Ride Rank or Suffer

 “If you make it three jumps, it’s easy after that.”


It’s something my dad said once about staying hooked when trying to ride a bronc. I think the quote first came from some pro rodeo bronc rider describing how he became successful riding rodeo broncs and breaking colts. He says if you can make it three jumps then you can ride anything, because having that mental preparation and knowing after three jumps it’s all a breeze, really influences you when trying to ride the buck out of a horse. So, if you’re riding a colt, or an actual bucking horse all you have to do is keep reminding yourself after three jumps you’ve got the horse covered, then you can stick to anything.

Well, I’ve had the amazing luck to have some pretty solid horses in the past several years, therefore my bronc riding experience is slightly lacking as of late. It’s been so long since I’ve had a fresh young colt to worry about that I’ve become a bit of a “yuppy” so to speak. I’ve been spoiled. I’m not sure if my good calf mare even knows how to buck, and if she did I’m fairly certain after two jumps she’d realize it’s a lot more work than it’s worth and the old lady would honestly be too lazy to give me much of a go. Well, as it is in rodeo when your good horses start reaching a certain age you start thinking about replacements for them. My dad recently purchased two young horses, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. Both, green-broke, however the 5-year-old was suppose to have some steer-stopping experience. The 3-year-old is a real nice looking grulla gelding, who looks like he’ll have some good size to him. The 5-year-old is a flashy looking little lined-back dun mare with a cute little head and just a collected look about her. Everything on our place eventually is used as a heel horse or calf horse, (there’s not much use for any other kind is there?) although occasionally we keep a head horse on the property for practice. So, although everything is bought or raised with the purpose of becoming a heel-horse, I really like the look of the dun mare. She just has that breakaway, heel prospect look, plus I tend to get along with mares, so the natural pick to start training a replacement for my heel/breakaway mare would be another heel/breakaway mare.

I’ve been living down here in Texas for quite a while and I haven’t had much of a chance to get home and check these two new mounts out. Easter weekend was approaching and I thought it would be a good opportunity to head north, see the family and check out these new prospects. I arrived at home and immediately I wanted to try out the little dun mare (which I desperately need to figure out a name for, considering her registered name just doesn’t seem to fit), well my dad just kept suggesting I ride the 3-year-old instead. I thought ‘Oh sure you’re just wanting the little calf horse for yourself.’ Well, I come to find out dad knew best.

 The little mare is one of the most polite horses I’ve ever been around. She has incredible ground manners and is real quiet about everything. She was a little spooky about getting saddled, but I thought no big deal she hasn’t been rode in awhile and it was pretty brisk that day, so it’s natural she might be a little cold-backed. Little did I know she was going to be a lot cold-backed.

 As I threw the saddle on her back I made my first mistake. Instead of saddling her with my saddle I put my brother’s saddle on her instead. I know what you’re thinking, stupid idea, right? Well, I had a good reason. I was intending to ride both the 3-year-old and her, I figured the 3-year-old would be the one more likely to give me trouble and I would be more comfortable on him with my saddle. But, after I already had the mare saddled with my brother’s saddle and was about to saddle the gelding, my dad reminded me that, although it’s a good idea to ride them both we also had a team roping to make that afternoon and I might not have enough time to ride both horses. Not wanting to waste time unsaddling the mare and re-saddling her with my saddle (although looking back I should have taken the extra few minutes to do so) I figured I’d ‘be fine’ with my brother’s saddle.

 Normally on a solid broke horse, this may have been true, I’m use to riding different saddles, (although I prefer my NRS saddle) and usually riding other saddles doesn’t bother me. Well, this particular saddle features some really nice extra deep roping stirrups, which for a normal person that is taller than 5-foot like me is super nice, allowing you to easily get your feet in and out of the stirrups without being worried about getting hung up. But, for my short legs, they only added length to the stirrups that I didn’t need. Plus, the stirrup leathers where in the shortest hole and they were still slightly too long for me. (And still I thought ‘no big deal’… I’m such a genius – cue heavy sarcasm).

 I’m not sure if many of you have much experience riding young horses, but if you do then you know the feeling I am about to describe. The second I stepped up on the mare, it just didn’t feel right. Immediately I could feel how “tight skinned” she was underneath of me. It was not a feeling I liked. I took off my spurs and proceed to ride her easily and quietly to get her relaxed with me, and her surroundings. Now, on one hand she had a really sharp and snappy feel to her, which in a calf horse is a nice quality, however on this particular day it wasn’t to my liking. As I’m walking around the arena all I wanted was that tight feel of hers to relax, for her to become a little less taught and rigid underneath of me.

