The part of the cowboy ethos that often gets left out is this: the good cowboys avoid getting bucked off in the first place.
We’ve all had them – the pen of cattle that burned through money and accumulated enough losses to eat up a year’s worth of work. A friend recounted to me a recent business deal that turned really bad; he made the comment that when you get bucked off, you have to get back on. Everyone who rides knows this mantra; it’s part of the cowboy ethos.
Looking back, however, I would say that a lot of my problems could be traced to jumping right back in the saddle. Occasionally, it’s a freaky set of circumstances that has you picking cheatgrass out of your backside; in those cases, one needs to get back on. But most of the time, unless you’re doing something different, that same horse is likely to come unglued again (insert Einstein’s definition of insanity here).
Of course, there are times when circumstances dictate that one simply must get back on – the day’s work has to be completed and bad experiences or sorry luck are part of life. But as I get older, I’m starting to think that instead of getting right back on, a little more groundwork might be in order.
I heard the following story secondhand, but it sounded too real to be made up. A rancher in southwestern Colorado was riding in some pretty rough country one day (canyons and the like) with no cell coverage, and his young horse threw him. The first episode had the cowboy laid out in rocks, a broken leg and no way to get help.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the horse returned to him. Since it was his only way out, he struggled to get back on. A half mile further up the trail, the horse threw him again, and this time it was the rider’s ribs that suffered the damage.
The blasted horse circled around and came back to the cowboy, and you can imagine how this story progressed. That horse nearly killed him, but probably saved his life at the same time. This rider really didn’t have a choice; he had to get back on. But my guess is that the horse never had the chance to go on another canyon ride with that rancher.
I’m still for getting on after one gets bucked off, but I’m thinking a little reflection and quite a bit of additional groundwork might be in order before one climbs back on.
One of the best horsemen and smartest ladies I ever met had a pretty good perspective; she did everything possible to avoid having to ride a bucking horse. But if she failed, she didn’t spend a lot of time fixing the problem; her philosophy was that there were plenty of good horses out there and her time was better spent riding the good ones.
That’s the part of the cowboy ethos that often gets left out – the good cowboys avoid getting bucked off in the first place. They find the right horse or the right deal to begin with, they put in the groundwork and do their homework, and put themselves in a situation where they can avoid the wreck and have success. The famous cowboys are those who avoided getting bucked off; the others are crippled.