Can you imagine a B-Western without horses? Or can you imagine any western, past or more recent, without horses? But you know, there was something special about those horses who played in the B-westerns. For instance, we all know who Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger’s faithful steeds were (Trigger, Champion and Silver). But how many of you can tell me who Ben Cartwright’s horse was? Or Little Joe’s? Or Clint Eastwood’s in Rawhide? Or Matt Dillion’s? What was the difference in those early B-westerns and the later TV shows from the 60’s on? Well, in the later westerns, the horse was transportation. In the B-westerns, the horse was often the star of the show or at least played a significant role in the plot. And more often than not, the cowboy’s horse got second billing on the credits. Poor Dale Evans always came in third on the billings, right behind Trigger! In those movies, the horse was more than transportation but was a faithful companion to the cowboy hero. The horse could think, could see danger before the hero could and warn him, could untie knots when their master was tied up, could run and get help from the other cowboys when the hero was in danger, could run down the Roy Barcroft bad guy and do him in, and many other amazing feats. Why Champion had his own TV show in the 1950’s. One was planned for Trigger but never was completed. Several of Roy’s movies had Trigger as the central character in the movie. So, those old movies showed the relationship between cowboy and horse as a very important part of the western lifestyle.
But we know that movies often present unrealistic scenarios just to make the movie more exciting so I ask, “Can a cowboy have a relationship with his horse?” I say that depends on the “cowboy” and his values. My younger daughter attended a Horse Training and Management school in Lamar, Colorado and received a 2 year degree in horse training. The curriculum consisted of taking at least 2-3 unbroken 2 year old colts and “starting” them for the owners who paid a fee to the school for this service. So she was submersed in the western lifestyle and got to see first-hand how people viewed their horses. She actually lived on a ranch for a while where two of the family members were involved in rodeo. They viewed their horses as tools to be used for work and rodeo and nothing more. My daughter had her horse there from NC and it often came up that she treated her horse more as a pet rather than a tool; i.e., she had a relationship with her horse. So I often wondered if in the modern west that a horse
More than Just a Horse (A.T. Cox)
is treated as a tool. But then my favorite western artist, Tim Cox, who is also a rancher, painted a picture of a cowboy after a long day of work turning his horse out to pasture as he removes the bridle. His faithful border collie also lies nearby the saddle the cowboy has just taken off his horse. The scene portrays affection between cowboy and horse and is entitled “ More than Just a Horse”. Of course, a print of this painting is hanging in my living room. The first time I saw the picture it grabbed my heart. In Tim’s description of the picture he revealed that he viewed the steed as more than just a horse, but as a partner. Which brings me to my old faithful steed, One Fifty. I guess I’ve been riding him for 15 years now. I started riding him when he was 6 and not long off the standardbred racetrack. I often wonder what he would do if I were to get hurt and fall to the ground unconscious. Would he run to the nearest neighbor, Bert, and alert him? Or would he just eat grass nearby me and then meander back home where someone would discover that I was MIA? Probably the latter. But that’s not to say we don’t have a relationship and a trust bond.
Back when One Fifty lived at the stables, whenever I would walk into the barn and he would hear from voice, he let out a loud nicker. Or when I would tack him up and tie him to the front porch and then have to go run an errand a few hundred yards away, he would stand there watching me and nickering and neighing for me to come back. The owner of the stables once said at first it was cute but then it got annoying. When I go outside of my house today and One Fifty sees me from the pasture, he immediately heads for the fence line, hoping I will visit him. He’ll come up to me and position the part of his body he wants scratched near me. When I go out into the pasture on these very cold mornings to feed the horses, he always greets me with a warm nicker. There’s nothing quite like grooming him, tacking him up and going out for a ride through the woods and around the fields near where I live.
No, my horse doesn’t rear up (at least not on que), untie knots (unless it’s his lead rope), or run and get help if I’m in danger; but he is “my boy” and yes, we do have a special bond! He knows that I love him and I know he loves me!
Jerry Sprague, The Wannabe Cowboy, February 17, 2014