"Stupid...of all the stupid things to do!" Stormed Buck as he slammed into the jailhouse.
JD was leaning back in a chair, his feet propped up on the desk, and his face buried in a dime store novel. The prisoner lay on a bunk in his cell counting ceiling tiles.
"I was just down at the livery stable and Yosemite said you talked to him about some horse to practice bronc riding on?"
"You talked to him about riding a bucking horse!"
"You talked to Yosemite about a bucking..."
"Yes Buck, I talked to Yosemite about a harness horse he has that likes to buck and he said I could use him to practice on."
"Look kid, Chris and I have rode our share of rough stock, and I have to tell ya it ain't as easy as you seem to think it is. Every morning we creak and groan getting out of bed, everyone of those rides coming back to haunt us."
"I know how hard it is Buck; I told you I rode lots of horses that bucked back east. Every spring we had a whole gaggle of green three and four year olds on the estate that I had to start. Some of them were real raunchy."
"Oh I see...you had raunchy three year old estate horses you had to start. Yeah, I forgot how bad those horses raised on plush green pastures with white rail fences, and cozy boxstalls can be. Ya rode eastern sissified, fancy carriage horses and ladies Sunday going to church horses! Oh yeah, these tough, wild little cayuses coming in off the range will be a piece of cake for a seasoned bronc rider such as yourself!" Buck waved his hands at JD, "No, don't say a word, you know what your doing, but ya won't mind if I come down to the corral too watch and maybe pick up your body parts afterwards. Hopefully I can find enough to fill at least part of a pine box!"
"Fine, if it will make you feel better you can meet me in an hour at the livery, that's when Chris relieves me."
+ + + + + + +
JD was feeling mighty self-conscious as he made his way towards the livery. Chris sat on the jail porch, Ezra leaned against the guard railing that wrapped around the hotel's upstairs balcony, and Nathan and Josiah were situated on the church roof. Vin had joined Buck, and they now climbed up onto the corral's top rail. All were intently watching a big strawberry roan gelding as he quietly ate hay from a manger in the corner of the corral.
JD entered the cool darkness of the barn, the scent of sweet hay, leather and sweaty horses assaulting his nostrils. He loved these smells; to him they represented what was good on this earth. He opened up the tack room door to retrieve his saddle. On the far side all the saddles sat on wooden saddle racks that had been attached to the wall, and on the near wall the bridles and halters hung off coffee cans. Yosemite ran a tight ship, everything had a place, and if you did not want to incur his wrath, you made sure it was in that place. JD didn't worry too much about his room, but he didn't have much respect for people with dirty barns.
As he was exiting the building he had to laugh at a new sign Yosemite hung by Seven's stall door.
For experienced riders we have spirited horses $1.00 a day For beginner riders we have gentle horses $1.00 a day For people who don't like to ride,
we have horses that don't like being ridden
$0.25 a day
JD entered the corral, his saddle in one hand, and the bridle in the other and trepidation in his heart. He wasn't scared of the horse or of getting hurt, but did all the guys have to watch? Thankfully the old horse didn't so much as twitch as JD saddled and bridled him, so far so good.
JD gathered up the reins in his left hand, put his left foot in the stirrup and lightly stepped up onto the horse. Gently shifting, moving as little as possible he settled deeper into his saddle, and let the reins slide some more through his fingers so the horse would be able to get his head down to really buck. Nothing happened, JD could hear Buck snicker. JD wriggled his seat, still nothing. He squeezed with his legs, and clucked. The big roan flipped his ears back and forth, and let out a sigh. JD could feel his face burn with embarrassment.
JD placed his hand on the saddle horn and started getting off when the roan suddenly let out a huge snort, ducked his head and sunfished into the sky. On the first jump JD blew a stirrup, on the second he lost his hat and by the third there wasn't even a horse under him as he landed flat on his back, hitting hard in the muddy manure.
