I’m a pure-bred city-slicker who has ridden horses a few times including a two-day stint in high school helping drive cattle to their summer range, but most of my horse knowledge comes straight from Louis L’Amour cowboy novels. One day after helping my cousins brand cattle at their Wyoming ranch I decided to ride “Buckskin” back to the corrals. At this time I was probably 25ish and knew everything. Armed with this ignorance, I determined Buckskin’s bit was too tight and loosened it one or two notches. In hindsight this was like loosening the nut on the steering wheel of a car.
I climbed into the saddle and started down the bluff into the South field. It was about this time that the nut came completely off the steering wheel. Buckskin bolted for home. Confident in my ability to slow the horse, I jerked back on the reins. Nothing happened. No problem. I jerked harder. We went faster. I yelled “whoa” really loud. We still didn't stop.
Sensing something was wrong, (it could have been my yelling; "whoa" really loudly), Cousin Joseph and his horse tried to catch up to us but I had too much of a head start. I was jerking back on the reins as hard as I could but the horse just continued running. Looking back, I could see Joseph coming but he wasn't gaining on us. I was starting to wonder how badly I’d be hurt when my ride came to its inevitable conclusion. As we approached one of the ditches crisscrossing the field, I hung on to the saddle horn with both hands and managed to remain mounted during the jump. At this point I thought about jumping off, but the bad memory of jumping from a moving truck on the ranch years earlier convinced me to remain seated.
At the north end of the field there is a very stout barbwire fence with railroad ties for posts. This appeared to be Buckskin’s planned route home. I thought surely the stupid beast would see the fence before we hit it. Luckily I was right. At the last minute the horse veered abruptly to the east. I again managed to stay in the saddle. A glimmer of hope started to build as we approached the corner of the field where two fences intersect. With Joseph chasing me from behind, I started to think I might survive. My hope was fleeting.
As we approached the corner of the field, I thought Buckskin would slow down, and I was correct—momentarily. In the corner there was a gate made of three fence posts and four strands of barbwire. Inexplicably, Buckskin didn’t notice the gate was closed; he tensed and accelerated directly towards the gate.
As we again picked up speed I knew that one of two things was going to happen. We’d hit the gate and end up in a pile or; the horse would see the gate at the last possible second and come to an abrupt stop. I tried to prepare for both possibilities by leaning as far back in the saddle as possible and putting the stirrups next to Buckskin’s ears while bracing myself for the crash.
At the last moment Buckskin saw the closed gate and tried to stop but it was too late. We hit the barbwire. When we hit, the top strand pulled free from the post. The next strand was much lower, about thigh-high, which caused Buckskin to trip over the top of the remaining strands. Up until now I had remained in the saddle, but I knew from my extensive reading of Louis L’Amour novels that getting your feet caught in the stirrups was very bad, so I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and threw myself to the ground. I like to imagine this was done in an athletic manner but Joseph’s laughter told me otherwise.
Jumping quickly to my feet I snatched up Buckskin’s reins before he could regain his footing.
Joseph was laughing hysterically. I didn’t find my near-death experience nearly as funny as Joseph did but I was thankful to be alive and unhurt (except, of course, for my pride). Buckskin had a small cut on his chest from the barbwire but was otherwise unhurt.
I was not about to climb back into the saddle while it was still attached to Satan’s messenger so I walked him the rest of the way to the corrals. When we arrived, we ran into Uncle Bruce and told him about my experience. He was very concerned—-about Buckskin. He wondered why I’d do something so careless and damage one of his good horses. Appropriately chastened I headed back to the ranch house. I’m not sure I ever told anyone about loosening the bit; at the time I decided to keep that bit of knowledge to myself.
They say that good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from exercising bad judgment. From this incident I learned that if you want to significantly shorten your life, believe you know everything there is to know and then act accordingly.