Word that the kid was going to try to ride the horse again spread. People arrived by ones and twos at the corral. Entertainment other than the saloon brawls of drunken teamsters drew considerable interest. A carnival atmosphere gathered around the horse pen, noisy Anglos on one side and stoic, but interested, Indians on the other.
At the barn doors in front of the building, the stable owner was collecting his boarding fee from a teamster. The waggoneer’s brace of mules appeared rested, fed, and ready for the road. The mule-skinner cast a glance at Easterly. “Is this skinny kid the great horse breaker?”
“Yeah. He got his bite of dirt like all the rest, but he’s the first one to come back for another.”
“Well, if he’s gonna live around these four-footed critters, he’ll learn to take a kicking, getting bit, stepped on, and tossed off. Ain’t nothing dumber than a horse ‘less it’s scheming for a way to do you in, then Katie bar the door. Maybe I’ll stay and watch.”
Coins changed hands, the transaction completed, and the teamster, still talking, led his animals away.
Easterly had stood a respectable distance apart, giving the men room to conduct their business. The owner waved him over.
“You don’t have to do this, you know. It was a joke that we pull on all tenderfeet. That mare has never been rode.”
“I’ll ride her.”
“Bragging ain’t going to git it done, neither is it seemly.”
“Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to brag. It was just something I saw in her eyes.”
The owner turned his head and spit a stream of burnt brown tobacco juice just missing Hund who took an interest in it. “You saw something in her eyes? Son, let me tell you. The only thing you’ll see in a devil horse’s eyes is murder.” He entered his office, sat and crossed his manure-caked boots at the ankles.
Easterly followed. “You said if I rode her, you’d give me a job.”
The man put the coins in a cashbox in the desk drawer. “It was in fun.”
“You said it.”
The owner slammed the drawer shut and held up a hand, palm outward. “Stop.”
Easterly hurried his words. “You won’t be responsible. You’ve warned me and I know the risks.”
A slump and a sigh. Finally a nod. “You know where everything is.”
Easterly drew the saddle and hackamore from the tack room and left the gear at the pen. He returned to the oat barrel and scooped up as much as he could carry in his hand. Stepping into the corral, oats in one hand, hackamore in the other, he waved nose-sensitive horses back from the treat. It was for the skewbald mare. Skewy.
He slipped the hackamore on her as she made short work of eating the oats, her velvety-soft nose and lips brushing his hand. He patted her neck talking soft and low, rubbing his hand down her shoulder. He felt her strength as she jiggled muscle groups shooing the ever-present flies from one spot, then another.
“That‘s a girl. Now we’re friends, aren’t we?” Easterly crooned to her as he slid his hand down the reins. “Now let’s just go get the saddle.”
He held his hand out as if he had more oats. Skewy followed.
Holding the reins in one hand, Easterly picked up the saddle with the other and approached Skewy’s ribs. The horse moved sideways, pushing him backward. She crab-stepped against him until Easterly was pinned against the corral fence.
Around the pen laughter erupted from throats of different languages. Easterly’s face heated as he learned another lesson: the joy of witnessing someone else’s embarrassment is a universal commonality.
The score for the wild skewbald mare, two. The tenderfoot, zero.
Will Easterly ever win the contest? Leave a comment.
To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
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