Different Time---Same Road?
I have repeatedly said and I will say it again---"I thank my parents now for bringing me into the world of poverty and hard times." Seventy-seven years ago I did not know that we were dirt poor. The adobe shack that I was born in had no floor---it was just dirt. Yet, I learned to crawl, walk and talk while I watched my mother sweep the dirt each day and sprinkle it with water to keep the dust down. Yet, I had love---that could not be swept away. From this humble beginning I bring forth memories that taught me so much in life.
I write this piece to attempt to point out how time changes the way we live now and take for granted of what so easily is laid at our finger tips. Yes, we all whine and complain about what we haven't got given to us in some manner. On that road that I traveled as a child there were no hand-outs, if you didn't have it---you did without. Some of our options to survive were the following:
• My Cajun father was a big man with a special gift, he came to Arizona to work on a ranch and because all he knew and loved were horses. There seemed to be magical bond with this man and the animals. Today they would give it some fancy name as maybe a (horse whisper). It was not long before people were bringing him horses that were wild or they wanted the horse to be gentled for riding or harnessed. It was also a time when there was free--range land so most of the horses were wild.
Horses are large and extremely powerful animals. They have no automatic defense to this thing called man. A wild horse will naturally reject any attempt to be tamed he will kick and they will bite. Horses in the wild, just like all animals work out there own dominance order among themselves on the open range. Herd behavior of all animals have a pecking order. Nature tells horses to test their leader to ensure that only the smartest and strongest is in charge. The highest rank horse always eats first, drinks first and the lower horse moves out of his way and listens and learns in this way. This keeps the herd safe and always ensures the strongest and the smartest to endure for the future.
Many of the horses that were brought to my father were mistreated by their owners who believed that violence must be used to break the will of the horse. Even though my father was a big and powerful man with his hands he believed that the trust and cooperation of the horse could be gained only through gentler means. In fact it was a fault to a certain degree with him, for if he seen a man being cruel to an animal he would return the same treatment to the man and that reputation soon followed him. (I never seen him lose a fight.) It was also a time when people took justice into their own hands---right or wrong.
One day a horse was brought to him that no one could tame. It was said that the horse had killed the owner. He immediately recognized one of the problems. The animal had been eating Locoweed. Locoweed takes its name from the Spanish loco, "crazy," referring to the behavior of animals which consume the herb. It is a plant from two different genera of legumes most commonly found in the western states. These contain neurotoxins harmful to herbivores, especially cattle and horses---causing dangerous nerve damage and killing many livestock every year. Horses can become addicted to locoweed after tasting it a few times.
Someone had also used a whip on this horse for there were heavy scars. Everyday he worked with this big beautiful creature and finally he was weaned from the addiction of the toxic plant. Still my father was the only one that could near the horse. He was kept in a corral near our shack. At four years of age I was still riding in front of my Dad in the saddle as he checked other live stock on this ranch. My mother had warned me to stay away from Dads big horse in the corral. I had watched my Dad talk and gentle this horse now with a hackamore, yet he still did not tolerate anyone else near him.
Then like most kids---and no fear. I decided that I could help my Dad and bring him the horse which was not tethered at the far end of the corral. To me I could see that all you had to do was just climb up the corral fence and slide over on the horses back. For some reason this big animal allowed a me to wiggle on to its back and walk back to where my Dad stood in awe of what he had just witnessed.
That horse became my Dads best Rodeo horse: Rodeo comes from the Spanish word "rodear," which means to encircle or to surround. There had always been competitions from ranches through out the area for roping, bronc riding, bull riding, horse breaking, herding and much more. These events brought some extra money into some of the household for the family because of the wagering that evolved with the participants and spectators.
• Before Professional Rodeo:
Every Sunday afternoon we would all gather at some mid-point and everyone would bring their own food and drinks. The cars would or any vehicle that brought you or your live-stock would be used to form a oblong circle---this being our arena.
• Calf Roping:
Ranch hands took pride in the speed with which they could rope and tie calves and this work turned into an informal contests at these events. The goal of this timed event is for the rider to catch the calf by throwing a rope around its neck, dismount from the horse, run to the calf and restrain it by tying three legs together, in as short a time as possible. This is where the horse has to be trained to assist the roper by slowly backing away from the calf to maintain a steady tension on the rope.
• Bronc Riding:
This was my fathers favorite event, for after all that was just a every day chore to most of the ranch hands. There are two kinds---saddle bronc riding and bare back riding. He and most others at that time preferred bare-back riding. The rider uses one hand to grip a simple handle on a surcingle style rigging placed on the horse just at the horse's withers. The rider leans back against the bucking horse and spurs up and down motions with his legs, in rhythm with the motion of the horse.
• Steer Wrestling:
The objective of steer wrestling or "Bulldogging" is to use strength and leverage to wrestle a steer or bull to the ground as quickly as possible.
Now not to be left out, kids were allowed to ride a small calf and the one that stayed on the longest received a "Baby-Ruth" candy bar. There was no favoritism between boys or girls everyone was treated the same. I worked very hard to earn the Baby-Ruth candy bar and held on real tight.
• Today: The Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Association, PRCA can trace its roots back to 1936 when it held a rodeo at the Boston Garden. Then the cowboys protest over the entry fees and prize money with the promoters. The PRCA has now more that 170,000 fans attending the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and more that 1.3 million viewers tune into finals on ESPN, rodeo is more popular and competitive than ever.
Yes, the times and the rules have changed but we still travel down the same road.