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Riding Lessons

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Lee Pitts

The first thing in life I remember wanting to be was a jockey, and the second thing was a professional basketball player. 

Alas, I was too big for one and too small for the other. So, I figured being a cowboy would be a better fit.

I hate to admit this, but I’ve never had riding lessons in my life. I’ve never crossed an angry river on a horse, never rode a bronc in a rodeo and was never a member of the National Cutting Horse Association. 

I learned to ride sitting astride a saddle in my grandpa’s “bunkhouse,” which wasn’t really a bunkhouse at all but a shed filled with old bits, spurs, saddle blankets and two saddles sitting on stands. 

My favorite thing to do as a child was to go to my grandpa’s house where I’d head straight to his bunkhouse, mount up and play cowboy.

My grandpa coached me, “Keep your heels down, don’t jerk back on the reins and NEVER, under any circumstances, grab the horn.” Or as he called it, “reaching for the apple or squeezing the biscuit.”

My second favorite thing to do was ride the mechanical horse in front of the grocery store, and I’m proud to say neither the saddle stand nor the mechanized equine ever bucked me off, despite some really hairy predicaments. 

When I went to the county fair, I always rode the horse on the carousel – not the ostrich, tiger, elephant or swan – so, at this point in my career, I felt like I could ride anything with hair, wool or feathers.

Oh, I’d been on real horses before – I have photographic evidence I rode before I could walk – but I was always in the arms of grandpa at a rodeo. 

It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I got on real horses and was a real cowboy. My best friend in high school lived on his grandfather’s ranch, and every chance I got, I went there to haul hay in exchange for riding horses. 

From the beginning, I was assigned Buck, a horse that never did just that. Buck was the horse they always assigned to dudes, small children, infirm old timers and me. I loved that old horse. 

On a gentle horse like Buck, everybody is an accomplished equestrian, but simply polishing my pants on saddle leather didn’t make me any more of a cowboy than wearing spurs did. 

It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college as a cowboy that I had to ride rank horses. I wouldn’t say any of the cribbers ever bucked me off, but there were a few times I had to make an unscheduled dismount to tighten my cinch.

I wouldnʼt necessarily call it “getting bucked off” either, when one of those renegades with lethal tendencies took off at a lightning pace that would have won the All American in Ruidoso had he been there instead of a forest full of trees with low hanging branches, every one of which tried to knock me out of the saddle. 

The whole time it was happening, I kept hearing the words of my grandpa, “Don’t jerk back on the reins, and NEVER grab the horn.” 

I wouldnʼt say I was bucked off, it was more like I was scraped off.

If I ever had to ride one of those owlheads in the presence of my contemporaries, I always hoped a rattler would bite my mount so he’d die and I’d have a good excuse for walking back to headquarters.

Years later, when I had my own cow herd, I always rode my horse Gentleman, who must have been a son of Buck, because he too, never did. But, one day Gentleman was busy trying to breed my neighbor’s Paint mare, so he lent me one of his outlaws.

Everything was fine until I tried to make him cross over a rock-strewn stream. When he balked, I may have tapped him a little with my spurs, and the next thing I knew, I was knocking a hole in my chest with my chin. 

One minute I was soaring with eagles, and the next thing I swimming with the fish.

It was then I formulated Lee’s theory on how to never get bucked off – never climb aboard in the first place.

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