Grumpy Old Men

The next morning, after cooking snags for breakfast on my little butane cooker on the back of my ute, Little Dog and I apprehensively made our way to the yards. I don’t think I slept much that night, wondering what a bloody mess I had got myself into.

“Chief” eyed me suspiciously from the yards where he was munching on some thistle flowers, acting like he was starving to death even though he was the size of a house. I got in the pen with him and slowly worked so I could at least get a hand on him. He stood rock-still, ears standing straight up, suspicious as ever, skin as taught as a drum (from fat and fear), and trembled as I ran my hands over his body. I had the rest of the day to get a halter on him and hopefully get him handled enough for the clinic the next day. We quit that afternoon as the butterflies rose in my chest whilst everybody started rolling in to set up camp ready for the big day tomorrow.

The next day came and I managed to somehow get a halter on Chief and lead him into the rodeo arena – that’s when I realised that he was not only super unhandled, but he was SUPER studdy. He pricked those ears at the first glimpse of a pretty filly, and it was game over for me. I was basically a feather on the end of that lead, whilst he called out “Hey sexeh ladeh ovah heeeerrrreeee”, arched his neck and sidled over to every filly in the pen, eliciting much squealing and squirting from them all. I had been in there five minutes and was already causing problems. Ray was watching from a little golf buggy he was sitting in right in the middle of the arena, and I could almost see his eye rolls from where I was working frantically to stop this big lump from mounting every mare in sight.

Ray was pretty old and unwell by this time, but although his body was failing him, his mind (and tongue) were still as sharp as a tack. He barked orders to everyone left and right, never wasting a breath or word that wasn’t necessary. He didn’t have the time or energy to mince words.

He watched us with his eagle eyes all fumble around with our colts, some of us doing something and others doing pretty much nothing (me) and didn’t say anything for a fair while. Just when I thought he might have popped off his perch right there because nothing was happening, I hear “Right, get ‘em saddled” in his gravelly voice.

I had somehow gotten enough of Chief’s mind (the bit that wasn’t focused on chasing ass) to get a saddle on him without too much hassle. He wandered around a bit but nothing too extreme. I cinched him up and I hear “Right, turn em loose”. I hastily slip that halter off just as all the other colts come barrelling toward me. Chief joins in the fun, and doesn’t even buck! Just merrily lopes around with the other colts, stirrups flapping, no drama. Phew. I breathe a big sigh of relief. Maybe I won’t die today. I then hear Ray say “Get ole sorrely outta that” and I realised Chief had got a whiff of sexy and he was busy trying to GET BUSY with all the ladies, loping around the arena thinking he was king shite. I hear someone say “God who would bring a stallion?!” and I just wanted to die. Chief then wormed himself unto the middle of the loping herd no doubt to lick some other filly, when it occurred to him that there was a dead cow strapped to his back and he didn’t like it much, and not only that but it was beginning to MOVE and rollllll to the side. He started running, like really scared running. He pushed through and set the whole group off – colts started going to town all over the place, broncing like their life depended on it. My social delinquent had upset the apple cart and was now galloping at breakneck speed down the long side of the arena trying to outrun the saddle. I’m watching, face red, mouth open as this train wreck unfolds. He zooms down past the grandstand, as the saddle slips entirely under his belly. How could this get any worse I think. Well, it does. The end of the arena is getting closer, Chief shows no signs of slowing, just as I think he is going to crash into the bucking chute and break his godforsaken neck, he leaps. Yes, this horse that is a million kilos overweight, with long, unkept hooves AND with a saddle under his belly, JUMPS up and outta that arena like a fat kid on a trampoline. There was silence. I wanted a giant hole to open up in that arena and just swallow me whole. I pick up my halter and quickly slither out of the arena, wondering if it is possible to die of embarrassment.

I started thinking all these mean things about Ray, like why didn’t he help me? He’s not giving me much guidance, I came here to learn how to be less of an idiot and somehow I am becoming more of an idiot, what did I come all this way for? This is such a waste of time…..

