The mare was a she-devil in buckskin clothes. Built like a linebacker on steroids, bulging with muscle right to the tips of her ears—which were generally pinned to her head. She didn’t like people. She wasn’t particularly fond of other horses. But she loved to rope calves. She could break so hard from the roping box that she’d leave you spinning in mid air. Then stop like she slammed into a brick wall, and make a quick suck-back move that practically laid the calf in the roper’s lap to be flanked and tied.
Calf roping is hard. The dismount alone takes years to perfect. Imagine climbing on your bike, cranking it up to about twenty miles an hour. Then slam on the brakes and step off while it’s skidding. Now picture doing all of that while roping a calf, with your rope coils in one hand and a set of bridle reins in the other. You can see why watching my brother learn to rope calves was so entertaining.
Dad wasn’t rodeoing much one summer, so he lent the buckskin mare to my brother-in-law. Richard had roped on her enough to get used to the deadly stop and suck-back. He knew you wanted get out of the saddle quick. If you paused halfway off, she'd slam you on the back of your head in the dirt. Then stand there and laugh while you sucked air. Richard's traveling partner hadn’t been planning to ride the mare. But after the first two rodeos, it became clear that Arnie’s mount wasn’t getting the job done. He was way too free. And I don’t mean ‘free’ as in without cost. In fact, he’d probably cost Arnie several hundred dollars in winnings by refusing to stop when the loop went around the calf’s neck. Arnie would rope, swing his leg over the saddle, then hang there in the right hand stirrup reefing on the bridle reins until 0l’ Sorrely finally decided to put on some brakes. That’s what a calf roper calls ‘free’. But come to think of it, a person probably could have had him pretty cheap. Arnie might’ve even paid you to take him after that second rodeo. Richard suggested maybe Arnie should ride the buckskin mare at the third rodeo. There was definitely nothing wrong with her stop. “But don’t forget,” Richard said. “You can’t hang out in the right stirrup on this mare like you do on your horse.” “No problem,” Arnie said. As luck would have it, Arnie drew the best calf in the herd. He timed the start perfectly, roped quick, pulled his slack, and started to step off. He was fixin’ to be in the money. But old habits die hard. He paused in the right stirrup and jerked on the reins. Later, while shaking the dirt clods out of his shorts, he recalled that as he cartwheeled down the arena in a ball of dust, he managed one coherent thought. “You know, Arnie, you really shouldn’t hang out on that mare.”
Cimarron Boardman roping at St Paul, Oregon PRCA rodeo.