Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

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 then.”
     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 Shine…
     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 learnedWhat 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 him?”
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, son.”
     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

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine

The Rowdy Cow Dog

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