Luckily, Chief had jumped into a pen behind the chutes, so I find him, sweaty and trembling, heaving and scared. I get in the pen and slowly work with him so he hooks on to me and steps over, trusting me to help get this scary thing off that is hanging under his belly. He tentatively steps over and I reach out to help quiet his mind. Just as I do, some fella jumps into the pen ready to rescue me and Chief. Chief gets a fright and our thread of connection in broken. This fella corners Chief and boxes him up so he is forced to be caught. I hear an old man’s voice say “She was doing fine before you came along”. I look up to see a tall, old man with a weathered face and a black hat, who had been patiently watching from outside the pen. I felt like I recognised him, but couldn’t put my finger on it. His hard set jaw and scowl made the young fella take a step back, but then throw the halter lead at me and stride out, chest puffed, like he had just saved the day.

I look back for the tall old man but he had gone. I busied myself with getting Chief re-saddled and tried to take as long as possible to get back in the arena, avoiding the stares of all the people and Ray’s lecture, which I knew would be pretty bad! I slink back in there, Chief in tow, albeit with a little less spring in his step now. I steeled myself to be publicly humiliated, and Ray looked right at me and said “Now why didn’t one of you boys check that cinch for that little girl before Ol sorrely got turned loose? Go and help her out”.

I almost fell over. My hero had a prime opportunity to chew me up in front of all these people for being genuinely incompetent, and he didn’t. Maybe he could see I was doing enough of that myself.

The next day passed without Chief causing too many problems, and me thinking I might be alright. Just when I was starting to get confident, Ray goes “Ok, let’s open the gate. Make sure you have got a bend in these horses”. And with that, the gate to the WHOLE SHOWGROUND was opened, and this group of colts on their second ride started on out. I was actually pooping my pants, because all of a sudden BEND meant LIFE or DEATH. Oh geez. For about five seconds, life was ok, then a colt up the back grabbed his tail and started to trot. Things went south from there. We were all maggots atop these horses, trying our best to not die. Old sorrely started to canter, and I thought, well, let’s see how this bend goes. I jerk on one rein, and the rein comes, but the head does not. Chief has just opened his mouth and the whole snaffle slid straight out the other side of his mouth (NO I DID NOT EVEN KNOW WHAT A CHINSTRAP WAS OKAAAAYYY) and all of a sudden BEND meant something. Chief was at a dead run, now with the leather part of the bridle through his mouth, and the pissy little showground fence was getting closer and closer. I’m pulling on one rein like my life depended on it (it did) and simultaneously preparing to jump the showground fence. Thankfully Chief makes a wide running circle to the right and I eventually get him bent up. I manoeuvre him in some kind of fashion back to the grandstand and I hear Ray say “Now you know if you have a bend in these horses or not. I have been telling you for days to bend these horses but you just don’t listen. Now I thought that might make you listen”. It sure did.

I slither off barely-broke Chief and start my way back to the yards. Berating myself for everything. Thinking I could do this when I clearly couldn’t. Considering a career change. Thinking just when I thought I knew something it was clear I knew nothing. I hear someone behind me say “If you need a hand with that horse, you can give me a call” – I look behind me to see the tall old fella in the black hat and the crinkled eyes from the day before. He just kept walking, didn’t introduce himself or anything.

Then I remembered where I knew him from. A few years prior I had thought I was pretty dang good hot stuff with horses and I called up this guy for a lesson. His reply was “I don’t teach kids”. I was pretty pissed off, I mean who did this old guy think he was?! Did he not know who I was?! (Kids are so dumb).

I bit my tongue there and then even though I wanted to tell him he was just a grumpy old man. I reckoned I would probably be needing all the help I could get – I realised I was only at the beginning of a verrrrryyyyy long road, with more bumps, pot holes and washouts to come.

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