by Laura Crum
Led and Lad. That’s who I’ve been thinking about lately. Led was the cowboy who taught my uncle to rope. And Lad was the horse who taught me to ride. The two of them are connected in more than one way.
Led was the last working cowboy on a famous old ranch in these parts. In the end this ranch became a state park, and Led ended up living on my uncle’s small horse ranch. Led was not only a working cowboy, but also a competitive rodeo team roper—in the 1940’s. As an old man, he taught my uncle, just beginning his team roping career, the value of a good rope horse. And thus we come to Lad.
Previous to Led’s instruction, my uncle, raised on a dairy ranch, bought cheap trading horses and tried to rope on them. The horses had no experience and neither did my (then young) uncle. The results were not spectacular. It was Led who began to teach my uncle the basics of team roping and helped him to find and buy Lad, a registered Quarter Horse who had been trained to be a competitive team roping horse.
Lad may have been the first registered horse my uncle bought. For sure he was the most expensive horse my uncle had ever purchased to that date. Lad cost six hundred dollars, the equivalent of six thousand these days, a fair price for a middle of the road rope horse.
Lad was not a fancy horse. Foundation bred and fairly coarse and common looking, Lad was dark brown and had a plain head and a big blaze. He had been raised on a ranch and was nobody’s pet. But he knew his job and was well broke enough that a kid could ride him (and I did—though he spooked occasionally and dumped me once in awhile). Lad and another old rope horse named Tovy effectively taught me to ride.
Both Led and Lad were a constant part of my life for many years when I was young. The old man and the horse gave me the background that is still my basic footing in the horse biz. They knew, none better, the true cowboy way. They were tough, effective, fair, unsentimental critters, and from them I gained a sensibility I still have, though I’ve modified it a bit over time.
My uncle, the most unsentimental of the lot, did give Lad a good long retirement and kept him until he died. As for Led, his story is sadder. In his old age he fell in love with a young woman and left my uncle’s place to live with her. She eventually found a younger man and essentially threw the old cowboy out, leaving him to end his days with a nephew who lived in a big city. Led wrote me a letter before he died, saying that he little thought he’d meet his end so far from horses and all that he’d loved. I wrote him back, but I knew that no words of mine could change the pain of that situation.
I often think of Led and Lad and am grateful for the tradition and way of life that they brought to me. Though Led was an old man when I knew him, we often talked horses together, and I learned a great deal from him. And the knowledge he passed to my uncle, my uncle passed to me. From the time I was very young, I knew how to tie a proper horseman’s knot and how to get along with a snorty old rope horse (this would be Lad). I rode my uncle’s many trading horses, I brought in the cattle, I helped my uncle start young horses. By the time I was eighteen, I was starting colts on my own. I spent two years working on a commercial cattle ranch and several summers working for a mountain pack station. When I went to work for professional horse trainers in my late twenties, I had a background that helped me to evaluate what I saw and take the parts that worked for me and discard the rest. Eventually I progressed to training my own cutting horse and competing on him (reasonably successfully-—see my previous posts titled “Winning” and “Once Upon A Time” for that story), and finally to breaking and training team roping horses for myself and my friends. I made some pretty nice rope horses, if I say so myself. And it was essentially because of Led and Lad that I had this knowledge.
Today, it is this foundation that helps free me to make my own choices. Because I know how the cowboy thing is really done, I’m not buffaloed by others’ opinions. I feel comfortable following my own path. If I enjoy trail riding on my steady bombproof horse (wearing my cozy Ugg boots) and don’t need to compete and train any more, I’m OK with myself about that. And I owe this confidence very largely to the old cowboy and the blaze-faced horse. I still take my son to the roping arena to ride with my uncle and the other ropers, even though I no longer care to rope. But I want my son to absorb the same tradition I absorbed, to learn how the thing is done from people who can really get the job done. I’m hoping this will free him and give him confidence, just as it has for me. (And no, I’m not saying that team ropers are more skilled than people of other horse disciplines. By and large—this is a generalization—they are practical, competent horsemen—if you really can’t ride and deal with a horse it is pretty much impossible to go full blast down the arena and rope and turn a steer. Thus the event itself weeds out those who have no horsemanship skills at all. On the other hand, many ropers know little about the fine points of working with a horse and their horsemanship can be a pretty crude thing. However, people who rope have to do more than just talk the talk.)
I’m guessing that lots of you in other horseback disciplines have had a mentor or a special horse that really gave you a grounding in the horse biz. Certainly many people who write in here have given very helpful, insightful opinions in the past, when it comes to training and relating to horses, and just life in general. Anybody have any stories to share on this subject? I’d love to hear your take on it.
PS--It’s a good thing I’ve got an indoor activity right now, as it has rained non-stop for almost ten days and no riding is happening here at all. My riding ring looks like a holding pond. My hairy, muddy horses are squelching through the slop. So far all are sound, healthy, eating well, keeping their weight on… knock on wood. The saddle horses don’t seem to mind the break from work. My thirty year old pasture pets are warm and dry under their blankets. During a brief lull yesterday I pulled on my rubber boots and walked around all corrals and pastures, ascertaining that every horse does have plenty of dry ground where he can get out of the mud (and I could see by the signs that they were spending time there). So things are going reasonably well, considering. But it is not fun horsekeeping weather.
It is, however, ideal weather for writing, and I have been getting quite a bit of writing done on book #12. And, as you can see by the sidebar, I’m also getting ready to announce the arrival of book #11. Yep, “Going, Gone” comes out this spring; I’ve put a short synopsis on my website, for those who are interested. This book centers around the murder of a livestock auctioneer, and involves a rescue horse, nefarious kill buyers, and a heroic horse blogger, as well as a thrilling (if I say so myself) horseback chase scene, so there should be something there for everybody. Not to mention “Going, Gone” features illustrations by Janet Huntington of Mugwump Chronicles, so all you fans of mugwump won’t want to miss her very nice drawings.
The book will be available in April, and I believe that you can already preorder it from Amazon and/or the publisher. However, I am planning to announce a special offer for horse bloggers only, so stay tuned for that. Until then, stay dry. Cheers--Laura