Lee Pitts: Empty Saddles
I find this hard to believe but it’s been theorized that the equine species never bucked until it arrived in North America. This theory is largely based on the writings of a Greek cowboy philosopher named Xenophon who was the Buck Brannaman of his generation. He wrote volumes about horses 25 centuries ago but never once mentioned that any of them bucked. When the Aztecs first saw Cortes and his gang riding horses they thought it was one animal that had the ability to come apart and go back together again. The Aztecs never mentioned seeing a horse buck either. In fact, in all the ancient wars in Europe, Africa, and Asia there is not one mention of a bucking horse. That is, until America began sending them horses. There was not even a word that means “to buck” in the many European, African and Asian dialects. In other words, besides many other American inventions we gave the world, add to the list bronc busters, peelers, twisters, and scratchers.
We don’t know if the first version of the American horse 13,000 years ago bucked because before the caveman was able to mount up the horse became extinct on this continent. No doubt because there was no Endangered Species Act to protect it. (Just kidding.) It was the horse.2 version that picked up the bucking habit. Speaking of bad habits, horses didn’t collect shoes either like some Nordstrom-shopping-women do until some bad-backed American blacksmith invented horseshoes.
The theory is American mustangs first started bucking because cougars waiting in trees would jump on their backs and the horses would then buck to get rid of them. But didn’t Africa have big cats too? Why didn’t their horses buck? Perhaps it was the methods used by early bronc busters who were under so much pressure to produce rideable horses quickly that they created bucking horses in the process. I’ve read that one third of horses broke to ride in this manner were killed.
After bucking broncs were created early cowboys then had to come up with ways to make them stop, like using mane hairs to tie heavy bolts and washers in the bronc’s mane so that every time it jumped it knocked itself silly with rusty hardware.
Personally, I’m thankful we created horses that buck otherwise we wouldn’t have the greatest license plate in all the land, Wyoming’s. We’d have never heard of Casey Tibbs or the Etbauer brothers, rodeo would be missing a third of its events, and Charles Russell would have run out of good material to paint or sculpt. The English language would be devoid of such phrases as bite the dust, chewing gravel, kissing the ground, huntin’ leather, pickin’ daisies or hoppin’ for momma.
Like me, Henry Miller was a big fan of bucking horses too. Miller was a German butcher who put together the Miller and Lux outfit with over a million acres. The story is told about the time he went to look at a bunch of horses to buy. He pointed to a horse and told the young son of the owner to fetch that particular horse. The kid, wanting to impress the Cattle King, quickly haltered the horse and went out of his way to show how gentle the horse was.
Miller asked, “Are they all that gentle? Do they buck?”
The young man assured Miller that their horses were gentle and never bucked. Despite these claims and the quality of the horses, the Cattle King didn’t buy any horses that day, telling the owner, “I don’t want horses that gentle. They can be too easily caught and horse thieves would soon steal every one of them. They are sheepherder’s horses.”
Just think, if horses didn’t buck I wouldn’t have scars all over my body to prove I was a cowboy after fallin’ from outer space and landing in rock piles. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been dusted, dumped, piled, spilled, shrugged, greased and folded over in every style imaginable. I’ll never forget the first time I was dumped off one damnable desperado. I paid my entry fee and would have made the buzzer if it weren’t for one terrible jolt that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale and sent a lightening rod out the top of my head when I finally landed there in front of the grocery store.
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