It was a dark ‘n stormy night. I hear tell that’s been said a time or two before, but I reckon not by a horse. And a dark ‘n stormy night it was. And cold. Bitter cold. The kinda cold where the water is all froze up and undrinkable cold even when it ain’t frozen. The kinda cold that keeps all the night critters hidden in their dens or burrows or whatever else they got, with not a coyote nor a rabbit nor a bad beagle-dog in sight. The kinda cold where a horse can fluff up all the considerable hair he’s got and still be achin deep down in his old, cold bones. Unless you done been sheep-sheered like my buddy Coors Light is, and you got double blankets to wear to kinda simulate, so to speak, a proper winter horse coat. The good news, I thought to myself as I chowed down on my extra hay, and as I closed my eyes against the freezin wind and the occasional hail, was that at least I knew I didn’t have to get up early in the mornin to go to work on the ranch no more, because I am now a retired horse livin on the County Island.
Well, if you know me at all by now and how my luck usually turns, you can likely guess what happened next. Likely first thing in the mornin or it felt like it, when it was still bitter cold, there comes our gal in her rumbly truck, hitchin it to the white rollin horse box, and then fetchin a western saddle. And I opined to myself: No good will come of this.
‘Cause it weren’t likely she intended to take Coors Light off to a prancey horse activity in that kinda weather nor with my tack. And she don’t normally take Original Coors places in the box no more on account of his no-vicular. But I allowed her to put on my halter with some trepidation, ‘cause she did extend a carrot, and she patted me and said we was gonna have fun and go to the cowboy college for what’s called New Year’s Day.
I didn’t even have time to get on the Wikipedia to see what a “college” was nor what’s it’s got to do with cowboys before I was put inside the horse box and rollin down the road. But I looked it up after.
It turns out a college is where people go after they been greenbroke, then college trains ‘em up to be useful. I don’t suspect most people on the County Island ever been to college. Which is unfortunate, since now I know we got a Arizona Cowboy College right down the road from us, on the far edge of the County Island before it drops off into the open range wilderness. That’s right. I been to the end of the County Island and back, now.
And I also been to college. I think I was what’s termed a “visitin professor.”
But college seemed an awful lot like a long trail ride, without any cattle or work to do. There was cattle in a corral when I arrived at the cowboy college, but they wouldn’t make eye contact with me much less answer my questions. I could tell they was real stand-offish cattle, the way range cattle should be, not addled pet cows like Moo that think they’ve got rights and such, and not like the coddled cows the people use for playin cow games like team sortin and pennin.
Before we set out on our ride, I met some of the good ranch horses that work at the college, that was going to help train some greenhorn people that day by bringin ‘em along on our ride. One of ‘em was darned near 30 years old himself, and he said he’d been trainin people to be cowboys (and also cowgirls) since he was a young’un. And now that he was gettin on in years, he mainly carried the little cowpokes about. I never gave a moment’s thought until then about where cowboys come from, but now I know. I couldn’t make up a thing like a cowboy college if I tried. And the old man further said that today’s long ride in the crisp air was meant to be “for fun,” and was not part of what’s called the standard curriculum of the college. That explained why we were all moseyin through the desert with no purpose like we did, mostly all single-file and stayin on the trail, which ain’t no way to look for stray cattle, ‘cause the cattle ain’t gonna just follow the trail on their own.
But the people was all in good spirits, and imbibin in some kinda spirits called “mimosas” that they declined to share with us horses. I got a whiff of it, though, and it wasn’t beer, so I doubt I’d of liked it anyway. And the professor horses of the cowboy college was all in good spirits ‘cause they got to go out on a sunshiney albeit chilly day without hard, purposeful work. As I heard one of ‘em tellin the other, “Can you believe we only got to go out for four hours? Life today surely is good.”
And then I got to feelin a might guilty. It weren’t that long ago that I myself spoke similar words, when I was newly arrived on the County Island. And my words came back to haunt me: We was only three hours out walkin in the desert, not even any trottin much less runnin hard, and they already bringed us back home! Now I got the rest of the day to sleep in the sunshine and do nothin. Is things always this good for pleasure horses at the boardin stable ranch?
Had livin on the County Island really turned me that danged soft and ungrateful? Was I myself becomin so coddled and spoiled by the leisurely life of the pleasure horse that I was failin to appreciate how good I got it?
I’ll let ya know as soon as our gal shows up with supper. Danged if she ain’t runnin late, again, and a horse’s gratefulness generally only lasts as long as his belly is full.