by Bob Cloud
I've known two track stars in my day. One was a high school distance runner who set and held, for many years, the Texas state high school record for the mile. The other athlete was a five-year-old, twelve hundred pound bay gelding named Joe who positively loved to run.
I met Joe the summer of my thirteenth year while I was pretending to learn how to work cattle on my uncle's place near Matador in the Texas panhandle. Joe was a ranch hand himself who had fallen into bad favor with the cowboys that had to work him because of a flaw he had developed. That flaw was his propensity to chase jackrabbits. When one would spook out from under him, he didn't jump away from it like normal, instead he would make one jump then wheel and be after it in a flash leaving the poor sod that happened to be aboard at the time in an immediate state of free fall onto what ever the Texas landscape had to offer. Most of which is hard and sharp.
This quirk of his was potentially fatal to him as in those days if you did not pull your weight you were gone and since there was not a market for his trick his days were numbered and his future appointment with the rendering plant assured. He was assigned to me to get him out of the remuda and as an inside joke amongst the rest of the hands who knew that the new kid was about to acquire some prize winning ground hickeys.
Joe and I hit it off immediately. Not that he didn't dump me too, he did. But even that worked out OK as I was just learning how to cuss anyway and these little surprises of his gave me the opportunity to work on my presentation. When he got tired of chasing the rabbit du'jour he would backtrack to see where he had dumped me and my rants when he came wandering back were met with his look of curious, aloof disdain as if to say: "you gotta learn to hang on better sport."
Later in the summer (when he figured I was ready I guess) when we would be out roaming around the vast prairie by ourselves, he introduced me what I believe was his favorite pastime. It involved a dry creek bed that we had come across during one day's exploration with almost no meander that ran for a mile or more. It really wasn't much of a creek, more like a drainage ditch that would flood heavily when thunderstorms slammed through from the northwest. The creek cut was about three feet deep, twenty or so feet wide with a bottom of flat limestone that was covered by a shallow layer of sand and with brush along the banks on either side. A perfect running track. We would drop down into it from the surface of the prairie and he would get antsy and start side dancing. When he and I both realized that I could no longer hold him he would rear slightly and do a modified pirouette on his hind legs to line with the creek and take off with a tremendous lunge that almost left me in midair.
As you know there is not much in the animal world that can match the feeling of raw power you get when you are on top of a running horse. I don't mean one that's in a lope or even a gallop, but when they're in a flat out, dead run, quarter horse sprint. Throwing their head, neck and shoulders into each stride and gaining speed with each stretch. They're breath coming in powerful snorts timed to every second or third stride. I only weighed about 115 pounds at the time and the saddle had a low horn, so I would lean as far forward over his neck as possible like a jockey with his mane lashing me in the face and me yelling and whistling into the wind as the brush blurred by on either side. The sounds of his hooves hitting the sand covered rock bottom of the dry creek were so fast that they lost that curious and characteristic equine rhythm and morphed into a muffled, rumbling that I've never heard again.
When we were close to the end he would break stride on his own, slow to a walk and toss his head around like he was asking "how about that shorty." No one else ever mentioned that he would do that so I've always assumed that it was his gift to me. It's been one I've remembered for fifty years.
"Joe" was written and submitted by one of our Smoke Signals readers, Bob Cloud. Born and raised in Texas, Bob tells us that his "friends may tell you I'm not quite as old as the BIG BANG, however I do seem to recall the echo." He loves the solitude of the outdoors, particularly the Rockies and the Alaskan Range. He's a gym rat and while not a certified pilot (yet) he still loves flying small, noisy airplanes that smell inside like a '47 Buick. He's blessed with a wonderful family and we're happy to have him participate in Smoke Signals.