Lee Pitts: Barn sour
July 15, 2011
Sometimes a bad habit or trait can be put to good advantage. Take, for example, the case of the horse on the old Tejon Ranch in California that was barn sour. The interesting vaquero writer Arnold Rojas tells the story about a Tejon horse named El Cartero whose name when translated into English means “mail carrier.”
It was an appropriate moniker.
The Tejon Ranch is quite a distance away from the nearest big town, Bakersfield, CA, and for many years there was no regular mail service to the historic ranch. This lack of mail service was handled in an ingenious fashion, as many problems were back in the old days. Whenever a Tejon vaquero had earned a few days off and a trip to town, El Cartero would be saddled up and the cowboy and the special cow horse would head to Bakersfield. It was a long trip, made more arduous by the fact that with every step El Cartero tried to turn around and head back to the home ranch. According to Rojas, who cowboyed for a time on the Tejon, the horse was as barn sour as they come.
When the pair finally reached town the cowboy would take the horse to the livery stable where’d he’d be fed and watered, and then the cowboy would tie the reins and a full mail pouch to the saddle, slap El Cartero on the rump, and the horse would head towards home. The extra prodding was hardly necessary. It was at this point that another of El Cartero’s bad habits actually became an attribute: because the horse was extremely hard to catch, it meant that not even a horse thief could detour him.
El Cartero was what the vaqueros called a “Skyliner” and when he wasn’t running in a full-out gallop he’d trot at a mile-devouring pace. On the same day of his departure, the vaqueros and management back at the ranch would have their mail, and El Cartero would be bedded down in his very own stall with fresh shavings, clean water and the very best hay.
Rojas failed to say how the vaquero got home after his toot in town was over!
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My horse, Gentleman, was just like El Cartero. No, he couldn’t run like an antelope but he sure enough was hard to catch and he was definitely barn sour. As long as I was riding in the same direction as Gentleman wanted to go I was a heckuva horseman and we made quite a pair. He was real good at moving slowly through the cows as we rode to the back of the ranch, but I had to make sure I got a good glimpse of the cows on our outward bound journey because on the way home Gentleman ran so fast I only saw the cows in a blur.
I never could figure out why Gentleman wanted to get home so fast. He certainly didn’t have his own box stall like El Cartero did, and I sure didn’t feed him. I think maybe he was in a hurry to return to his love-interest, a mare named Lady. She was, without a doubt, the poorest specimen of horse flesh on earth. I know, I know, no son of somebody should ride a mare, but Lady came along in a package deal with the ranch we leased.
I never could be too critical of Gentleman for I was a traveling man for 35 years and I was always in a hurry to get home too. And I have the speeding tickets to prove it. There was only one time during the year that I took my time going home and that was during the month of February when my wife was back at the ranch lambing out ewes with a propensity to have triplets, none of whom could recognize their own mother. My wife was run ragged sorting out the babies and building extra jails to lock the little nippers in, along with their reluctant mothers. For some reason my wife was always a little suspicious as to how my arrival back at the ranch seemed to always coincide with the last day of lambing season. I vowed that I always hurried home because I was barn sour, just like Gentleman.
“There’s only one big difference,” my wife sarcastically replied, “Gentleman had a Lady at home who was passionately awaiting his return.”
Frankly, I think she’s still a little upset about the sheep thing.”