 She has a nice move about her, naturally collected and although she was green broke she neck-reined and knew basic cues, just sorta “jackpot” broke. However, not exactly how I like my horses broke. I like to be able to place them where-ever I want, I want to be able to move them over with my feet during a run or in the box or just riding in the pasture. If I’m going down the pen on the heel side and I feel like my horse may have cut the corner slightly or is a little too close to the steer I want to be able to give them some direction with my feet, and side pass them over to where I want them. Whatever the case may be. It was obvious this mare wasn’t sure about how to take leg cues.

 I had a little snaffle on her face and was two-hand colt riding her, just trying to communicate with her what I expected from her. I’m trying to get her to move right, but she doesn’t understand that unless you neck rein her that direction. As I’ve got her nose tipped to the right, I press my left leg to her side to give her a little direction. To tell her move away from the pressure, move to the right. Just slow basic work is all, I wasn’t trying to get her excited or scare her.

 But, apparently she’s a scared type. As soon as I pressed her with that outside leg, she spooked slightly and dropped her head and gave it all she had.

 So, remember me telling you about my dad’s advice. “If you can make it three jumps you can ride anything.” Well, that only holds true if you stay hooked through it all, never, and I mean NEVER give up!

 The little dun mare dropped head and started firing, one jump, two jumps, at that point I had one hand on the saddle horn and my right hand still on the reins pulling her head to my right knee. Three jumps. Once the mare and I hit three jumps I thought to myself ‘that’s three jumps, I have her head pulled around to my right knee, it’s game over, I’ve got this, she’s done.’

 You see folks, that’s where I made my second mistake. I assumed she was done. I assumed I had it. I relaxed. My body said ‘oh no biggie any of my other horses would be done bucking by now so she must be too, lets just quit riding.’ Bad mistake!

 So three jumps in I relaxed in my saddle assumed she’s just like my other horses and would have already given up and listened to me, listened to the fact I had her face in-tow and was asking for some collection. Well, no. In her mind it wasn’t over. With every pull of my hand and every effort I made to pull her head up or over, she got even madder. She bucked harder and tried harder to throw the scary monster from her back, me.

 So there I was about six jumps in at that point, sitting on top of a bucking horse, relaxed, in a saddle with stirrups too long and a horse getting angrier and more wicked with every jump. With her head pulled to my right knee she just bucked harder and switched direction so fast I didn’t notice, until my left foot came out of the stirrup and I realized the situation I was in might not be a good one. At that point, she pulled her head from me, and with a missing left stirrup my grip on the reins started to slide as she took her head away from me.  All of a sudden, she’s bucking good and putting on a real show, and me, I was all strung out on top of her.

 Then I make mistake No. 3. Instead of staying hooked and fighting to get a hold, for whatever reason my eyes drifted and I noticed we were heading straight for the fence. Every rodeo bloomer moment and wildest wreck you’ve ever seen or heard about flashed through my mind. Instead of thinking about sitting in my saddle I started thinking about what would happen if we hit that fence. We could be tangled, mangled and any other number of terrible wrecks. Anyway, obviously that isn’t where my mind should have been, because as soon as you’re eyes start wandering that’s when you’re sure fire to get thrown.

 So, as we were coming up on the fence (the jumps and bucks count racking up along the way) and I realized my head was not were it should be I decided I better pick my spot or it was only going to get worse from there. So as she made a slight pause as she too realized she had come up on the fence, I started reaching for it with the intentions of using the fence to “slide” off her. As I was midway in the air and basically already with a grip on the fence I made mistake No. 4, I thought ‘Hmm maybe using the fence isn’t a good idea, I mean that could hurt right?’ So, I decided to “tuck and roll” in the opposite direction. It basically turned into only roll and not so much tuck. And I landed in a pretty hard thump on the ground on my left side, turning my body into a human accordian as it slammed together on the Earth and then sprung back.

 I didn’t take much time getting up, along with a very long list of very choice words coming out of my mouth (none of which I can repeat here), I briskly walked over to the mare who was “smiling” at me from the corner of the arena, her head held high.

 To make a long story short, several minutes later and one very sweaty and tired horse (from the multiple circles loped) I think we gained a little better understanding of each other and more importantly of what I expect from her. And none of that includes me hitting the ground in anyway in the future.



 P.S. What is your best/worst buck off story? Tell me in the comments!

-photo credit: Will James sketch


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