JD lay there gasping, the wind blown from his lungs, wishing more that anything he could get up and mush the face of a hysterically laughing Buck. Now the horse wandered over and nudged him leaving a trail of green slimy foam and hay across his coat. JD hugged his arms around his stomach and struggled to his feet, leaning against the corral's weathered logs. He ignored the men, and the horse behind him and concentrated on breathing.
Finally catching his breath, he turned reaching for the reins dragging on the ground and swung the horse to face the middle of the corral. Buck and Vin fought to bring their mirth under control, Buck actually biting his lips as he nodded to JD in a show of support. JD just shot them both a dirty look, before stepping back up on the horse.
This time JD was ready for the first explosion, as the horse launched himself straight up and came down stiff-legged. Twisting end over end, JD fought to stay with the horse, but was powerless as he was again pitched over the horse's ears with the next jump.
Buck and Vin watched first JD hit the dirt, then in slow motion his gun come twirling out of the air, and landed on the ground beside him.
The gunshot reverberated across the prairie floor. The three men froze, staring in horror at Buck's hat as it flew off his head and dropped outside the corral, a bullet hole in its brim and then back to JD's smoking gun.
Vin recovered from the shock first. "JD, you didn't have your gun tied in your holster properly!"
"What the hell are you doing riding with a loaded gun anyway, you idiot!" Buck yelled recovering his voice.
"Buck, it was an accident," Vin started to say.
"Accident, he damned near blew my head off...again!"
"Buck...I'm sorrrry!" JD finally managed to sputter out.
"Vin you mind putting the horse away, JD's going to be too busy running for his life?" Buck asked as he climbed down off the logs, picked up his hat by sticking his finger through the bullet hole, and proceeded in JD's direction. "I'm going to whump on you so bad!"
+ + + + + + +
JD slowly limped along the last hundred feet of dirt road, finally reaching the wood boardwalk, and plunked his fatigued body down. The streets were empty and all the shops dark, their owners having gone home for the evening. JD's sweat soaked clothes hung to his clammy, grimy body, and on his feet, raw blisters the size of silver dollars were really smarting. He had no idea how he was going to remove his boots without inflicting even more damage. Boots weren't made for walking, or in his case running, especially on hot sandy terrain. For the second time in two days JD needed to go soak in the bathhouse.
He couldn't believe Buck had done this to him, not that he didn't deserve Buck's wrath; he did almost shoot him again. But that was an accident, Buck did this on purpose. Buck had chased JD from one end of Four Corners and then back again, three times before JD finally headed up the road out of town. Though it was early spring the sun still had a lot of kick to it; JD knew Buck wasn't crazy about physical activities in the heat that didn't involve at least one member of the female persuasion. He figured Buck would follow him for about two minutes before giving up and heading back to town, then JD would find a tree to sit under till his friend cooled off some. JD then planned on riding that strawberry roan again today. Looking over his shoulder he couldn't spot Buck anywhere, he had given up even sooner then JD thought he would.
Then the sound of hoof beats approaching at a slow steady trot interrupted JD's thoughts, spinning around he saw Buck baring down on him, that murderous look still on his face; JD took off running.
Buck would let JD get a little ahead and then as soon as the kid looked like he was slowing down; he would quicken his horse's gait again, forcing JD to keep up the strenuous pace. JD ran for what seemed like forever.
"Run JD, I'm coming for ya, and you really don't want me to catch ya right now, there's no telling what I will do to you!"
"Okay Buck...I'm sorry. How many times do I have to say it?" Wheezed out JD. "I...can't...go any...further!"
JD pitched into some tall prairie grass and grabbed his cramping side, Buck was just going to have to finish him off here; he couldn't move another foot.
Buck rode his horse right up to JD, pulling up short before the horse stepped on him. "See ya back in town kid." Buck said, and then turned his gray horse for home.
That had been several hours ago, JD thought he would end up spending the night sleeping out under the stars, but thirst and the thought of soaking in a bath kept him going.
