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On Horses
by [?]

I really believe that you will find more variation of individual and interesting character in a given number of Western horses than in an equal number of the average men one meets on the street. Their whole education, from the time they run loose on the range until the time when, branded, corralled, broken, and saddled, they pick their way under guidance over a bad piece of trail, tends to develop their self-reliance. They learn to think for themselves.

To begin with two misconceptions, merely by way of clearing the ground: the Western horse is generally designated as a “bronco.” The term is considered synonymous of horse or pony. This is not so. A horse is “bronco” when he is ugly or mean or vicious or unbroken. So is a cow “bronco” in the same condition, or a mule, or a burro. Again, from certain Western illustrators and from a few samples, our notion of the cow-pony has become that of a lean, rangy, wiry, thin-necked, scrawny beast. Such may be found. But the average good cow-pony is apt to be an exceedingly handsome animal, clean-built, graceful. This is natural, when you stop to think of it, for he is descended direct from Moorish and Arabian stock.

Certain characteristics he possesses beyond the capabilities of the ordinary horse. The most marvelous to me of these is his sure-footedness. Let me give you a few examples.

I once was engaged with a crew of cowboys in rounding up mustangs in southern Arizona. We would ride slowly in through the hills until we caught sight of the herds. Then it was a case of running them down and heading them off, of turning the herd, milling it, of rushing it while confused across country and into the big corrals. The surface of the ground was composed of angular volcanic rocks about the size of your two fists, between which the bunch-grass sprouted. An Eastern rider would ride his horse very gingerly and at a walk, and then thank his lucky stars if he escaped stumbles. The cowboys turned their mounts through at a dead run. It was beautiful to see the ponies go, lifting their feet well up and over, planting them surely and firmly, and nevertheless making speed and attending to the game. Once, when we had pushed the herd up the slope of a butte, it made a break to get through a little hog-back. The only way to head it was down a series of rough boulder ledges laid over a great sheet of volcanic rock. The man at the hog-back put his little gray over the ledges and boulders, down the sheet of rock,–hop, slip, slide,–and along the side hill in time to head off the first of the mustangs. During the ten days of riding I saw no horse fall. The animal I rode, Button by name, never even stumbled.

In the Black Hills years ago I happened to be one of the inmates of a small mining-camp. Each night the work-animals, after being fed, were turned loose in the mountains. As I possessed the only cow-pony in the outfit, he was fed in the corral, and kept up for the purpose of rounding up the others. Every morning one of us used to ride him out after the herd. Often it was necessary to run him at full speed along the mountain-side, over rocks, boulders, and ledges, across ravines and gullies. Never but once in three months did he fall.

On the trail, too, they will perform feats little short of marvelous. Mere steepness does not bother them at all. They sit back almost on their haunches, bunch their feet together, and slide. I have seen them go down a hundred feet this way. In rough country they place their feet accurately and quickly, gauge exactly the proper balance. I have led my saddle-horse, Bullet, over country where, undoubtedly to his intense disgust, I myself have fallen a dozen times in the course of a morning. Bullet had no such troubles. Any of the mountain horses will hop cheerfully up or down ledges anywhere. They will even walk a log fifteen or twenty feet above a stream. I have seen the same trick performed in Barnum’s circus as a wonderful feat, accompanied by brass bands and breathlessness. We accomplished it on our trip with out any brass bands; I cannot answer for the breathlessness. As for steadiness of nerve, they will walk serenely on the edge of precipices a man would hate to look over, and given a palm’s breadth for the soles of their feet, they will get through. Over such a place I should a lot rather trust Bullet than myself.