Locking Horns

My daddy bulldogged all across Texas when I was growing up. I’d sit with my mama in the stands of some small-town rodeo eating funnel cake and watch him wrestle a 450-pound longhorn into the dirt. He died broke racing the clock to pay the bills. When I went on the circuit, mama cried. But that day the purse was even sweeter than the buckle bunnies. If I was smart—and lucky—I could walk away rich.

But I wasn’t smart. And I wasn’t lucky.

My first mistake was being anywhere near that bull pen. Daddy was a firm believer that you got the horns you deserved. But I liked to look an opponent in the eye. I slid a leg over the fence and sat on the rail, watching the herd. A pretty Corriente, with spots the color of Georgia clay, sidled up and flicked his tail at me. I nodded. 

And then, in a voice as smooth as whiskey, I heard him say it: 

“Son, you might want to sit this one out.” 

Another man might have fallen to his knees right then and prayed to the good Lord.

I just laughed. 

The Corriente snorted, took a step closer to the fence, and chewed a bit of cud.

I looked around, thinking some cowboy was having a fine joke. But there was no one there. Even the other cattle ignored us. 

“$50,000 is a lot to walk away from,” I said, finally. “You got a good reason I shouldn’t ride today?”

The Corriente didn’t answer. He just looked at me for a second, then turned and trudged back into the scrum of the pen. 

That day, every cowboy out there had a good run.  Every horse ran true. Every hazer did his job. The slide, the drop, the twist. All of it perfect. It wasn’t just a good day to ride. It was a day to break records. 

I wasn’t surprised when I saw the Corriente in the chute. 

I backed my horse into the box, then nodded to the judge. The Corriente flew through the barrier and we followed. I slid, hugged his barrel, grabbed those pretty horns and twisted. 

The Corriente went down, feet in the air. The flag dropped. 4.5 seconds. A record. I let go, hopped up, and tossed my hat high. 

That was my second mistake. 

Because when that hat floated back down, it hit the rump of my horse and she bolted straight for me. I jumped, but not fast enough, and went head over haunches, my face in the mud, my ass in the air. 

When I finally sat up, the Corriente was standing close by, looking smug. The next day, it was all over YouTube. No mention that I’d taken home the purse—and the buckle to boot. 

I bought the Corriente for $800. He never said another word. The horse? She tells that story every chance she gets. The two of them haven’t stopped laughing since. 

Copyright Bonnie Burns, 2019. All rights reserved.

Image: Copyright Tim Burns, 2019. All rights reserved.

This story first appeared as a subscriber bonus to Indie Authors’ Advent Calendar 2019.

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