There's nothing else quite like a horse breaking in two. The withers and ears disappear at the same time the cantle of the saddle lifts you up; all you see is ground. That's all Hooter was seeing, anyway, vaguely aware of a raucous, gravelly laugh coming from somewhere behind him.
“Hang tight, Hooter! Rake that wench! Lord, a greenhorn couldn't do much worse.”
It was Lem Shoobright doing the catcalling. It was Lem's horse that Hooter was giving a test drive. About three jumps later, it was the horse that test drove Hooter into a classic heap at the far end of the arena.
“You need deeper sand,” muttered Hooter.
“And you need a deeper seat,” roared Lem.
Hooter wasn't surprised by any of it.
As for the horse in this case—a blood bay with lots of chrome—Hooter had bought a number of horses from Lem over the years. Every one of them had kinks that needed worked out in the beginning. But each one was long on cow and could log a freight train.
As for Lem, his training techniques were as effective as they were at times colorful. Most of the time his inherent ability and quiet ways were enough to have a horse eager to do what Lem wanted and visa versa. Every once in a while, though, he had to resort to you-or-me tactics.
If a horse insisted on blasting over the top of him coming out of the trailer, Lem would load them up, back up to a railroad trestle and steep hill, pop the latch and let gravity do the teaching. With horses that had a penchant for running off, he tied hard and fast to an anvil, lit some firecrackers and let the horse drag as long a furrow as he wanted. For those that wouldn't hold slack, he'd been known to load a trained dog into a Trojan
Calf of sorts; tension kept a door closed on the roping sled; too much slack and the door opened, allowing an eager dog to come up the rope.
Given the nature of some of his techniques, Lem should have been a tack shop owner's ticket to solvency, except for the fact that he was a fair saddle maker and leather craftsman in his own right. “If it can be busted, it can be fixed,” was his motto for tack maintenance.
Lem applied the same realistic pragmatism to people, too. One story went that Lem's wife, Lucy Marie, had once hopped down to doctor a fairly new calf when the mama attacked.
All the while, Lem sat tight on is own horse, surveying the scene with casual interest as the cow butted and rolled Lucy Marie this way and that. He was downright proud when Lucy pulled a pair of leather gloves from her pocket, mid-cartwheel, and popped the mama cow on the nose as she came to butt her again. The noise and shock of it bought Lucy Marie enough time to limp and hobble onto her horse.
“Lemuel Osiris Shoobright, you no good X&%*$@. Why in the world did you just sit there and let that cow maul me?”
“Well,” Lem reckoned, “I didn't see much use in both of us getting' killed.”
Smoke in Rome
“So, what do you think?” asked Lem, once Hooter had the horse and himself gathered up.
“I think this pony has an ornery streak as wide as yours. But I also think he's got a world of potential, as always with what you've got.”
“I haven't even told you the best part. He's a grandson of Two Eyed Jack on the top side, goes back to Leo on the bottom.”
As Hooter considered the possibilities, he thought to ask how Lem's business was doing now that there weren't any horse slaughter plants left in the U.S.; now that there was no longer a price floor beneath the horse market.
“On the one hand, it's sure enough dropped prices for everything but the very top of the top end,” said Lem. “On the other hand I've ended up with some free horses, too. Folks just drop them off when I'm not here. Most of them are no-count, but there's been some good kid horses along the way.”
“What do you do with ‘em.”
“Try to give them to a good home if I can find one. Haul them to the sale otherwise; they still sell local to a slaughter house in Mexico.”
“Yeah. I heard you had a run-in with some protesters.”
Lem chuckled. “I still think it was instigated by one of the people who left a horse here, wanting to make sure the horse would be taken care of. There was about five actual protestors, probably about 15 more do-gooders that didn't know any better.”
“So, how'd that go for you?”
“I'm guessing it was one of the shorter demonstrations in history. I just led a couple of cripples out to the gate—horses folks had left here in the middle of the night: Here they are, free for the taking to anyone who agrees to provide feed, space and health care to them for the rest of the horse's life. Who wants ‘em?”
“Nope. Not even any more squawking,” said Lem. “Like most things in life and in this society, it's just too easy to be an owner. Anybody with a checkbook can own a horse. Doesn't matter if they couldn't keep a plastic palm tree alive. There's no accountability, so there's no responsibility. When it quits being fun, they just haul them off and expect someone else to deal with it.”
“Kind of like that old bumper sticker about guns not being the problem, but some of the nuts who have them,” said Hooter.
“I guess that's to be expected in a society that can somehow, with a straight face, blame farm subsidies for their obesity.”
“Exactly. Want to take that renegade for another spin?”
“Nawww. I'll just go ahead and take him. My tail couldn't take another round today…being a greenhorn and whatnot.”