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"Heads or Tails"

© 2004, R.S. Riddick

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See the Art Spur introductory page here

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words...we know many that are worthy of a poem or a song.  In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our twenty-ninth piece offered to "spur" the imagination is the work of noted Western artist and Cowboy Artists of America member R.S. Riddick.

Heads or Tails
oil on linen
63" x 72"
Reproduction prohibited without express written permission
"'Heads or Tails" © 2004, by R.S. Riddick, www.cowboyartistsofamerica.com; www.rsriddick.com 

"Heads or Tails" was painted at Colorado's Diamond Tail Ranch. The pictured cowboy is bringing in horses the traditional way, with one halter lead. The lead rope of one horse is tied to the tail of the horse in front of it, thus the painting's title, "Heads or Tails."

In the August/September 2011 issue of Ranch & Reata magazine, R.S. Riddick comments:

If a painting doesn't have a poetic, thoughtful, human message, people will walk right past it. It has to have something—some pain, some pathos, some narrative—so you'll keep going back to it. Sometimes it's not a story, per se. Sometimes it's just the poetry of the Westthe mood and feeling of a landscape, a reflection in a mud puddle, the loneliness of a broken-down windmill.

"Heads or Tails" was selected as the official poster for the eleventh annual Cowboy Poetry Week, 2012: 

Web reproduction permitted for Cowboy Poetry Week promotion with the credit line included:
"'Heads or Tails" © 2004, by R.S. Riddick, www.cowboyartistsofamerica.com;  Cowboy Poetry Week 2012, www.cowboypoetry.com"
 Publications, email us for high resolution print reproduction information.

Art Spur subjects are meant to inspire poetry and songs; we look for poems and songs inspired by the piece, not necessarily for a literal description of the image or its subject. 

Submissions from all were welcome through April 11, 2012.  Submissions are now closed.

Find the selected poems below.

About R.S. Riddick
from www.rsriddick.com

Looking at a work of art created by R.S. Riddick is a visual feast of poetic color.

His poetic use of color vibrations sing of the beauty in life.

Ron Riddick has been described as an artist’s artist. His masterful skill in the use of the tools of his trade (paint, brushes, and canvas) combined with his knowledge understanding of his subjects (light, color, anatomy, motion, and atmosphere) allow him to achieve the excellence he strives toward in his work. He brings it all together with his gift of artistic talent to create some of the most beautiful works of art today.

A versatile visionary; a master of design, color and light; seeker of excellence—these are R. S. Riddick. He portrays the truth and beauty of life in its infinite variety. He believes that art should be emotional; it should touch the human spirit and affirm humanity. When asked why he paints such a vast selection of imagery, he answers “I feel that an artist should remain faithful to creating art that speaks about the things he loves. For me, life is a visual feast and I hope to savor its abundance to the fullest.” Ron has dedicated his life to the pursuit of uncompromised excellence in his art. His loyalty to this end is evident. He continues to challenge himself. “I will always remain a student, working toward growth and refinement in my art and in my life.”

Born in 1952 in Santa Monica, California, he realized at a young age that he was destined to be an artist. His family and teachers encouraged his unique natural gifts and ability. Ron went on to study art in college at the renowned Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He studied the fundamental disciplines of fine art. A formal education in classical training was not easily available, so Ron set out with firm resolve to teach himself. He made in depth studies of the schools of realism and impressionism. He researched the traditional Russian school of art and, painted with the gifted Russian artist Sergei Bongart. Ron’s teachers were primarily those master artists from an era gone by. The legacy of their art was to be his inspiration.

“When an artist succeeds in bringing together in harmony—creative ideals and commitment to growth, great things happen.”

See our feature here for more about R.S. Riddick, and visit his web site, www.rsriddick.com.

