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A short story by Emma Carpenter.

Racehorse Bronc

Hennessey, Oklahoma had two rodeos a year: a really, really, good one every April, and a really, really, great one every August. The August rodeo was part of a larger town celebration, and all week in Hennessey there were special activities of every kind.

Our favorite one, besides the rodeo of course, was the horse races on Thursday night.

The races weren't anything fancy. The race track was just a plowed strip on a piece of ground donated by different land owners each year, and the horses were mostly local ones of every description brought out for an evening of fun. There was always a 300 gallon stock tank filled to the rim with ice and pop, and everybody would crowd around the "track" elbow to elbow cheering on their favorites.

Book cover to short story: Racehorse Bronc

One year Bill, Danny, and I watched with particular interest as a horse approached the starting line. The horse was a golden palomino with a nearly perfect build. He was walking along quietly but on edge, like he could explode at any moment. You could tell his rider was riding very, very, carefully. He held the reins cautiously, and his stirrups were unusually long for riding in a race. He was paying attention to the horse's every move.

A man was leading the horse and the jockey exchanged a quick glance with him. No words were spoken but the look clearly said, "don’t let go." They lined up with the other horses, with the man leading the palomino making sure he and his horse were on the outside so he could hang onto him until the very last moment.

Now that they were closer and we could get a better look, our interest escalated. If there was ever such a thing as a buck-off proof saddle, this horse was wearing one. It had a pommel and cantle that rose up straight high from a small, tight, seat. The pommel curled down and to the back to wrap tightly over the top of the rider’s thighs. It looked like an extreme, homemade version of bear trap saddle. We couldn’t help but wonder what kind of horse had earned the honor of wearing it.

Below: A bear trap saddle, also sometimes called a "freak fork" saddle. (Not the one in the story.)

A bear trap saddle

When the starter's pistol fired we found out. The other four horses in the race sprinted forward like they were supposed to, but Yeller went straight up into the air with experience, power, and style. He came down with his forelock between his knees and his heels level with the tree tops.

The jockey was catapulted from his specially made saddle with a loud popping noise. He flew the width of the track before skidding across the Oklahoma love grass on his belly, scooping up dirt with the brim of his hat and funneling it into his jeans with his belt buckle. Behind him, as the rest of the horses crossed the finish line, the palomino continued to buck like he'd heard of the NFR and wanted to go there.

When the bucking finally slowed the man who had been leading the horse stepped forward to take him away. Rodeo broncs are extremely difficult to find, and this horse had showed such ability that Danny approached the man and introduced himself. He asked the stranger if he was the horse's owner. The man replied that he was.

"How long has he been bucking like that?" Danny began.

"Since we broke him as a two year old," the man replied.

"Since you broke him?" Danny asked, stepping back to get a good look at the mature, stout horse in front of him. "How old is he now?"

"Six," the owner said casually.

"He's bucked like that for four years?" Danny couldn't believe it. "Does he do it every time?"

"Oh, yes, every time," the owner assured him. "It’s getting hard to keep jockeys at my place."

Danny tried to buy the horse on the spot, but the owner looked horrified at the thought. He explained that he knew the palomino was the fastest horse in the country and that he couldn't possibly sell him.

Danny reasoned with the man, and pointed out that a horse that had bucked for as long and as hard as this one had would probably never quit. It took the entire rest of the evening, but with the jockey now on his feet and looking on with a hopeful expression, the owner eventually agreed to the sale.

They lived close by, so the three of us, Danny, Bill, and I, picked the horse up the next day. After we had him loaded and were heading back down the driveway, I looked into the side mirror of the truck. The owner was following the trailer with his eyes, a sorrowful frown on his face. Standing a couple of steps behind him was the jockey. He was grinning broadly, and waved exuberantly at the tail of the palomino as it disappeared out of sight.

A rodeo bucking horse is a real treasure to find, and we were all excited to think we might have found a new one. Nobody, though, was more pleased about this one than Danny.

In the past, Danny had found several good bulls for Carpenter Rodeo Company but he had never found a bronc. He had been so happy to find this horse that he had even written the check for his purchase. When we got to the arena Bill's father, Norman, tried to pay Danny for the horse but Danny wouldn't let him.

"We'll wait till tonight, after he bucks," Danny said. "Then you can pay me for him. I will have finally found you a good bronc!"

That evening the former owner showed up at the rodeo to watch. The poor man had a long, sad face, and his eyes had a teary look. You can’t be a famous racehorse trainer without a really fast racehorse, and selling the palomino had broken a very big dream. Clearly depressed, he settled in with the rest of the huge crowd for Yeller's official bucking debut.

When the chute opened on the palomino that night, there wasn’t a single person in the jampacked crowd that could have predicted what was going to happen. That yellow son-of-a-gun didn't just leave that chute, he broke some kind of world record doing it. Not for height, but for speed.

For the first time in his life the palomino took off like a racehorse from the starting gate, bolting down the arena so fast he blew hats off on both sides of the bleachers with his wake.

Danny was picking up that night and was just about to cut across the arena to try and catch the runaway as he came up the other side when a high, angry voice from the crowd stopped him.

"You stinking, stinking thief!" The horse's former owner screamed. He was standing on the top row of the bleachers, one fist on his hip and the other hand pointing a long, accusing finger right at Danny. "You stole my racehorse!"

Then the man came bounding down the rows of bleachers three at once. By the time he reached the bottom he had fished Danny's un-cashed check out of his shirt pocket and was waving it wildly through the arena fence.

Danny pulled his horse to a stop, changed direction, and galloped headlong over to the fence. He grabbed the check and tore it into confetti on the spot, muttering something about he didn't want to find a racehorse, he wanted to find a bronc.

The former owner/current owner came behind the chutes with a halter. He gave it to me, and I went into the pen to catch his horse for him.

He led the horse away on the spot. We were crushed, the owner was elated, and somewhere, there was a darned unhappy jockey.


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About The Author

Emma Carpenter and her husband Bill are the owners of the website. Emma is the administrator of the website, and when not writing articles for other areas of CowboyWay she enjoys writing the occasional short story.

For many years Bill and Emma maintained a small cow/calf herd while also doing day work for area ranchers in the Kansas Flint Hills. The Carpenters are retired from Carpenter Rodeo Company, a family owned rodeo company that put on rodeos in Kansas and Oklahoma for over 40 years. They still own a small cow/calf herd.


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