You might say he was lucky.
By Jim Marler, written August 1988
Illustration by Dwayne Brech
HECK WAS lucky–no two ways about it. He was lucky to have been foaled that particular spring down on the Big Sandy. We got lots of rain and warm nights, so the feed came early.
Summer was especially wet that year also. Old Bell, his mother, gave lots of milk and the little gray horse colt got off to a good strong start.
Heck’s luck held all along that first year. Cattle were fat and sold good at the Kingman (Ariz.) sale, so Mr. Boss laid in extra feed to help the mares and colts through the winter.
Heck was pretty lucky his second spring, too. The range wasn’t as good because it stayed cold late and that old Mohave County wind blew a lot, but Heck hit a lick again because he was ready to be cut, branded, and halter-broke at headquarters. This meant plenty of hay and grain, as Mr. Boss really fed his colts during all this.
Heck halter-broke real easy once he got used to being necked to an old jenny burro. He thought he was pretty tough and stubborn, but he soon found out that burros have a comer on the market when it comes to stubborn. In a few days that jenny not only had him leading good, but had given him some lessons on manners as well.
Heck’s luck had turned him into a big, stout, four-year-old bronc. He had some looks about him and was fairly gentle from being handled off and on the past few years. Because of these two pluses, the horse breaker kinda took a liking to him. He took a little extra time and patience in getting him broke. Yes ·sir, Heck just seemed to have it all in front of him.
Mr. Boss was kind of proud of this big gray colt he’d raised, so when roundup started he cut him to one of his best cowboys.
Heck learned quickly all about dragging calves to the fire and getting around in the ridge country packing a cowboy. He’d even helped that cowboy tie down a yearling or two that didn’t think they belonged in a hold-up.
Sure, he was a little tired when he’d get back to camp at night, but getting his back washed off and a big morral of grain had him feeling better in no time. His turn didn’t come around but every fourth or fifth day, so it wasn’t so tough on him. Heck was lucky–it could have been worse.
In his sixth year, Heck was old and experienced enough to take those long, tough days in the mountains. He was big, stout, and gentle–a good horse. Trouble was that his luck had started to change.
Heck used to get turned out after the fall works to rest and freshen up all winter. Nowadays he was just getting new shoes because it was time to catch a few mavericks.
Heck always kind of liked helping a cowboy catch a wild one. He didn’t think any cow brute could outrun him in any place. The problem came when, after he’d done such a good job of giving the cowboy a throw, he got paid by getting hooked in the belly or rear by those critters all the way back to camp. Sure, the cowboy had sawed their horns half off, but if he was so lucky, why did he have to lead one out at all?
When Old Heck was about nine or ten, he was feeling all those hard runs and hookin’s pretty regular. He was getting pretty limber-legged and when he stubbed his toe he just couldn’t catch himself like he used to.
The good cowboy had quit riding him and some button was always making up for inexperience with sharp spurs or a doubled rope. Old Heck forgot what luck ever was.
One cold November morning Old Heck was thrown in the ropes just like he had always been for his past 15 years. He watched as old Mr. Boss led out one old crony after another. They were being shipped to a packing house in the valley. When the rope settled around Heck’s neck he somehow knew it would be the last remuda he’d be roped out of.
Old Mr. Boss took a long slow look at Old Heck and got sort of watery in both eyes. He turned to the good cowboy and said, “Jerk the shoes off this old horse and turn him in the meadow. He’s took care of many a cowboy on this outfit, and now we’re gonna take care of him.”
Yep, Old Heck was lucky again.