Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     Watched a television show the other day that made me so sad.  It wasn’t an old tear-jerking movie, but rather a documentary about “real” cowboys on a ranch somewhere in Wyoming.  The voice over intro-line was “How real cowboys break horses!”  The first scene showed a young horse tied to a post.  One of the fellows then mounted the colt as another untied him.  Then the rider – with a rather vicious kick - slammed his spurs into the horse’s sides…and the rodeo was on.  Horse squeals, bucks and pitches all over the place.  Spectators who were present yelled and clapped, as the mighty cowboy rode the colt to a standstill.  Then the “expert wranglers” as they were called, repeated that same procedure with another horse, then another, and so on.  Bucking, squealing, pitching, frightened horses being “broke” by real cowboys, or as the announcer called them, “tough men…real men.”  Mmmm.  Good grief.
     I know what you are thinking.  “Miguel has gone PETA on us.”  Nope, that’s not it.  I know horses can and will buck.  The reason I know that is because I have been bucked off more than you have – because as one of my horses once said about me, “He’s not much of a cowboy.”  I also now know that in most every case…I was the cause.
     After watching this show – actually I turned it off because I was so turned off – I was thinking, “How is it possible that these people in these modern times have never seen or heard of Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Monty Roberts, Buck Brannaman, Mark Rashid, and a hundred others who shall we say, don’t quite agree with the old “whoop’em with your hat and spur’em style?” 
     I suppose these roughriders might say they still “train” the way they do because they “don’t have time for all that soft stuff.”  And I’m sure they are still believers in the old and time-honored “best training tool.”  That tool being the rope - because as every male and female child south of the Mason-Dixon Line learns by age three, when your horse will not do what you want… “hit’em across the butt with your rope!”  Let’s think about that a minute…
     What if you were on JEAPORDY, and Alex Trebek asks you a question.  You’re sitting there thinking – the music is playing, everybody is waiting – and all of a sudden, this guy jumps out from backstage and hits you across your butt with a rope!  Then he yells, “Answer the question, you idiot!”
     Would that action help you guess the correct answer?
Sounds like I have it all figured out?  At one time, I thought I did.  I don’t.  I am however, different than I once was.  And this different me still causes problems with some of my old-time caveman cowboy buddies…
     We are working with our young colt, Joe Ben Black, these days.  My wife and I are doing all we can to help him become a rope horse.  During this developmental process, I have never made him run after a steer.  I just let him out and gently point him in the direction of the chase animal…and that’s about all I do.  I don’t spur him and I certainly don’t hit him because Ray Hunt said, “Never, never, never hit the horse.  He doesn’t understand what you are doing.”  And because the great dog man, Bob Hooker, once said, “We must get to the top of the pecking order with the horse and the dog, but there are two things you must not do.  You can’t yell and you can’t hit!” 
     Good and valuable lessons from men who know more than most.  But brother, those beliefs cause some serious disagreements with a few of my compadres.
     “You need to pop him on the butt with that rope there, Miguel!” says “Mad Dog,” as he watched us practice.  “Then he’ll get you up there by that steer.”
     “I want to let him figure it out on his own,” I said.
     “Naw, all your doin’ is ruining him,” says Dog, as he takes another swig of beer, goes “BUUUURP,” and then says,  “You know, Miguel, you ought to move to San Francisco.  You’d fit in real good out there.  You’re teaching your horse he don’t have to run.”
     “I don’t have to teach him to run,” I said.  “I never had to teach my kids to talk back.  They could always just do that.  The horse comes here knowing how to run.”
     “Well,” says Dog, who still believes nothing takes the place of a good beatin’ for sassy wives, smart-alecky kids, stubborn horses, and dumb stock dogs, “You’re just ruinin’ him ‘cause he ain’t never gonna’ go to cattle if he don’t have to.” Then he quotes from the “CaveMan Cowboy Bible” – a book I’m sure must really exist somewhere…
“You gotta’ show him you’re the boss.”
“You can’t let him get by with nothin’.”
“You gotta’ make him do it.”
“You can’t let the horse win.”
(I’m so glad Dog ain’t Jesus, ‘cause if he was none of us would have a chance.)
     So Dog leaves (praise the Lord) and we just keep loping after slow steers.  For sixty days, seventy days, eighty days, and nothing.  Joe just doesn’t quite seem to get it.  Then came yesterday…
     After 70 days of triple-digit heat in Texas, a blessed little cool spell finally came our way.  I ran the first steer on Joe Ben and something wonderful happened.  He waited on my cue to go, and once he felt the green light…Joe Ben ignited!
“What on earth was that?” asked Sherry as I rode back to her.
     “Uh…I don’t know,” I said.
     “He’s waking up,” she said with softness and awe in her voice.  “Joe Ben is waking up!”
     And we ran two more.  Joe shot to them like a fighter jet.  Took my breath away.  Joy.  Victory.  The colt put different events together in his own mind and became something more than we could have ever trained him to be.  The desire to help man dripped off his DNA.  A glorious day.
     “I know what happened,” I said to Sherry that night on the porch.
     “What?” she asked.  “Tell me.”
     “Joe Ben Black had an ‘Aha’ experience,” I said.
     “If only we all could,” she said.  “If only we all could.”

          Michael Johnson

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