I had a horse named Goober. He was gorgeous. Seriously. Big and sorrel, with a classic Quarterhorse build and beautiful head. The name had nothing to do with looks. It was all about personality.
Take the electric fence, for example. We put up a single wire around the yard, so the horses could graze off the grass rather than me wasting gas and sweat and perfectly good feed shoving a mower over it. Goober had to test that wire with his nose. Every time we turned him out there.
He had the personality of a golden retriever. If you were walking across the pasture and stopped fast, his nose would plow into the back of your head because he would be dogging every step, in case you had grain. Or just wanted to scratch his ears. But he was also fast and athletic and cowy. I still use the custom-made, hand-tooled, silver-mounted rope can I won on him at a jackpot in Selah, Washington.
Goober had only two major flaws. First, he was accident prone. If there was a scrap of wood anywhere on the place with a nail in it, he would step on it. A piece of wire that had lain in the pasture for twenty years, undisturbed? Goober would get tangled in it. Our last summer in South Dakota, he was the only horse on the place to get distemper.
And he bucked.
We’re not talking hump up and crow hop around the yard, half-hearted kind of bucking. It was drop his head, kick straight up at the sky, hello ground meet face. And man, was he strong.
I got by him for a long time because I could feel it coming. I’d climb aboard on a cool evening and I could barely get him to walk. This was not a good time to be aggressive. Instead, I’d ease along, and he’d start to loosen up, and after a few minutes we could manage a trot, and finally a lope, and no more than a mile or two later I could rope without fear of demonstrating my ability to do a forward half gainer in the pike position.
Then we decided to make a heading horse out of him. It went well in the beginning. Until the day my brother roped the steer and dallied his rope around the saddle horn and turned left and the larger than average bovine buried all four feet and hit the end like a ton of bricks, and the saddle slid back, bringing the back cinch into closer than normal proximity to Goober’s flank.
Goober blew. And spun. And my brother, for fear of getting tangled in the rope, had to bail out to save his life.
The game was up. Goober had figured out if he bided his time and waited for just the right moment, no one could ride him. Being a tad on the unmotivated side, he soon decided that pretty much any time you turned a steer was a good moment. His final appearance as a rope horse was at the Canadian Senior Pro Finals. Afterward, the stock contractor asked my dad to please quit bringing him, it was embarrassing when the team roping horses out-bucked his broncs.
Which was when we decided that if he wanted to buck, maybe we should let him.
As it happened, one of my husband’s friends from his bachelor days had a string of bucking horses. So Greg called Sparky up and told him about Goober and asked if maybe he'd like to try him out. Sparky said sure, why not? We made arrangements for a third friend to haul Goober to Bozeman where yet another person, a friend of Sparky’s, would pick him up and deliver him to eastern Montana.
About Sparky. You know that friend of your husband’s from back before you came along? The guy who isn’t quite housebroken and gets a real kick out of seeing if he can make you blush? Repeatedly? Yeah, that would be Sparky. And I’m told he’s a lot more civilized than he used to be.
So off Goober went, all bundled up in his best traveling blanket because it was late fall and it was cold. The guy in Bozeman took one look at him, all brushed and trimmed and spiffy and said, “But I came to pick up a bucking horse.”
By the time he arrived in Circle, he was convinced we were insane. “There’s no way this horse is going to buck,” he informed Sparky. “He’s dog gentle.”
Sparky couldn’t help but agree. After a day of Goober following him around the yard bumming for grain and attention, he was convinced we were exaggerating. It was probably just a girl thing. He must have throwed me off a couple of times and had me buffaloed. Put somebody with a little backbone on him who'd show him who was boss, he’d probably make a dandy pick-up horse.
Only one way to find out—saddle that bugger up and take him out for a spin.
It was chilly that day, and on the breezy side. Sparky picked out a good stiff bit to be sure he’d have full control. One with long split reins with the poppers on the end to spank up a horse that wasn’t putting out as much effort as you’d like. And off they went.
He headed for the plowed field a quarter mile down the road. Dang, was that horse lazy. Sparky could hardly get him to walk. He pushed him on down to the field, out into the summerfallow. Then he picked up his split reins and gave Goober a crisp pop on the butt.
When he called my husband that night, he had to agree. As he was laying there in the dirt, watching Goober buck off toward home, he didn’t think he’d ever seen a horse jump and kick quite that high without a flank strap.
Forget winning the rope can. In my mind, that will forever be Goober's finest hour. If only there were video.