Weathered Hands of an Old Cowboy

*Quick reference: For those of you non-horse people that may read this, a hackamore is an old Spanish bridle used for starting young colts. The reins are called a mecate (me-ca-tee).

This is for my grandpa…

Many thoughts come to mind when I think of my grandpa C.B.  Poet, philosopher, World War II veteran, husband, father, grandfather, and outfitter. But the one that describes him best? Cowboy. He was a hard man, but romantic and nostalgic. He didn’t often come into your world, but if you made the effort to know him on his ground, he openly shared his wealth of knowledge on many topics. My memories of my grandpa stem from time in the barn, photos of him on his favored black & white paints, many a road trip looking at old nags and possible prospects, livestock sale rings & auctions, gatherings in the tack room teaching us to tie knots, repair tack, how to medicate horses, and breaking many an ornery colt stories.  But my favorite memory of all time? That would be when he passed on to me his training hackamore.

I had just purchased my first young colt with the help and advice of my mom. I brought him home, and my grandpa, aged but still carrying the spark, came to the barn and looked him over. With a smile on his face, he congratulated me on being the proud owner of  a cow-hocked, split-eared, unbroke 2 year old Quarter Horse gelding, and promptly told me I had my work cut out for me. In my arrogant, nineteen-year-old opinion, the old man didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, and this horse would turn out just fine. So, for the next month, day in and day out, I set out to prove him wrong.  I read every horse training book and magazine article that mentioned how to start a young colt, but I struggled understanding methods and putting them into practice. My stubborn pride would not allow me to walk the distance of the barnyard and ask Grandpa as he  watched from a distance, what was I doing wrong. I feared his criticism and feeling stupid. I had trouble getting the horse to bend, flex, and give. The more I pulled, yanked, and beat, the more resistance I met. Still, Grandpa never said a word and gave no advice. Finally, ready to give up on it all, my head hung, I started  to lead the horse away from the arena back to the barn, when my grandpa called out to me from across the fence. He shuffled his way over to me carrying something. In his outstretched hand, he handed me his training hackamore. It had a perfectly knotted fiador, mecate, and the bosal was of medium thickness. I quietly slipped it on over my horse’s nose and ears, and he began to show me how to hold the mecate, how to ask my horse to give to the pressure, and to bend. For the next two hours, my grandpa shared with me his thoughts on colts, training methods, and how to get him started. For the rest of the summer, he met me at the arena every evening after work, and together we worked my colt. Now, I don’t profess him to be the best trained horse, (probably mostly due to my help), but the time spent with my grandfather was priceless.  Little did I know that would be the last summer we would spend together, because later that fall, he passed on.

The next spring, it was time for starting the ranch horses, and at the top of my list was my horse, whom sat most of the winter due to heavy snowfalls.  I strongly felt my grandpa’s absence, and as I headed out to ride, tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t remember his words. I couldn’t hear his voice. Everything was jumbled in my mind, and I felt as if I was back to square one. Sadness filled my heart, and I yearned to see him standing there next to me, encouraging me, patting me on the back, or telling me I was wrong. At that moment, I longed for any of it. I dropped my head, sat on my horse and looked at my hands holding the reins, wondering how I could have forgotten. Now, the rest may sound a bit cliche, but just when I was about to dismount, I started to feel strange. Do you ever have those moments when you know you are not alone, or you feel someone with you? I felt that. Strongly. As I looked down at my horse’s neck and my hands, I could see my grandpa’s weathered hands over the top of mine helping me grip the mecate just so. I swear I heard his gentle voice, and felt the warmth of his smile.

I still feel him every time I mount a fresh horse, climb a mountain pass, or ride a winding trail. He is with me, and I miss him like hell everyday…

My Grandpa, Clarence Rich on the last horse he owned and trained, Teton

The Things a Cowboy’s Got

Why do you do it ? somebody asked.
The money doesn’t pay.
The work is hard the hours are long.
How can you live this way?

What makes you chose the  cowboy life,
A life of dust and heat.
A life of sittin’ on a horse
In cold and wind and sleet?

I pondered on it for a spell,
Then answered that I thought.
I did it cause the things I like
Are the things a cowboy’s got.

I like the way a saddle smells.
The way the leather feels
I like the ringin’ jingle of
The spurs behind my heels.

I’m kinda fond of wide-brimmed hats.
I like a pair of chaps.
I like to patch up worn-out gear
With saved up leather scraps.

I like a brand new pair of boots.
I like old sheepskin coats.
I like the sound my horse makes when
He’s munchin’ on his oats.

I really like tight leather gloves.
And ridin’ in the spring.
I’d rather hear a bugelin’ bull
Than hear a choir sing.

What cowboys are is what I am.
It’s all I care to be.
And all the things a cowboy has
Are good enough for me.
~unknown~

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10 thoughts on “Weathered Hands of an Old Cowboy

  1. beautiful Heather I worked raising steers with my dad the last 3 years of his life and remember the many things he taught me at the age of 48 I think of him often and charish thats last moments .thank you for sharing

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  2. This brought memories of my daddy back to me. He passed away 12 years ago and I miss him now more than ever. He too knew everything about training horses. He also knew how to vet them, trim their feet and even geld stallions. I wish I knew half of what he did. When he died, the only thing that comforted me was getting on my horse and riding. I would cry in her mane many a day. Thank you for your beautiful story and poem.

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  3. you have more than one gift from Grandpa…I know he smiles down at your horsemanship , writing and so much more..we are so proud of you

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