+ + + + + + +
The morning sun was barely peaking over the horizon as JD made the torturous journey from the boarding house to the saloon for breakfast. He had been too tired last night after his bath to eat supper, plus he hadn't felt up to running into Buck. The saloon still had an early morning chill, as JD made his way to the seven's usual table and set his aching feet up on a chair. He was the only occupant; it would another hour before most of the regulars were up and about. JD asked for a cup of coffee and a double order of flapjacks, after he ate he was going to track Buck down, and try making it up to his best friend somehow.
JD heard their voices before they entered the saloon, Buck and Chris stopped when they saw JD at the table. The hat with the bullet hole in it was planted firmly upon Buck's head. JD slowly rose from the table and approached the two men, his eyes never leaving Buck's.
"If ya want to kick me in my britches, I'll bend over for it, just please don't kick too durn hard, I still want to ride at that ranch in a few days." JD said, with a pleading look on his young face.
Buck searched JD's red sun and wind burnt face. "I noticed ya limping coming in to town last night, your feet hurt?" No need to tell the kid he and Vin had been in the process of saddling up their horses to come collect him, when they noticed the wilting figure make his own way into town.
"If it makes ya feel better, they hurt like heck."
"Then I guess we're even." Buck said throwing an arm over his young friend's shoulder. "Come on lets eat, we have a lot to do before your ready to ride Sunday."
"Ya still going to help me, even after yesterday?" JD's face lit up.
"Just leave the guns at home!"
+ + + + + + +
The mud in the corral was finally draining away, in a few days it would become hard packed clay, but for the time being it still offered a little give on the landings.
"Hells bells boy, I said ya have to stay in the middle of the horse!" Buck looked down at his young pupil, who was on the ground for the third time, and waited for JD's eye's to uncross. "Which direction is Sunday kid?"
"East ya say." Buck laughed as his wobbly friend pointed somewhere away from town. "Close enough, don't quit now. Ya can't be a bronc buster if ya have any quit in ya. Now listen up kid, balance alone is what keeps ya on a bucking horse and rhythm is the key to that balance. Ya got that, balance and rhythm, now get back on that horse and lets see what you´re made of."
JD stepped back up on to the horse, "Balance," he thought, he just had to sit deep in the saddle, lean back, give the horse enough rein. "Let em rip, yeehaw!"
JD landed on his back, again, the wind whooshing so deeply out of his lungs he didn't think he would ever catch his breath. Buck cringed and closed his eyes like he wanted to block out the reoccurring image. JD lay staring with unblinking eyes at the brilliant blue sky above him. A hawk hunting prey circled in and out of his vision. A wisp of a cloud past in front of the mid-morning sun casting a shadow over his body for a brief moment. The roan carefully stepped around him and made his way back to the manger, where he contentedly munched on the hay left from his breakfast.
"Yep, I can feel them horses starting to quiver in fear, just thinking 'Bronc Buster Dunne' might be putting his shingle out."
"Shut up Buck!" JD finally managed to gasp out.
+ + + + + + +
The saloon was already filled with people enjoying their mid-day meal, when Buck and JD entered through the swinging doors, and joined their friends.
"Hey JD, your moving a mite slow, I guess ya didn't have any more luck today then ya did yesterday." Vin said, his mouth already full of stew.
"I'd say by the looks of you JD, you fell off a few times." Nathan added, appraising the young lawman's ruffled, dirt covered appearance.
"Nathan...I was catapulted skywards, pitched over his head, tossed off sideways, and he bucked me out from under my hat, but I never...never just fell off!" JD said grinning as he pulled out a chair and tentatively eased his bruised behind onto it.
"How did your morning really go JD?" Josiah asked.
"Well it might have been better if Buck wasn't yapping at me as much, he kept distracting me."
"Yeah kid, I'm the reason ya kept eating dirt!" Buck said swatting the back of JD's head. "This boy found more ways to dismount that horse, than an anthill has ants."
"Your a good rider and a good size to work with wild mustangs JD, we'll let Buck off the hook, and I'll come work with you this afternoon. You just need a few pointers and you'll be fine." Chris surprised them all by offering.
