I was there, I waved good-bye to him a hundred yards away. He looked at me for a time, then nipped at his momma and ran as hard as he could disappearing over the far hill in the distance. I never forgot him.

And thirty years later, there he stood in a little trap in Oklahoma.

I made inquiries about him at the local Redland Country Store. “Forget it,” said proprietor Steve, a man who could cook like Emeril. Halfway through the world’s best cheeseburger, I said, “Forget it?” “Forget it,” he said again. “The old fellow who owns that horse delivered him from his momma. He’s Otoe bred, and he’s a good one. He’d sell one of his kids ‘fore he would sell that horse. Besides, some big money man saw that baby the day he was born, and gave Earl a blank check. ‘Send him to me when he’s weaned,’ he said. Earl tore the check up and threw it back at him,” Steve laughed. “So you can forget that blue baby.”

A few weeks later early on a drizzly December day, I saw Earl sitting in his truck outside my farmhouse window. I invited him in, and over coffee, I asked, “What brings you out on this cold morning, Earl?”

He looked out the window for a time, “I come to sell you that blue colt,” he said. Stunned, I said, “Earl, I could never afford that horse.” “I think you can,” he said, staring down into his coffee. “I’m getting’ old now, on the list for a heart transplant. Can’t do much with him. I like the way you handle your horses. It’s important to Mary and me where he goes. Make me an offer.”

I wrote a number more than I ever planned to give on a piece of paper, folded it, and slid it across the old farm table in our kitchen.

Turning his head to look out the window again, Earl picked up the paper, and said, “Two conditions…I can come see him any day I want, and you make a rope horse out of him.” “Agreed,” I said. “Agreed then,” he said, sliding the still folded note back to me. He had never opened it. He had never looked inside.

And a new baby came into our lives. We brought him and his momma home for a time. And when the weaning came, things didn’t go well. Even though we had her in the pen next to him, he cried and ran for three days. When he was falling and squealing, we couldn’t stand it any more. Rebecca loaded the momma up to take her away, and before driving away, she put a cot in his stall. “What’s that for?” I asked. “That’s yours,” she said.

I stayed with him three days, and when we were done, I had a friend for life. I put a baby saddle on him soon after that, and our twelve-year old son stepped up and off him hundreds of times as he grew. I could hardly sleep on the night before his 18-month birthday, and the next morning at dawn, after thirty years of waiting, the moment came.

I stepped up on that baby blue colt on my farm after all those years. He stood for a moment, turning his head wondering what his daddy was doing up there. I let a little time pass, then made the same kissing noise he had heard so many times before when I was driving him with the lead lines. Instantly, he sauntered off like the good cow horse he was. He turned right when I asked, then left, as if he too had been waiting all that time. One of my best days.

It hasn’t been all roses of course. Sometimes when he feels good, he pitches a little. Always makes me laugh when he does that, because I’ve never seen him back his ears when he does it, he’s just having fun. But there was a time I reached a point in our progression, (I no longer call it horse ‘training’) when I knew I was at the end of my knowledge. At least I’ve learned that much. I sought help from old friends who knew more than me, and Lil’ Blue is doing well. He loves to rope, and I can never remember taking a step toward him to put the halter on. He’s always waiting at the stall door, and I think he’s just as happy to have me, as I am to be with him. He stays in the barn with me at night after the other horses have wandered off into the pasture, and we talk while I rope the dummy. We visit about how some day we will give’em hell at a big roping, and about the saddles we will win, an old man and a blue baby. And we talk about both our mommas, and how we miss them so.

So it is with good horses, and so it is with good writing. I’m fairly certain now as to why the Spirit didn’t bless me with natural talent in writing or horsemanship. Had He, I would have taken those gifts for granted, and most likely thrown them aside, like we often do with those things that come easy to us in life. But because I had to seek, and ask, I have learned so many things, and met so many good people.

And found so many good horses, good riders, and good writers.

See all Michael’s books, tapes and CDs at michaeljohnsonbooks.com.

Michael Johnson Books
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