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Alone, by Slim McNaught of South Dakota
Horse Hunting by Del Gustafson of Washington
Green Energy by Susan Matley of Washington
Caught Up in the Moment by Jean Mathisen Haugen of Wyoming
Heads or Tails by Bette Wolf Duncan of Iowa
Fresh Horses by David L. Carlton of Texas
Trailing the Tail by Maureen Clifford of Queensland
Rancher's Roundup by Wilma Rich of Arizona
Three New Hands by Al "Doc" Mehl of Colorado


Somewhere Beyond Alone

Alone ain’t just an empty feel
          from no one else around
It can be a stretch of prairie grass
          that covers miles of ground.
When you look across the prairie
          at horizons far, unknown,
You’re lookin’ straight at country
          somewhere beyond alone.

Out there beyond where grass meets sky
          there’s a cowboy earnin’ pay
He rides from dawn to settin’ sun
          and works the range his way.
He’d not trade this way of livin’,
          it’s the only work he’s known,
‘Cause he spent his life cowboyin’
          somewhere beyond alone.

With the range all specked with cattle
          and prairie creatures nigh
Where the moon’s a shinnin’ brightly
          in a big and cloudless sky,
As his evenin’ meal is cookin’
          he takes in his prairie home
With horses grazin’ close at hand
          somewhere beyond alone.

While the campfire’s flickerin’ boldly
          ‘neath a simmerin’ coffee can
Ain’t no way a case of lonely
          could ever find a man.
Then his mind drifts back with pleasure
          to the places he has known
And the many trails he’s traveled
          somewhere beyond alone.

In the mornin’ he un-hobbles,
          gets his string tied heads to tails,
And they line out ‘cross the prairie
          on long and lonesome trails.
By night he’ll catch that bedded herd
          where the boss sent him on loan
But now he’s out there travelin’
          somewhere beyond alone.

You can bet his poke is empty
         ‘cause cowboy pay is short
But he feels he’s rich and wealthy
          compared with city sort.
Livin’ life in some big city
          where no prairie breeze has blown
Would surely make him lonesome for
          somewhere beyond alone.

© 2012, Slim McNaught
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Horse Hunting

We took a little time off from working on the ranch,
And followed the Salmon river and took the south fork branch,
We rode the windswept ridges where we had a decent view,
Hoping to jump a wild herd and then catch one or two.

Down in a brushy bottom we caught a glimpse of one,
Maybe a dozen mares and colts led by a steel dun.
We worked our way down the slope hoping to get near,
Surprising them still grazing before they took off in fear.

There were some nice horses running with that little band,
Two were really flashy pintos and neither wore a brand,
The steel dun was a good one and he was unbranded too
We figured if we roped him we’d bite off more than we could chew,

A stiff breeze was blowing toward us, muffling our sound,
We got close before that stud horse raised his head to look around.
They saw us then and they took off with frightened snorts and squeals,
As we came busting through the brush and jumped right on their heels.

We chased them up the stream bed and as we came around a bend,
That wild bunch came to a stop, they’d reached the canyon’s end,
The water came cascading down from a mountain water fall,
And the sides were smooth and steep so they couldn’t climb the wall.

Herb and I took our time and we roped two of the best,
We forced them against the canyon wall and then ran off the rest,
I had roped a bald face sorrel and Herb a pinto mare,
And it took a little breaking so we could lead them out of there.

Once we got them settled down and tied to our mount's tail,
We turned our horse’s heads toward home and took off down the trail,
The pinto was a beauty and my sorrel was a gem,
But we were drained of the excitement of the chase and catching them.

Of all the wild things I’ve done nothing can match that thrill,
Of chasing a band of mustangs as they go plunging off a hill,
And riding full out down the slope and up the other side,
Clattering over the loose scab rock and across a shale slide.

Or the thrill of roping a wild horse on a steep and rocky slope,
Your horse fighting for his footing as that bronc fights the rope,
What does it take to chase mustangs that have never known a fence?
It takes a darn good saddle horse and a total lack of sense.

© 2012, Del Gustafson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Green Energy

‘Twas at the end of round-up time.
Jake ponied his horses in line;
The four who’d served through autumn’s lease
Were done with work and bound for peace.

Lead lines to tails he tied his knots.
To the corral! (or so Jake thought)

With Jake astride and feeling pleased,
Scout strode mightily at the lead.
But Barney, Doc, and Big Cheese, last
Were disinclined to go so fast.

