TWO HORSES AND A TREE
by Rick Anderson
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” - Old Saying
A couple of days later, I again voyaged to the mud meadows in search of horses to be returned to the confines of the ranch area. It was a beautiful day. The sun was brightly shining and the birds were singing noisily as I trotted down river in search of what was trying to stay hidden.
The horse I was riding that day was Cherokee. She was a buckskin filly about 3 years old. She was one of the horses that I was told to break when I came to the ranch. Cherokee was not the fastest horse of the three I was using for my night horses, but she had the heart of a lion and would do anything asked by her rider, all day long. She was such a sweetie pie and had such a gentle disposition. She was liked by everyone at the ranch. Even the guests. It took me a while to locate the herd and they wanted to stay lost. They picked the deepest and most inaccessible meadow to graze in that they could find, but I got in behind them and started them running. And off we went.
I had them all running full out when a mother-daughter pair of horses split off from the herd and started to run into the trees. I took off after them hoping that the herd would just keep running to the main valley until I caught up with the two that split and chased them back into the herd.
Into the forest we went at a full run. Cherokee was hot after two strays. Right behind them we were. Now these two were as cantankerous as mules. They were two very mean horses. They would kick and snap at you when you were trying to work with or shoe them. And they would give you a very rude awakening when you used them first thing in the morning. They would hump their backs and buck for a good 5 minutes or so just to make sure you had your cobwebs cleared. For the life of me, I can’t remember the names of those two, so I will just call them Heckle and Jeckle for now.
On we went into the forest following Heckle and Jeckle. When they started to go into a really thick part of the forest where the trees were only a few feet apart, I looked for a better, easier path to follow. Cherokee just wanted to keep behind them and follow them through the trees, but I knew better. After all, I was the human of the crowd and I wanted to save all the parts of my anatomy that I could, like knees and face. Going through the trees spread out only 2 feet apart, when your horse was 3 feet wide, was not my idea of remaining in one piece. But every time I tried to look for the easy path, Cherokee and I started to get farther behind the horses and had to work all that much harder, at least Cherokee did, to catch up and to keep the momentum of the chase going.
One of the first things Doug told us was to stay up with the horses we were chasing. Keep behind them, keep dogging them until they broke out into the open and down into the valley where they could be led back to the herd. By having to keep catching up to them, I was giving those two time to think, and that was one thing I found out I didn’t want to do.
After we went around the forest for a few times, the two split up. I took after one of them and she led me to a small clearing with a tree in the center, standing there, like a lone sentinel. Around and around the tree that horse led me while her partner grazed in the next meadow. Of course I could see her grazing, which didn’t make me any calmer. After chasing one horse around the tree for a bit, I took off after the grazing one.
That horse said to herself, “Well, what one horse can do, so can another.” And off she took Cherokee and I through the trees that I didn’t want to see again, around other stands of trees, and right back to that lone sentinel in the clearing and around and around that tree we went.
The only equipment I brought with me that day was a small quirt. The quirt is about 18 inches long with a rawhide handle, like a bullwhip has. The end is frayed with strips of rawhides and is used to swat flies or to slap the rear end of the horse you are riding to get her/him to follow directions or go faster. The quirt isn’t meant to be used on a horse other than the one you are riding, it just isn’t long enough. However, since the quirt was all I had, I tried to use it to get the horse away from that tree. I would chase the horse through the forest and when I saw her coming up to the tree, I would get Cherokee close to the rear end of the horse and swat it with the quirt. Then the horse would try to take Cherokee’s nose off and almost succeeded several times! Each time I got close enough to use the quirt, the horse would kick out. I would lose steam during the chase and have to get Cherokee closer and then around and around the tree we would go.
After several attempts at both horses, I took a breather in the clearing. Here I was staring at one horse standing in a clearing off to one side of me, grazing. The other horse was on the other side of the tree looking at me like I was a stupid human, which I was.
So I said, “God, I need help. Help me.” And off I went again, after the horse in the clearing.
Same story, around the tree I ended up. Again I called to God. “Hey, why don’t you help me here? You say that when I need you I am supposed to call to you for help. Well, God, here I am. Calling. So help me out here.”
Just then I got kind of a vision that popped into my head. I saw three chairs. One was bigger than the other two and they were on a platform. They were empty. The occupants of the chairs were rolling on the floor in front of the chairs laughing.
I said, “Hey, this isn’t funny.” Then I sat back on my horse and chuckled to myself and said to myself, “Well, yes, it is kind of funny.” Then I did something real dumb. I got angry. I not only got angry, I got hopping mad. I yelled at God, “Hey, this isn’t funny anymore. I want some help here. You say in Your word that you will help those who call on you, so gall darn it (that wasn’t what I said) help me out here and give me a hand.” I still heard laughing, so I yelled out some really bad language and started chasing the horses again.
Around and around we went and still came up to that stupid tree. I tried everything to keep those two away from the three. I threw rocks. I tried the quirt again. Time and again we went around that tree. And with every circuit, my temper grew hotter and hotter.
“Gosh dang it, you are supposed to help me out here, God, so give me some help, gosh dang it (I didn’t say that either).” Then I thought I heard a voice say to me, “What kind of help do you want?”
