Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
I’m about to start one again.
A horse, I mean. I’m sixty-two and he’s three - that means
I. Q. wise, we are about the same. Joe Ben Black is the
blacker than steel baby I always wanted, and now he and I
are about to begin. It’s been some time since I started a
roping horse, and I’m struck by how different I am now.
Sitting here in my barn I think about them all and about how
I was…so different back then. I knew all about it in my
early days. A man with all the answers and no questions.
Like Dylan said in a song once, “I was so much older
My dad and uncles trained all the others I rode
when I was a child and into my teen years. Baby, Little
Joe, and then the mustang called Buddy. My dad refused to
discuss buying small horses for his son. Many would
question his safety practices these days, but he always
said, “Learn to ride the good ones now.” I was six years
old at the time.
The horses he put me on were so skilled that I paid not
the slightest attention to them or what they might need.
They just carried “Cork’s boy” to the calf or steer with
such silver grace all I had to do was rope. Now that they
have been gone so long, the only thing I can think about is
how sorry I am that I never thanked them for all the skill
they displayed and their hard work - and how well they
roped. And then there was Susie…
A pretty little King Ranch filly my daddy didn’t want
me to buy. But seventeen year olds don’t listen well, and
after mowing yards, umpiring countless little league games,
and lifeguarding at the local pool, she was mine. She
couldn’t have been twenty months old the first day we roped,
and she loved it from day one.
While I was never mean to her, I did commit the sin of
impatience countless times, and when she failed to perform
some desired maneuver, like most of us tend to be - I was
too rough. As a friend once said, “I can’t believe I’m
going to say this, but when my horse didn’t know how to do
something, I hit him across the butt with the rope. Funny,
if my daughter didn’t know how to do her homework, I would
never consider hitting her for it.” And I did that. We all
have. So what have I learned?
Later Blue came. The Otoe colt was ready when his
momma laid him on the ground. Third steer I ever ran on
Blue, he ran over and bit the cow on the butt. From that
day forward, he tried harder and did better than the day
before. And without realizing it, I unconsciously began to
believe I was quite the horseman and really knew how to
train horses. After all, I never had a failure. Besides,
if I did have a failure, I knew it couldn’t be my fault.
Look at all the good horses I had trained. Using that
mental approach, I could completely ignore the fact that my
dad and uncles actually started those early horses in my
life, and then I was blessed to have two – Susie and Blue –
who wanted to rope more than anything. And then there was
Beautiful, gorgeous, could run like the wind…and a
complete lunatic. After the longest time of trying to get
through to this idiot, I finally realized the angels in
heaven’s horse making department put everything in this
horse a man could want - except one thing… a brain.
He drove me crazy. Afraid of everything – squirrels,
blowing sacks, tin cans, and even chicken feathers, he
burned my last nerve to a frazzle. No progress for over two
years. Lost friends over him, all of whom wanted me to
“gettaridda that idiot.” And for the strangest of reasons,
I didn’t. I kept on because in some strange way Shine made
me think of all those other horses in my past – the ones who
despite my clumsy mistakes still roped their hearts out for
us. On some days it seemed that Buddy and Susie and all the
rest somehow lived inside Shine. I could feel them and
remember how and when I had done them wrong. We swapped
roles Shine and me, and Shine became the teacher.
With help from men and women so much farther down the
path than me, the Shine Man healed from the abuse he
suffered before he came into my life, and finally became the
horse I always knew he could be. Now I sit in the barn
looking out at Joe Ben and he’s looking at me. And I think…
“What have I learned? What on earth do I do now?”
Some things at least…
There is no system. Every day and every breath he
takes will be different.
Be careful not to frighten him. When he’s
afraid, take him back to a place where he is not.
No place for force. No place for rushing.
He will never be finished any more than I am. The work
is never done.
In the past, I wondered about each and every
horse I ever started… “Will he be good enough for me?”
And now I wonder, “Will I be good enough for
After all this time, now I’m a man with so many
questions…and so few answers.
Joe Ben is still standing in the pasture staring at me
with his ears pointed.
“I’m ready, Pop,” he says.
All I can think of to say is, “I hope I am,
And Shine said to the other horses, “He’ll just screw
him up like he did us. Him with his lists of things we
should do, his wristwatch, and his calendars.”
“No, no, he won’t,” said Blue. “He’s doin’ better. He
cares about us. He’s twyin’.”
“What’s he gonna’ do with me?” asked Joe Ben. “What’s
dis’ ropin’ all about?”
Blue looked at Shine and Shine looked away. Neither of
them spoke for the longest time, and finally Blue said,
“Well, I’ll tell you, Joe Ben. What’s dis wopin’ all
about? Dat, my fwiend, is a wong, wong story.”
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
“If we are around horses
long enough, eventually we’ll treat them right.”
-- Michael Johnson
Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould
The Rowdy Cow Dog