“That show-off and his fancy prance,”
snorted second-in-line equine.
Scout winced, his tail yanked too dang hard
As lazy Barney lagged behind.

Barney that day had eaten green grass,
Ears flat, he’d hogged the entire patch,
And puttered a methane stream behind.
That’s when Doc gave a tug on the line.

Big Cheese dreamily watched the scenery,
When nose met flank he cursed Doc obscenely
And gave him a nip on the rear. The line
Had veered too much for Jake. He held a fine,
Wide cuss-word on his breath. “Whoa, Scout,” he said,
Wondering of what sires these boys were bred.
Shaking his head, he twisted to look aft;
Long, grumpy faces regarded him back.

Dismounting, he ambled to the back of the train
For the simplest re-fit his thoughts could attain.
Swapping Doc to behind and Big Cheese to the third,
He continued the trek with his four-pony herd.

But with a fresh start, it didn’t go easy:
Big Cheese veered from side-to-side as if queasy,
A drag that none of his string-mates could master.
“What the heck?” Jake groaned. The range seemed far vaster
Than ever with rebellion in the ranks.
As he swung down again, his patience shrank.
He bellowed, “Ponies, your attention, please!
Now follow Scout’s lead, stop dreamin’, Big Cheese,”
He grumbled as he switched Big Cheese with Barney.
“I’ve had enough of your air-headed blarney.”

Jake assumed the saddle once more.
But in one hundred yards he swore;
Doc, taking a turn for the dramatic,
Performed a prancing side-to-side antic.

“All right, all right!” Jake shouted in defeat.
“If this don’t work,” said he, as earth met feet,
“I’m gonna leave the string of you behind!”
Checking bad temper, he kept in his mind
Their only hope was working as a team;
Barney moved rear in the ponied-up scheme.

To Jake’s surprise, the last leg of their trip
Made record time; they fairly seemed to rip
Across the range, back to the ranch at last;
He never knew they were powered by gas.

© 2012, Susan Matley
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Caught Up in the Moment

Dang, those horses are headed every which way,
to the point they have the cowboy confused.
The paints are facing due west,
and the one looking east seems amused.
I think they've been pondering and plotting
how to get this feller's dander up;
and turning him 'round in two directions,
seems to overflow their "happy day" cup.
Or, maybe it's such a pretty day,
they want to look in all directions—
spying out all the juicy grasses
and some other of nature's confections.
The one looking east sees the mountains
and he's dreaming of sweet gurgling streams.
Those pintos are just being plain ornery,
and the horse out front—he just dreams.
And I kinda' think that ole cowboy
is caught up in the moment too—
pondering about his ranch here
and all of that high rolling view.

© 2012, Jean Mathisen Haugen
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Heads or Tails

Just hen-pecked Sam from old Cheyenne—
a mule-train skinner’s what I am.
While I can drive most any team,
I’m hitched in one that’s downright mean.
It’s me ‘n Ma. We’re hitched up tight.
When I lean left, she favors right.
She’s autocratic as can be;
one halter lead…first Ma…then me.
She always lets me have my say—
but she’s lead horse. We go her way.
We toss a coin when all else fails.
She lets me call it— heads or tails.
Heads or tails? She lets me choose.
It’s heads, she wins; and tails, I lose!

© 2012, Bette Wolf Duncan
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Fresh Horses

Fresh horses for a cow camp
A long way from HQ
With a mix of challenges
Thrown into the stew

Whoa there old paint
Let’s bide our sweet time
I got troubles enough
Just handling mine

Leading three horses
Is a challenge for me
Out in the open
Where there’s nary a tree

Tied head to tail
Gets by in a bind
With horse leading horse
It sure eases the mind

So let’s all have a look
And just sit for a spell
Maybe he’ll move on
You never can tell

If things get exciting
And it goes beyond a stare
We may have to move fast
From that grizzly old bear

So, whoa there my friends
Let’s bide our sweet time
Four horses and a cowboy
With disaster on their mind

© 2012, David L. Carlton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Trailing the Tail

Mate—If you lead I will follow on this syncopated dance
so be wary where you tread because there’ll be no second chance.
If the trail is steep and narrow I am following behind.
You must be the eyes for both of us—for I am following blind.

