I was heading to the office last Saturday morning when I spotted one of my friendly neighbors working in his yard.  I pulled over, rolled down the window, and said. “Good morning.”  David came to the car window and told me how much he had enjoyed reading about Barbwire Bob’s latest tale of how that column was named.  The title stemmed from a horse story.

His keen interest prompted me to write about early day ranch life and another horse incident.

After finishing my army tour as a tank range officer at Ft. Knox, KY, running fire ranges for 30 and 50 caliber machine guns, and finally the 105 tank canons, my wife Gerri and daughter Saundra returned to Craig.  I rejoined my father on his cattle ranch in the spring of 1961.  Four of my army AOB classmates were sent to Vietnam as advisors, as the war was about to commence. It was a very bad place for tanks.

Having saved some money on my meager 2nd Lt. pay, I went to the annual Rio Blanco County horse sale in Meeker, 40 miles from home.

I had decided that I wanted to raise horses, so I bid on three registered stud horses and purchased them at the auction.  Two were registered American quarter horses and one an appaloosa with a brown and white blanket on his back.

My father Henry, having been born on a nearby homestead ranch with five brothers had spent his entire life living and breathing horses, cattle and hay, except for a World War 1 tour. They delivered the horses and we put them in a round horse corral adjoining a larger enclosed area with gates to various pastures along the river.

The round high horse coral was built for breaking horses with all of the poles turned outward so a horse and rider would not strike any inward objects injuring the horse or rider brushing the poles.

My father looked the horses over and I explained to him briefly that I had purchased the three horses with my intent to raise quarter horses.  He only had one comment before walking away, “Son, he said, if you wanted to go into the horse business why didn’t you buy mares.” It was a classic statement and it hit me like a ton of bricks and shattered my vision of raising horses.

Well, to make a long story short my father didn’t like stud horses because they jump fences, go crazy around mares, and can beat up on geldings.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any mares, and these were two-year old stallions, still relatively benign in sexual desires.

I realized that my dream to be in the horse business was misguided and in reality we had three new fancy cow ponies.  One bay, one sorrel, and what turned out to be an ornery “appy” that bucked me off the first time I attempted to ride him.

Listening to the wisdom of my father, we castrated the three horses.  I broke them all, one bucked, the other two didn’t buck and became gentle pets.

However, “Nueve” the tall sorrel, had a lot of thoroughbred in his bloodline and I made another bad judgement with him. 

I had purchased a good noseband hackamore and used it to work with the horses inside the coral.  It was finally time to take “Nueve” out for our first ride together outside of the coral and without thinking I didn’t put a bridle with a bit in his mouth. 

We lived alongside the Yampa river adjacent to the ranchlands.

I walked the horse out to the county road that went across a long bridge where there was an intersection with a dirt “dugout” road leading to another Sweeney ranch a few miles away.  I took the narrow dirt road and after about a mile turned around and headed back to the ranch.  I thought that it was time to trot and almost instantly the trot became a became a full-fledged runaway.  I pulled back on the hackamore with all my strength and realized that without a bridal bit in his mouth the nose band wasn’t enough to stop him.  He just bowed his neck and ran faster.  I had heard or read about whipping a runaway horse on the  rear gaining control once again.  I tried that and he only ran faster.  So, we went flying down  the dirt road.

My concern was that when we reached the end of the dugout road there was a sharp 45 degree turn onto the bridge with a deep gulch on the far side of the forked road.  If the horse continued to run, he would never make the turn onto the bridge.  I tugged on the reins with no results so we just went at full speed fearing what might be an impending disaster.

Well miracles do happen.  When we reached the bridge he just stopped.  I think he was running out of breath; I certainly was. I learned that if you ride a raw horse you should use a severe bit that goes inside the horse’s mouth and puts extreme pressure on his jaw and mouth that really controls the horse.  Another lesson learned.

My father, Henry Sweeney on Nueve

My dad really liked the horses.  I have a photo of him riding “Nueve” on his 70th birthday at a racetrack in Craig where he rode him in a saddle horse race.  He came in second.

We sold the appaloosa and it wasn’t long before I left the ranch to enter the newspaper business.
To Be Continued: