When you’re a workin horse on a ranch, you learn the true meanin of a sayin that the people got: “Pick up the slack.” The slack, for those that don’t know about such things, is literally the amount of the drape in a rope or rein that’s between you and your cowboy (or cowgirl, or bucket gal) at a given time. When a horse goes to work, he’s got to pick up the slack in order to, for instance, hold the rope right tight so his cowboy (or cowgirl, but not bucket gal) can keep a roped cow held down tight and proper for doctorin or brandin and such.
A tight rope is a good rope. It means a good horse is doin his job. One of the first lessons I learned on the ranch when I done got broke to ride was how to hold a rope steady so it ain’t got no slack at all, and how not step forward or let the slack go ‘til I was told otherwise. I can hold the biggest, orneriest steer there is merely by leanin against the slack in a rope, and I can hold ‘em steady there for the longest spell you can likely imagine.
So, when I was first arrived on the County Island, and was still sorta thinkin I must have come to live here to do some sort of purposeful work, even though what that work was weren’t immediately apparent, I was also still kinda eager to show my brand-new bucket gal the ropes, so to speak. I wanted to assure her she was now dealin with a genuine trained professional ranch horse, not just any old nag off the cattle truck.
For a time, all she seemed to do was ride me around with long, drapey reins of relaxation, which had all manner of slack in ‘em while we moseyed through the desert. And when she led me around on the ground, the lead rope, too, remained entirely drapey-like, and I followed her along smack-dab at her shoulder like a horse is supposed to, but at a respectful enough distance, and I stopped when she stopped, and walked when she walked, and we were quite copacetic, me and her, with all that slack between us.
Then, one day, she drove up with her truck and the rollin white horse box, and I thought to myself, finally, maybe we’re gonna go do somethin. It weren’t likely to be hard work, neither, which I was glad for, ‘cause the mornin was already mostly over, and if a cowboy was gonna work ya hard all day, usually they came to get ya long before sun-up. So this was lookin promisin to me.
And as she was leadin me toward the horse box with a slack lead line like usual, she kinda stepped in front of me with purpose between me and the box, and she clucked to me, and she gave the rope a tug and told me to come on.
Well, I knew what that meant, so I stopped with my ears straight forward to tell her politely, “Yes, ma’m! I got this!” And I set myself against the rope, and I done picked up all the slack there was in it, and I held it steady. And I did not budge. I did not move so much as a hoof, nor twitch a whisker.
She tugged again. And I held the rope steady.
And she tugged. And I held.
And she clucked and tugged and wiped at the sweat on her brow. And I took a step backwards so the rope got as taught as a rope can be.
And she kinda swatted at her leg, and then she clucked at me some more, and she gave the rope one last pitiful yank. And I held the rope.
And she took a step forward and reached like to pet me. But then the rope went slack, so I took a step back to hold it, and her. And I kept my ears pitched straight forward at her, so she’d know I was still listenin to her and takin this rope-holdin business seriously. ‘Cause like I said, I can hold a cow like that all day if need be, and I can surely hold a bucket gal.
And she looked at me with the confusion the people sometimes get in their eyes.
And then I realized. She didn’t know what I was doin, or why, and I likely didn’t know what she wanted from me, neither.
It was at that moment I realized not everybody speaks “ranch horse.”
And she slowly came around beside me, and stood as if to lead me with a loose lead rope like a person should, and she petted me, and then she walked me on to the white rollin horse box, with the slack in the rope between us.
And I thought to myself, all she meant to do was load me on the horse box? Why didn’t she do that in the first place? She started it by pullin on my rope! But I reckoned I should probably cut her some slack about such things, otherwise I’d likely spend all my time in my new home on the County Island feelin fit to be tied.