Western Art

One of the Good Ones

An illustration of a horse head.

My grandmother on my father’s side lived in Nevada, and when we visited her, I’d get to see the wild horses that lived around the area. This was my first glimpse of Mustangs, and I instantly loved everything about them. There were quite a few buckskins with black points and a couple of roans — Spanish barb-looking things — and it was hard not to be attracted to them. A wild band in the sage sea with golden hides shimmering out of sight. I told myself when I got older, I’d be riding one.

Quite a few years (and many miles horseback) later, some friends were trading off a Mustang they had acquired from another horse trader. “Tubby,” they called him. Tubby was a bay roan, both front legs coming out of the same socket, feather-footed, broom-tailed, hooked little ears, with a forelock to his nose. He was the definition of “Mustang.” I had to have him, and a deal was made. It worked out great on my end, as I was headed to live on the wagon for a month out in West Texas and I was short on horseflesh. It wouldn’t hurt to have one more to go crush rocks on. Tubby and I hit it off from the start. He outworked half of my Quarter Horse crew, and he was a sweetheart on top of it all. When the rest of my remuda was smoked down from big circles hunting cattle, Tubby had more to go. It wasn’t long before he earned his spot.

Not long after the year’s works ended, I took a job caretaking a ranch in Montana and took my string of horses with me. That first winter, while riding fence, I watched 300 head of elk flurry like starlings as wolves ran them through the sage and the snow not 50 yards from me. It was Tubby who saw them first. We watched, hidden in the snowfall and timber. Neither of us made a sound — church mice.

I hauled Tubby from Texas to Montana and back. He taught my son how to ride. Somewhere along our travels, and against all horse-naming rules, I started calling him “Cortez.” I guess I felt he earned the dignity of it. He was anything but tubby to me. Out of curiosity, I did some research on Cortez — where he came from — and I found out he wasn’t long for this world. He was caught as a yearling and sent to a Colorado prison colt starting program only to flunk out and be branded as “too wild and aggressive,” earning himself three strikes and a death sentence. How he slipped through the cracks, I don’t know. I sure appreciate him. He is one of the good ones.

This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of Western Horseman.

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