Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     “Sabe usted la palabra mas importante por su caballo, Miguel?” asked the old Mexican man. 
      I grew so close to him for a time in my life - his name was Lupe Rodriguez.  Lupe lived in a hovel along a pretty little oil-top lane in Oklahoma.  He came to this country to find work and after being here for a time came to believe he had found not only work…but heaven as well.  Lupe was a happy man.  He had his wife and children and a young red-roan colt that would do anything he asked. We were riding in the mountains that day, Lupe and that roan colt dancing like a cat on those huge boulders under his feet, and Shine and I trembling behind, both scared to death going up 60-degree slopes one minute and down another even steeper the next.  Both of us could hardly breathe.  But Lupe and the roan were calm as could be ambling along looking for all the world like they were in the produce section at the supermarket…
     “Tu sabes la palabra mas importante por su caballo, Miguel?” he repeated.
     “No, Lupe,” I said.  “What is the most important word for my horse?”
     “I’ll tell you, Miguel,” he said.  “I’ll tell you…”
     I was thinking about him the other day.  I learned a lot from that old fellow and like we all tend to do, I forgot the most important thing he ever said.  My friend, Baru Spiller reminded me the other day.  Someone told her the same word once.  Like my wife says, we all need reminders.
     I had been realizing a dream lately.  After a move back to Texas and performing what seemed endless tasks of building fences, barns, and a rodeo arena, we were finally ready to start our young colt, Joe Ben Black.  Since the day he was born, I repeated the words hundreds of times… “I’ll do right by himI want to develop one horse correctly in my life.  Just one time, I want to do it right.”  I’m sixty now and after all these years and all the horses in my life, surely this would be the best of experiences.  I promised myself – and Joe Ben – I wouldn’t pull on him, that I would never lose patience, and that he would have the most fair treatment any horse ever received from a rider.  After numerous conversations with old horsemen, countless articles, and videos, and more ground-work than I’ve ever done, my plan was ready.  All that previous experience would pay off now, buddy.  Dawn came on that first day – the day I knew would be on his plaque when they inducted him in the Rope Horse Hall of Fame – and I swung up on him to begin the best effort I had ever given a horse. 
     It was a disaster.
     Shine and Blue immediately started running and squealing saying, “Daddy’s got Joe Ben!  Daddy has kidnapped Joe Ben!  Call 911!  Call DHS!”  Joe Ben is petrified with fear he will never again be in the same pasture with his two friends, then he sees the steers.  Starts jumping around bucking.
     “You’re bucking?” I asked him, not believing it.
     “Buck him off, Joe,” yelled Shine from the pasture.  “Buck his John Wayne looking butt off!”
     It went downhill from there.
     “He wasn’t bucking.  Joe Ben crow-hopped a time or two and that was it.  Miguel always exaggerates!  As usual, he’s making himself look like the cowboy, bronc-rider hero.”
                                                                                       - Shine
     And farther down the hill the next day and the next.  No matter how patient I was, no matter how softly I sat down in the saddle with a soft “Whooaaa,” to teach him this beautiful stop I had planned, his response was, “Oh boy, Daddy’s relaxed now…I got him!”  Then he would bolt…and of course, then I had to pull on him, go in a circle and go in a circle some more.  Stupid-idiot horse.  Ruined all my plans.  Ruined them the next day and the next…and the next.  Stupid-idiot horse.  At this point, I began to have fantasies about choking him to death…very slowly.  And we fought like parents and children do when one is trying to make the other behave.  Then something happened…
     Sherry insists I go to the doctor.  I have tried to explain to her I am not a responsible person, don’t take care of myself, never have, never will.  Her response is always the same. “Your appointment is at 1:30.  Be there.” 
     So I’m there and naturally the doctor is late.  I’m fuming.  “I have things to do.  Where is this guy?”  Then this thought comes from…somewhere.  Not from me.  Inside me, but from somewhere else.
     “See how you are?  Mad ‘cause the doctor is late.  Impatient because the horse is not ready in fourteen days, for goodness’ sake.  You dreamed of the time when you could begin with him.  Now it’s here and you’re steaming ‘cause things are not going according to your timetable. That’s what’s the matter with the horse!  It’s not him.  It’s you!”
     And I began to remember.  With every horse in my life, the same pattern is repeated.  I always make wonderful plans.  Then, I find and learn the hard way the horse has no idea about my plans.  How could he?  No one told him.  So I started over with Joe Ben.

     Beginning again, I left all my expectations in the house when I went to the barn.  I mounted him with patience and a sense of humor.  He responded in kind.  As the day wore on, I sensed something about him I had missed.  He had feet like his momma.
     Joe Ben’s mother is a chestnut sorrel who looks like Jennifer O’Neill.  She walks like a woman wearing high heels two sizes too small.  Joe Ben moves his feet just like his momma.  Shine can run like the wind and with that statement, we have exhausted his gifts.  Blue has the best attitude in the galaxy, and that’s about all he has.  Yet those two horses are among the most precious gifts the Lord has given me, and now He has given us another.  Shine and Blue can’t move like this black colt.  As I began to become more aware of Joe’s talent, he responded even more.  My patience grew – which proves there are still modern day miracles, and while every day has not been euphoric…some have.  All that caused me to remember Lupe.

     “The most important word for your horse, Miguel is not ‘today,’ ” he said.  “Don’t get mad at him today.  Don’t expect much from him today.  But if you will just remember this word, he will be the best he can be.  The most important word for your horse – and for you, Miguel – is the word…

n  Michael Johnson

 How’s it going? asked Shine, as Joe Ben walked into the pasture after practice.
I don’t know what he wants,” answered a frustrated Joe Ben.  “I thought he wanted me to run, but I guess he doesn’t.  I can’t anywayHe pulls on me all the time. Hackamore hurts my nose Makes me mad.  That’s why I bucked.
Shoulda’ bucked him off,” snorted Shine.  It was the only chance we had.”

 Ed. Note – Coming soon – Michael’s latest release, The Trials of Joe Ben Black – Confessions of a Rope Horse available at michaeljohnsonbooks.com.  


Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine

The Rowdy Cow Dog

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