As a kid I always wanted to be a cowboy. I started rodeoing in high school and by the time I got into college I was in the RCA (now the PRCA). Eventually work and school were getting in the way of rodeoing so I dropped out of college and got a job on a ranch which let me take off whenever I had a rodeo. I had my fun, somehow survived, and have enough marbles left to tell you about the killer horse that nudged me toward a career as an outdoor writer.
It was the Cow Bell rodeo in Mansfield, Texas. I’d drawn Cinderella for my ride. She was a beautiful, taffy-colored horse with a light blond tail and mane. The first time I got on her she bucked out to the left, jumping high and stiff-legged. She got out about 20 feet and turned back hard. Threw me pretty fast.
The second time I drew her I had a good ride going. After six seconds of my great ride, she sucked back so hard it ripped the handhold out of my rigging and threw me flying over her head. “Sucking back” is a rodeo term describing a horse that ducks its head back between its front legs and under its brisket. Fast. Tends to throw the cowboy forward rather violently.
Cinderella was a veteran bucking horse and knew every trick in the book. She’d jump out hard. Sometimes stiff-legged and high, sometimes fast and hard. By the fifth second if she hadn’t thrown you off, she’d start sucking back and going totally ballistic. She hated to be rode.
I drew her for a third time and was behind the chutes getting ready when the chute boss came by and asked,”Did you draw Cinderella again?” Yep. “Do you want to ride her?” I looked up at him and nodded. I wanted some revenge.
He said “OK, let me pull your rigging. Leave your latigo really long on the far side and lay it over her neck. I’m going to pull it back across her neck and twist it up. I’ll tuck it under your rigging and tie it off on the other D-ring. Then I’ll pull it down however you want it. When she gets out a few jumps I’ll whistle and she’ll turn back. She’ll suck back and try to throw your rigging over her head, but with it twisted like that she won’t be able to. After that, the rest will be up to you.”
My turn came all too soon and it was time for me to get on. Again. But I’d driven hundreds of miles and spent a lot of money on gas, motels and entry fees. I had eight seconds to show the judges what I had. But so did Cinderella.
I pulled my hat down, checked my glove one more time, climbed over the chute and eased down on her. She was a beautiful mare. She could have been a super good saddle horse for someone. But, just as some people are outlaws, so are some horses. Cinderella was one of them. She just loved to buck.
Anyway, I adjusted my rigging and the chute boss twisted the latigo like he said he would. I adjusted my rigging just so and told him to pull a little more. I nodded when it felt right and he tied it off.
I tucked my hand in, slid up on my handhold, and nodded. They threw the gate open and — to put it in cowboy terms –all heck broke loose. She blew out of the chute quick as a cat. Then she bucked out a few jumps and spun back. She jumped out of that and bucked straight two jumps. She was throwing something different at me every jump. She was a flashy horse and put on a good show. I was right in the middle of her, spurring for all I was worth.
About the sixth second in she started sucking back so hard I could barely stay on. Her head was plumb buried in the ground between her front feet. When a horse’s head is buried like that you can’t believe how much power they’re throwing at you. I laid back as far as I could so I wouldn’t fly over her head.
Head down, back bowed and rear legs kicking hard, she was really getting some altitude. I laid back and raked her shoulders with my spurs for a good score, but really it was all I could do to keep from flying out over her head. When she came down I’d have to feel her shoulders under my legs. If the left shoulder dropped ever so slightly, that’s the way she was going to turn at the last second. If it dropped to the right, I dropped to the right to stay on top of her.
This was the longest I’d ever made it on her. Most horses have a few tricks and as the ride goes on they use them with greater intensity. Cinderella had thrown all her tricks at me at least twice, each with more energy and intensity than the last. There was no way to read what she was going to do next. Some times — most times — you don’t have time to think what to do atop a bucking horse. You just go with your instincts. Just react. That’s how this ride was. I’d be trying to think how to handle her third jump and she’s already be on number five. Three jumps later I’d think “What the heck was that?” By the sixth second of our little contest she was going absolutely ballistic. Somehow I hung in there until the whistle blew. I jerked my hand free and went flying, hitting the ground hard. But I didn’t care. I’d just ridden Cinderella and was on top of the world. I’d survived the killer horse, but she started me to thinking about an alternative career.
Reformed rodeo cowboy Tom Claycomb has retired to a quiet life of backpack wilderness fishing and hunting where his rides amount to little more than being trapped overnight on cliff faces 100 feet above raging rivers. Maybe some day he’ll elaborate on that little adventure.