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About Neil Mortenson




Last to Saddle

While coyotes still sing praises
To the dark that fills the land,
I head out to the paddock
Where the sleeping horses stand.

I walk on silent toe tips
So old Red won’t hear my stalk,
For if he finds out we’re going
To the hills, I know he’ll balk.

Old Red ain’t much to look at,
Though he has his finer traits,
His eyes are small and narrow
And he bucks in all five gaits.

You couldn’t slide a quarter
‘tween his two big shaggy ears,
but I plan on keepin’ that old hoss,
Though he’s been for sale for years.

I hunker down into the grass
And start my belly slide
To get up close enough to Red
To catch him for our ride.

My luck so far is holding,
For Old Red is still asleep,
This much I have determined
From his snoring loud and deep.

I slide along so quiet
That Old Red don’t have a clue,
The dew upon the grass is cool
And my jeans are soaked clear through.

I don’t mind so much the stuff I do
To catch that old red horse,
It’s something that a fella does
To save himself remorse.

For if I can’t sneak up on Red
And catch him ‘fore he runs,
I’ll be the last man saddled up,
And boy, that ain’t no fun.

The boys will sit upon their duffs
And smoke their cigarettes,
While making jokes ‘bout me and Red
‘cuz we ain’t ready yet.

They just don’t stop and ponder
All the training that I know,
How each day I re-school Red
To accept the latigo.

How each time I plan to use him
He likes to play this game
Of runnin’ ‘round in circles
While I yell out awful names.

I’m slowly getting’ closer
To that sleeping bag of bones,
When my head hits hard and solid
Against his hooves of stone.

But even that don’t wake Old Red,
He’s still standin’ sound asleep,
So I begin my stalk once more,
Crawlin’ slowly past his feet.

I’m nearly up to that barn-sized head,
So my lead rope I unravel,
When the snap makes little tinkling sounds
Against some unseen gravel.

Though even I could barely hear
The tinkle of that sound,
Old Red woke up and gave a snort
And blew snot all around.

He gathered up and gave a jump,
I could tell that he was tense,
For he was clearly on the muscle
When he cleared the paddock fence.

The moonlight struck upon that horse
As he began his flight,
He waved goodbye with his knotty tail
As he sailed out of sight.

I cussed my luck and then got up
and slowly turned around,
‘twas then I spotted Polly,
still sleepin’ very sound.

I looped the lead around her neck
Then gently woke her up,
She yawned and stretched and blinked her eyes
Like a lazy summer pup.

I talked low-toned as we walked out
And headed for the shed,
I told Old Polly how glad I’d be
To can that rascal Red.

“He ain’t smart like you and me,
Old Red’s a sure-fire ninny.”,
When then far off toward the rims
We heard that cayuse whinny.

I put Old Polly in a stall,
And forked her up some hay,
Then wandered back into the house
To get ready for the day.

This time for sure I wouldn’t be
The last hand to be ready,
Feelin’ I was first this time
Had left me feeling heady.

I boiled up a pot of mud
And slurped it with my bacon,
Never dreaming in my haste
The mistake that I was makin’.

Old Polly had been around for years
Never actin’ mean or surly,
But before this day we’d never made
Old Polly wake up early.

We’d used her most for dudes and guests
Who couldn’t ride the green ones,
I never dreamed in Polly’s bones
I’d ever find a mean one.

But that was ‘fore I woke her up
Before the day hit morning,
I would’ve thought if she was mad
I would’ve had some warnin’.

I missed the cues most horses use
To let you know they’re cranky,
Like pinned back ears and clamped down tails
That say they’re feelin’ ranky.

I pulled a brush across her hide
Then tossed up my old saddle,
And pulled it tight around her girth
Never knowin’ she was rattled.

I still had time before the boys
Would pull in for the gather,
So I put Old Polly in the pen
And chased her ‘til she lathered.

I climbed aboard and slang my spurs
Against the old mare’s hide,
Which all caused Polly to explode
And begin my fateful ride.

She sunfished once then spun around,
And cuss my stupid luck,
She tossed me off to land face first
In the paddock’s gooey muck.

About the time that I woke up
I heard a dreadful noise
From down the lane I heard the rig
Arrivin’ with the boys.

As fast as I could muster
I turned Old Polly out,
And spooked her off across the hills
Before the boys found out.

No sooner had she disappeared
When the boys rolled through the gate,
I heard old Frank began to yell,
“It looks like old Mort’s late.”

It looked once more like I would be
The last man to be ridin’,
When in came Red from wherever he
Had kept himself in hidin’.

He walked right up into the barn
And stopped right by the rack,
Then stood quiet as I applied
A saddle and some tack.

He never twitched as I stepped up
And swung him t’ward the gate,
“Let’s head out boys, there’s work to do
and you’re all runnin’ late!”

Now since that day I’ve never had
A time so filled with folly,
‘cause when I want to catch Old Red
I chase that dad-gum Polly.

And once she’s run off ‘cross the hills
And off toward the outback,
I walk back up to find Old Red
Standin’ quiet at the hitch rack.

The secret to me catchin’ Red
Has sunk in truly fast,
It seemed Old Red detested first
As much as I detested last.

© 1996, Neil Mortenson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

Neil told us, "I was inspired to write the poem through experience ... I have found myself being the last to saddle up, and have been on the receiving end of a few jabs from other hands. I know everybody's been in the same spot, but it sure feels better to be all ready to go, and giving somebody else a hard time!"


About Neil Mortenson:

I became interested in writing of my experiences at some point while I was working cows for different ranches just to help out. I had a steady job, so I used vacation time and weekends to go chase cattle, and help with the branding chores.

I was born and raised in the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge in 1949. I grew up around cows and horses, but always on little places.

I did four tours of Viet Nam from 1968 - 1970, and returned to Oregon when I finished my four year hitch.

My work life took me to a lot of pretty ranch country around the Northwest, and I began day riding for bigger outfits in the northeast corner of Oregon (Joseph). One of the places I worked happened to be the Lightning Creek Ranch which had been owned by Walter Brennan while he was alive. The history—especially cowboy history and the Nez Perce influence—settled into my soul in a big way.

I also spent several years in the Yakima Valley area of Washington, and worked cows on land leased from The Yakama Nation. An old Yakama (Uncle Chuck) took the time to show me several special areas there including burial grounds, race tracks, and the like.

I dabbled a little in team roping, but proved to be dangerous to myself, my horse, and anybody within 20 feet of me!

I really appreciate my Western heritage, and all of my memories on horse back will last until the end of my days.





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