Terrified of horses? A one time pro rodeo cowboy? Admitting that in a song?
Well…yes. It’s sort of like the guys and gals on Jerry Springer’s “Baggage” TV show; no matter how good we may look on the surface, we’ve all got some baggage.
Note about the header photo: That was the last saddle bronc I ever straddled in the arena, in the MSU Field House at Bozeman, Montana, circa 1966. I was twenty-two at the time, fresh out of the U.S. Army. In college rodeo, unlike most college sports, it doesn’t matter if you’ve ridden professionally–mostly because every rodeo rider out there rides for money. I wasn’t on the Montana State rodeo team, nor was I interested in getting on it, though a close friend had asked me to consider it. I had my RCA (pro) card in my pocket, a degree to chase, and a bride to support, so I only competed at the school’s home show.
Nor was this ride a path to glory. A jump or two after this picture was taken, my over-eagerness betrayed me. I got too quick with my feet, got ahead of the bronc, and literally walked right off over his head… approximately one second before the buzzer sounded. Silent self-cursing ensued.
But that guy in the photo doesn’t look terrified of horses, does he? No? Okay. He’s not. But at age six, that was another matter. Many a ranch kid is a veteran rider by that age–my kid sister certainly was–but even though I was the eldest and a boy, I’d never even been on an equine, at least not without an adult leading the critter. Yet I could dream, and did, setting myself the goal of becoming Saddle Bronc Riding Champion of the World. Dreaming big has never been my problem. No, I never made it that far, but so what? That’s where I started, chasing that dream before I dared even chase a Shetland pony.
Roughly two weeks ago, the memory of that time began working itself into a rodeo song. I’d had the first two (patently unrelated) lines floating around in my head for decades, never able to hang a song on them, but this time it happened. Not all at once; the final lines came together just today. Here they are.
TERRIFIED OF HORSES
Copyright 2015 by Fred Baker
Don’t nobody tell me what I do not want to hear
‘Cause I don’t drink no whiskey and I sure don’t drink no beer
When I was only six years old, I set me a goal
Gonna be the the Saddle Bronc Riding Champion in the world of rodeo
I would study everybody from Fanny Steele on up to Casey Tibbs
Didn’t know what year I’d win that buckle but I knew I’d get my dibs
I only had one problem (this was long before my divorces)
I was simply terrified of horses
Terrified of horses, tall and mean and tough
Terrified of horses; how’m I gonna cowboy up?
Terrified of horses, but I did have that desire
Along with the butterflies in my belly I had a little bit of fire
Later on I saddled up Ginger, a half broke half Thoroughbred
I was twelve years old by that time with rodeo in my head
We were frightened of each other; neither wanted to pull that lever
Till I saw my Dad drive into the yard and I knew it was now or never
I stepped up in the saddle; she stepped up in the sky
That bronc was bucking honest but she sure was bucking high
I heard somebody yell, “Ride ‘em cowboy!” but that was the last I heard
My head was stuck up in the clouds, trying not to swallow a bird
Between us and the men a-running was a tall gray threshing machine
Ginger was bucking so high that day, my belt buckle could be seen
When she finally called it quits, her legs all shaky-spraddled
I’d lost one ribbon but I was still in the saddle
When we went to lunch that day, I was full of cowboy pride
My Dad and I finished out that horse and she became my ride
The moral of the story came through loud and clear
Fire in the belly beats butterflies; it’ll burn right through that fear
Yeah, fire in the belly beats butterflies; it’ll burn right through that fear
If I had to pick one thing that rodeo helped me with more than any other, it would be getting into the habit of facing my fears head-on rather than cowering under the bed, waiting for them to be eaten by the dust ball monster. And yes, fire in the belly really does beat those mean old butterflies.