Make your footsteps sure and steady with no sudden dodge or swerve,
for I’m tied onto your tail mate wouldn’t want to hit a nerve
were I to stumble or to sidestep—it would cause you pain old son.
So be wary, very wary where your four feet choose to run.

Do try to avoid raising dust, for it I can’t avoid.
It clogs my eyes and nostrils, a feeling not enjoyed.
And if perchance you feel the need for bodily elimination,
Well! Please think of your equine mate and show consideration,

This ponying’s all right for some—lucky we get on well
‘cause if we didn’t let me tell you Mate it would be hell.
Tomorrow if I’m lucky maybe I’ll be in the lead,
but then again it might be me who is the masters steed.

Do you reckon he’s put on weight? He seems to be quite heavy.
With two pack horses maybe he should get a one tonne Chevy
to cart the gear he takes away—but then I guess that we
might then be declared obsolete—not where I want to be.

I like the life we lead in truth, out on the open range.
The cool wind blowing over me’s a quite pleasant exchange
from the hot and dusty lowlands—so I’ll say no more for now.
I’ll trail the tail along the track as long as you allow.

© 2012, Maureen Clifford
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Rancher's Roundup

Roundup time is ritual
In the spring or in the fall
When canyon livestock ranchers
Gather up their cattle sprawl.

From early morning wrangling
Till the ease of blessed night,
The work is tough and telling
But the atmosphere is light.

The cowboys all look forward
To this recess from the grind.
The work intoxicates the soul,
The play ignites the mind.

In winter cattle drift the range,
Survive on brush and snow,
Then birth their calves in early spring’
When pussy willows grow.

Heifers gathered from the range
Are sent their separate ways
To summer grass on mountain pass,
Their newborn calves to raise.

In autumn they are gathered
And each rancher’s tally made,
Then steers are sent to market
For the meager prices paid.

As cows and bulls are pried
From each remote and distant hole,
Their bellows fill the canyon
Like the devil fills their souls.

From each ravine and gully,
Like runoff from a rain,
Come streams of bawling cattle
And a cowboy’s clear refrain.

© 2012, Wilma Rich
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

 Three New Hands

“Three new hands,” the foreman said,
“I’ll bring ’em by at three.”
Three new hands, my lucky day,
they’re all assigned to me.

Three new greenhorns I shall train,
or so the foreman hopes.
Falls to me (three worthless sods)
to teach ’em all the ropes.

One kid’s from Durango,
seems his daddy owns a ranch.
(Guess I’m s’pposed to coddle him,
and give the kid a chance.)

One’s a brand new graduate,
he’s sure to question me;
Filled with misplaced confidence.
(He’s got an Ag degree.)

Third one’s from the city streets.
(The boss man’s charity…)
Got no education,
and he’s got no family.

Piercing through one eyebrow.
(That’ll tear out, in due course.)
Prob’bly never saw a cow,
and never sat a horse.

Cowboy with a piercing!
(Guess it’s just my lucky day...)
Still, this kid comes hungry;
that’s my kinda resume.

That’s the kinda man I’m like
to take under my wing;
That’s the kinda hand who’s like
to want to learn a thing.

Learn a thing or two, he’s like to
finish each day hard.
Man who’s like to pull his weight,
and earn the title “pard.”

Man who’s like to work full sun,
and like to break a sweat.
Man’s who’s like to work in rain,
and won’t mind gettin’ wet.

Man who’s like to rise in time
to hear fresh coffee perk.
Man who’s like to ’ppreciate
the chance to do hard work.

Three new hands assigned to me,
and each has been hand-picked:
Rightful heir, and graduate,
and city derelict.

Three new hands. Like three new books,
I’ll once again discover:
Judge ’em by their content.
(Never judge ’em by their cover.)

© 2012, Al "Doc" Mehl
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

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