"Good luck to ya Chris, maybe he should try riding on that flat saddle he brought with him from back east. Ya know the I can ride, I can fly, I can swim, saddle!" Buck snickered while he kicked JD under the table.
"Why am I the right size?" JD asked, choosing not to squabble with Buck for once.
"Well there's not a right or wrong size, I've seen some awfully big men who put a hell of a handle on a horse. But generally, a natural rider on the small size has an advantage over a big man when riding rough stock because your centered closer to the animal, and have less body to try and control. Every rule has an exception, you take Buck here, for a tall man he could have been a great rider." Chris nodded at his oldest friend.
"Thank you partner...hey, what do you mean could have been?"
"Well that swelled head of yours made you top heavy and always messed with your balance."
"Your a real funny guy Chris."
+ + + + + + +
Chris had to shake his head, as he stood outside the weathered corral and watched the kid. JD sat crossed legged on the edge of the feed manger, a dreamy expression on his face. Absent-mindedly his fingers gently scratched the chin of the tacked up roan, while he hummed some little tune Chris didn't recognize.
"Lord," Chris thought. "What the hell did I just get myself into?" The kid couldn't have looked less like a rough string rider if he tried, wearing his goofy bowler hat and tweed coat, and that far away look in his eye's. The red horse, with his big head resting against the boy's shoulder didn't add much to the image either. In another day JD would be riding in front of real lifetime cowboy's, on wiry scared mustangs that had run wild their whole lives. Chris had strong doubts their little tenderfoot playing on an old harness horse was prepared for that reality. He just hoped the kid came out relatively unscathed.
"Hey JD, lets do this. This horse got a name?"
"Yeah, Yosemite calls him Buddy.
"Buddy!" This just kept getting worse. "Okay JD first lose the coat, you have to be able to move, not be restricted by clothes. Next I brought you a pair of my old chaps to wear, leather on leather sticks better then just the material of your pants against the saddle. Last...lose the hat!"
+ + + + + + +
"I must congratulate you on your teaching skills Mr. Larabee, you seem to have been able to do what Mr. Wilmington could not." Ezra and the rest of the seven couldn't stand the suspense any longer, so had all casually strolled over to the livery stable. The could all see the improvement the kid had made this afternoon, but were curious to hear the interaction between the leader and the youngest.
"He is actually really easy to teach once you get him to stop yammerin' back at you. Buck who's ranch did you say the kid was riding at on Sunday?" Chris asked as they leaned on the rails and watched JD mount up for one more ride.
"Don't remember them ever introducing themselves, but I remember something about the Flying Bar X."
"Ah damn it!" Chris swore.
"Why, what difference does it make, you know something about the new owners?" Vin asked.
"Yeah the judge and Mary warned me about them last week, goes by the name of Cooper. He's lived most of his life in Washington, first as a political lawyer, now as a federal judge. He is not to impressed with the way we run our laws out west, luckily he doesn't have any jurisdiction here yet. He is still traveling back and forth between his ranch and Washington DC. His son is going to manage the ranch until the old man retires. They plan on raising horses, and apparently have already started to haul out some fancy breeding stock."
"Well if the dad is half as arrogant as his kid, we are not going to be bosom buddies, I can tell you that!" Buck added.
"Yeehaw!" The men stopped talking and turned their attention back inside the corral. JD had finally found his balance, riding the roan jump for jump, getting cocky enough to remove his bowler hat and wave it at his friends. Feeling the energy start to drain out of the big horse, JD kicked his feet out of the stirrups and leapt out of the saddle, landing on his hands and knees in the middle of the corral. Buddy immediately stopped bucking, his nostrils wide and sides heaving from the exertion. JD immediately loosened the cinch, and after giving the sweaty horse a pat, started walking him out till he cooled off, a huge grin plastered on his face the whole time.
"The judge suggested quite strongly that we give him a lot of room until he gets to see how we run things around here. Figures we would end up out at his place right off the bat, we somehow never manage to do things the easy way." Chris half smiled at his friends as he watched the kid and the still blowing horse walk back and forth in the field behind the livery.