I'm sure this will become a long story as it has "elements" that have to be added to it for it to become complete!
One of those elements, was the crush I had on Benny Reynolds when I was in high school. He was the most fantastic rodeo rider the world ever saw. To this day, I don't think I've seen rodeo like it was when Benny was there. He made it all look to easy.
Back then, I had a horse named Lucky. My grandparents bought him for me for my birthday one year. We had a good 22 years together before I lost him.
If you follow along in this blog at all, you've seen my photos of the ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front, the one my cousins now own, that used to belong to their father, my uncle Bill.
Uncle Bill was the perfect cowboy uncle for a horse crazy kid to have. He'd invite me to come to the ranch and he'd show me things about horses.
In fact, Lucky had been born on Uncle Bill's ranch, sold to the Lyman family at Sand Coulee, and my grandparents bought him from them. You've heard of Rod Lyman, the champion calf roper and steer wrestler? His dad (who was Uncle Bills best buddy) owned Lucky at the time my grandfather bought him.
Lucky and I were inseparable. I left my warm bed in the house, to sleep many nights, either on his warm back or curled up against his front legs.
At the time my Bob Marshall story begins, I was in high school. Uncle Bill asked my sister and I if we wanted to ride into the Bob with him for a week. Of course we said yes.
He came to our farm and got Lucky and hauled him to the ranch so Lucky would be ready for the trip into the Bob.
When we got to the ranch, and we were loading up the mules and saddling the horses, U Bill told my sister to put her saddle on Lucky. I couldn't believe it and I almost came unglued. Now most of the time, you didn't question U Bill. You did as he said and you did it now. But this was important to me. I said, "She's not riding Lucky! I am. He's my horse!" I was mad.
U Bill took one look at my face and took my arm and pulled me off away from the activity around the horses and mules. He said carefully, "Look Donna, I've only got a certain number of horses here we can ride. I'm going to have to put you on "Beastie".
I was so insulted. Beastie was a 3 year old Appaloosa POA U Bill was breaking for some neighbors. I know from the look he saw on my face, he thought he was about to get more argument from me.
He continued,"I've seen the way you ride, you can handle Beastie on this trip, but I don't want to put your sister on him. We haven't been riding him that much."
He knew right where to hit me, in the old cowboy pride! The knowledge you have when you're young and you spend all your days in the saddle, you know you can ride anything! So I agreed to ride Beastie into the Bob Marshall.
Another "element" to the story. My saddle is an old Hamley. It didn't quite fit Beastie. We were in a hurry getting ready, and we didn't take proper time to adjust the saddle to fit him. It would have taken some major overhauls. We (being U Bill and I) decided it would have to do. His advice to me was this, "So long as you stay in the middle of him, you'll be OK."
Yet another element of importance to my story was U Bill's old hat. I'd never worn a hat in my life and I'd spent all my days out in the sun. He couldn't accept that, I had to wear a hat. He sent my cousin in to get his old beat up, broken brimmed hat.
I was beginning to feel a little disappointed in him by this time, not only had he talked me into willingly riding Beastie, with a saddle that didn't fit, I was also going to wear his old worn out hat! But who's going to complain when you're headed into the Bob for a week? I rode off with the rest of the bunch with a big smile on my face, wearing that floppy old hat!
Now, U Bill lead off with the mule string behind him. He was riding a horse named, Chili Pepper. That horse had that name for a good reason. He was part firecracker. But he and U Bill had an understanding, and Chili Pepper would go places in the mountains with U Bill on his back, where no sane horse should go.
Starting out on the Swift Dam trail head into the Bob, the very first thing you do, is climb the face of a cliff. Horses have dropped off that cliff to their deaths, but up the cliff we went. The next part of the trail is getting around Swift Dam, the trail goes up and down over a lot of granite rock, then you go through the Gorge, where you're high on the mountainside, looking down a sheered off rock slide into a waterfall of rugged rock and deep water. Once you cross that rock slide it's clear sailing into the Bob.
Except for one thing. U Bill loves to fish. No matter where he sees a nice deep fishing hole he wants to try, he heads Chili Pepper for that fishing hole and Chili Pepper will get him there.
We're going along the trail as nice as can be, I'm "staying in the middle" of Beastie and growing downright fond of him. U Bill's old broken brimmed hat is quivering along on top of my head. Every so often he looks back at me and says, "Nice hat, or - nice horse!" Just to let me know he appreciates me giving in to him on the hat and the horse.
Every time U Bill's about to go around a corner in the trail where he'll be out of our sight, my cousin or I grab a pine cone and throw it as hard as we can so it goes over the mules and hits Chili's nice fat rear end. We giggle our heads off at the way Chili humps up and zooms around each corner.
We're high on the mountainside when U Bill decides he sees a fishing hole way below us. He drops the pack string lead rope in the trail and heads Chili down over the bank. The rest of us are following him like ducks in a row. My cousin Mary was ahead of me, and I was next. My sister, on Lucky, was behind me, so were my cousins, Marcia and Pixie. We also had a honeymoon couple with us, so they were behind me also.
Now imagine this, the mountainside is littered with dead, fallen timber. Everyone else is riding a full sized horse, with normal looking legs, and here I am, riding a POA. Logs that looked like nothing to the rest of them, must have looked huge to that gallant little horse. Yet, he never backed off for an instant!
We're headed straight down the high mountainside, and we're jumping dead falls, so guess what happens next? When Beastie is on the downside of a jump, my saddle comes up off his back, in the rear end. I throw my arms around his neck and hold on, "keeping in the middle of him" until he lands, then I get my saddle down and onto his back again.
By the time we hit the second dead fall, everyone behind me is expecting this colt to come unglued under what's happening and they're all screaming for me to jump! At this point, I had discovered what a wonderful little horse Beastie was, and I wasn't about to jump, he was tolerating the whole thing and handling it with aplomb!
We jump a few more dead falls, and my saddle was beginning to slip sideways as the force from the jumps loosened things up even more. It was impossible for me to leave the deck, as my feet were either jammed straight before me, or straight behind me.
By the time we hit the bottom of the hill, even I was afraid of what Beastie might do when he hit flat ground, and I decided I'd try to bail out after all. I got my chance when we jumped into the middle of the stream at the bottom of the mountain. Of course, I lit in the creek on my rear end. I sat there in complete and utter humility as my broken hat brim quivered over my face from the force of the landing.
With no where else to go, the other horses jumped over me and I can remember looking up at their bellies and legs and counting them as they went by so I'd know when it was safe to get up.
As I came dripping out of the creek, I'll never forget looking up and seeing U Bill. He was still sitting on Chili, the perfect cowboy picture with the sun behind him and the shape of him and Chili all back lit and glowing. His eyes were bursting with mirth, and he only said, "Wouldn't Benny Reynolds be proud of you now?"
Copyright Donna Ridgway