Wade and Fitz are cousins as well as best friends. “Primo,” as they refer to each other, not only explains their familial relationship, but also their close friendship. By their own definition, they have always been the family “black sheep,” adding to the bond that has kept them close.
It’s a fact in the cowboy world money is scarce and horses are needed. So the typical practice is to look for some “cheap” horses and make them into good ones.
Wade had come across a grulla mare that was a bronc from the start and as the cow working seasons rolled by it became apparent that might be the reason she had been for sale in the first place. She was as Wade described, “a pretty son of gun to look at” and he stuck with her until she finally became a good cow pony.
However, her shortcoming was what we in the people world would call “a bit bipolar.” She was always a bronc that needed topped off in the mornings but there were also those moments when she’d go from being a handy, get-it-done kind of horse to a lunatic bronc for no apparent reason.
One morning, Wade and Fitz left out to go push some cattle from the low country to the high summer pastures. Fitz was riding along behind Wade when they crossed through a draw and as they broke out on the other side, the mare blew up and went to pitching hard.
Wade easily stayed in the middle of her and with each jump she got ranker and ranker. Fitz was about to ride up and give her a bump to keep her lined out when she made a big jump and stuck both front feet over her bridle reins. The headstall broke at the buckle sending the bit and all back to the saddle cinch and leaving Wade with nothing on her head.
Fitz knew this mare could run like the wind and became concerned that he wasn’t mounted good enough to catch her if she actually took off. Fitz hollered at Wade to “get off.” Wade responded by stepping off but when he did, the mare was on her way down from a high jump and it sucked him right under her. She was bucking and landing on top of Wade for several jumps.
Fitz rode in and hit her with his horse which untracked her and she took off in a dead run. Wade hollered, “Go catch that hell-bitch.” So Fitz lined out on her knowing she could run way faster than his horse. So he cut her off to the left, let her go away from him and then ran parallel until he could get her angled to cut her off again.
He was packing a 50-foot rope and met her on the angle. He was 15 feet from her when he closed in swinging a loop. She caught another gear. Fitz caught her at 20 feet and was already way behind when she grabbed yet another gear. Fitz and his horse, Yeller, were flat out running and as a result, he missed his dally. Fitz knew that if he had been tied off she would have never gotten away. But as he put it, “she smoked us.”
She ran down a fence line that cornered at a gate. The top wires on the barbed-wire gate were broken courtesy of the frequent elk crossings. Still dragging Fitz’s rope, she ran at top speed through that gate like it was standing open. She stuck both front legs through the two bottom wires, tripped and fell head first with all that momentum driving her into the ground.
It broke her neck. Mercifully, it was instant. But Fitz’s heart was broken as he watched it happen. All he could think was, “if I just would have been tied off.”
He rode back to tell Wade the bad news. With a frog in is voice, he told him, “Wade, I killed your mare.” But in the nature of kindred spirits, Wade looked at Fitz and said, “Good, it’ll save me from having to ride her to death today.”
Every now and then Wade will mention the grulla. “I miss that mare but I don’t miss topping her out in the spring.” And Fitz, well he knows things just happen no matter how hard you try to make them go a different way. But he will never stop thinking, “if I’d just tied off that day.”
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.