Well, I didn’t know what help I wanted. I told God, “How the heck should I know what kind of help I want. You are God, you figure it out. I just need help here so gosh darn it, help me out.” So then I envisioned two angels on horse back riding toward me to help me corral those two mongrel horses, but then I figured that those two couldn’t see angels anyway, so that could not help me very much. Then I thought of God giving me a gun, but then I would have just shot the horses, and boy, would Doug have been mad at me then. So I thought of God materializing me a chainsaw because right about then, I was just as mad at the tree, as I was at the horses that were chasing me around it. Or, maybe God would just lengthen my quirt and make it into a bullwhip.
With each succeeding vision I got more and more angry. Each time I started cussing at God for not helping me. And each time and after each stupid thought, I would chase one or the other horse around the forest and end up at that dog-gone tree again. That is when I finally lost my temper, big time.
I started cussing at God. Really cussing at him. Over and over, torrents of profanity rolled off my tongue like lava out of a volcano. I cursed Him. I profaned Him. I slandered Him. I spit at Him and called Him all the vile, detestable, vulgar, and demeaning names that I could. Hatred spewed off my lips like water cascading from a high mountain ledge. I shook my fist and cursed while I shook. I invented names to call Him and used them in every conceivable combination for as long as I could. I spit in and on his name and heritage. I did everything I could think of to show him how little I thought of him for not helping me out of this situation. I was cursing and swearing so bad that if anyone had been in the area with a rifle, they would have shot me down like a rabid dog. I was foaming at the mouth I was so mad. I was even doing a good job of stomping my feet. And when your feet are in in the stirrups, it takes a lot to stomp, but I did.
Then God looked at me, and He was not smiling. And I knew it, and didn’t care. And I started cussing Him again. And then I quit. I gave up. I left the horses in that clearing and headed back to the ranch without the herd. I knew that I was going to be in trouble with Doug, but I figured that since I was in trouble with God, I didn’t care about being in trouble with Doug. Besides, I was still mad at God.
Thinking back, I really don’t know what I expected God to do for me out there. I mean He wasn’t about to send me angels or give me a gun. He knew that I would blow those horses away if He did that. He was just testing me. And I failed. Oh, baby, did I blow it. All the way back to the ranch, I steamed. By the time I got back, Doug was steaming also.
Now this is where it gets interesting. For you see, God had listened to me after all. He was going to show me just how much He loved me. But first, I had to be taken down a few notches.
Like I said, Doug was steaming mad, too. I, again, hadn’t brought in the horses and he was hopping mad. He brought me to the main lodge and gathered all the crew together and started chewing me out. Man, there is no one alive that can chew out someone better than a grizzled old Texas ranch hand. And Doug was doing his darndest not to let his Texas reputation down. I am sure you’ve heard of the phrase “chewed up one side, down the other”? Well, Doug sure did that to me in the lodge that day. Doug threw every name that I had called God, back in my face. And when Doug got tired of chewing me out to my face, he had me take quarter turns so he could work on a different part of me until I had turned all the way around. Then he did it again. All this he did in front of the people I had to work the ranch with, which was similar to being on the blocks in medieval times.
Then Doug said for me to go saddle a horse called Mister. Doug said that he had spent years training those horses to run in with only one hand, and by golly, he wasn’t going to let someone like me ruin all his work. So off I went to saddle Mister.
Mister was a 6-year-old black gelding about 16-17 hands tall. He was very fast and had lots of heart. He would run all day long and he was smart, too. Doug put me on him and off we went. Doug, myself, and two others from the crew. We all headed back down river to the meadows to bring back what I had left behind.
When we found the horses, Doug pulled me aside and told me, “I want you to chase after the two when they split from the group. I want you to tie the reins around the saddle horn and just hold on. Don’t try to direct Mister anywhere. He knows what he’s doing, even if you don’t. Don’t stop for anything. If you lose your hat (remember Aregenum?) leave it there. Don’t try to stop and get your glasses if they fall off. And if you fall off Mister, well, son, you’ll have a long walk home. All you want you to do is hold on and stay in the saddle. Got it? Good.”
Off we went. The horses split again from the group and after them Mister and I went. I put the reins around the horn of the saddle and held on for dear life. At a full run we hit the trees. Through thickets only inches apart. Oh, look out, there is a branch, duck, lift up the knees, look out there is a DITCH, oh whew, another ditch, here we go, wow! I could feel Mister’s muscles bunching with every jump, over logs, over ditches, cutting left, cutting right, through trees, over trees, under branches we went. Right on the heels of those horses we kept. Around thickets and clearings in the forest, over hillocks, and down into marshes, over logs and cuts in the hillside Mister jumped. It was great. Pounding hooves, the smell of moist lather from the sweat of all three horses and me, were filling my nostrils. I was one with the horse and having the ride of my life. I could not get brushed off even when branches the size of my arm came up to knock me off. My legs grabbed Mister and I held onto that saddle horn just like I’d been told.
Then, suddenly, we came out into the open. Down a cut in the trees and into the valley floor we came. And there was Doug and the herd, right there in front of us, like they had timed their arrival to mine. Doug was in the rear of the herd on his Tennessee Walker horse, a golden palomino, and he was shining in the sunlight. Doug was flanked by the other two who came with us, but they were slightly behind him.
The two horses Mister and I had been chasing went into the herd as if to tell everyone, “Hey, this is easy, did you guys miss us?”, and I rode up to Doug with a big smile on my face, flushed with excitement from the best ride of my summer.
Doug looked at me and grinned and said, “Well, you can do something right after all. Good job.”
Then I said, “That was a great ride. Can I do it again?” and Doug chuckled at me and said, “That’s enough for now. Let’s go back home and get something to eat, shall we?”
And so we did.