First love for almost every cowboy and cowgirl is a four-legged critter that comes quickly to the rattle of a can of oats. Sometimes a nicker and nuzzle will accompany the arrival at the feed bucket. Life really does start out simple like that.
I watched two little cowboys, brothers, as they chatted about whatever boys chatter about while riding their horses off into the setting sun. The horses swished their tails and tried to steal a bite or two of grass along the way, knowing that soon they’d be locked back in the pens to get the special rations that keep them fat, sassy and capable.
You see, those old boys, the four-legged ones, are Yellow, 28, and Scooter, 30 years old. They have but one job in this world, and that is to make cowboys out of those two boys that have no idea how lucky they are. They just love it all. They love their horses and they love what they do with them.
Every generation of cowboy has a memory of that first horse. Mine was Ranger. He was a dark sorrel gelding that for whatever reason in his golden years, took a liking to a scrawny little girl. I rode him everywhere. I thought he was the greatest horse in the world, never knowing then what good care he took of me. He jumped logs and ditches slowly and carefully enough I thought I was National Velvet.
And the best part was, I was only 4 or 5 and he’d let me catch him out in the meadow with a small rope and a can of grain. And only I could catch him. I’d call and call and finally he would come. My dad would try to catch him and he’d run off and keep running until my dad was mad enough shoot him. If Ranger needed caught for anything, I had to do it. I’m sure it was the very foundation of any self-confidence I was to gain in life. He made me feel very special.
Many years later, I watched my son, barely old enough to walk, but riding his first “babysitter” horse. The solid, seasoned and aged palomino took care of him with only a little indignation for being relegated to the task. But he never wavered in his job.
Little cowboys are pretty big in their own minds at a very young age. You’ll see a 3-year-old pull his hat down tight, buckle up his chaps and insist that he can rope anything that needs roped. If dad can do it, so can he. Just ask him. I watched that horse avoid wreck after wreck and the little cowboy on his back never knew what could have happened.
The problem with these priceless four-legged soldiers is that they are old. Their last assignments are given with great honor, but with them comes the grief of watching them die. It happened to me and many years later, those emotions were stirred again when I watched my son grieve the loss of his first horse.
When old age finally took the old guy it was a blessing for him, but a sad day for the cowboys, big and little. Now, all these years later, he still holds that very special place in a young man’s heart that none other will ever have. First loves are just that. First loves.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.