Some horses have to be in the lead all the time. They’re never satisfied being in the middle of the pack and at the back is plum out of the question. Champ got his name because of this nature. He never was fortunate enough to be in glamorous circles but it never made any difference to Champ. He gave it his all no matter what the event. Life was a challenge to him and he wasn’t going to take the red ribbon.
Our partnership started when he showed up at my house late one night due to a fast horse trade. After a few saddles, I could tell he’d spent most of his time getting somewhere and he intended on being there early. That was alright with me, I was young and didn’t mind fast living. One of our first experiences together was day herding five hundred brahma cross cows on green lush growing alfalfa.
The reason they had to be day herded was to watch out for the cattle that bloated. I am sure journals could be written about this project as not many have tried it and we sure learned why. I don’t think cattle were designed to digest alfalfa. We tried several methods one growing season but found out the most important thing was to be ready to move them immediately. It was necessary to have someone mounted and ready to move the herd to some adjacent native country.
We rode the cattle twenty four hours a day so two of us would trade shifts of twelve hours a piece. This was the setting for how Champ was to impress me with his strength and ability. One early morning I was on my way to check the cattle as my partner had to take a couple days off, so I did my best to fill in and would ride at the most important times which was during a heavy dew and when the pasture they were in was getting short.
It wasn’t a good idea to let the cattle hit a fresh pasture on an empty belly so we rotated them frequently. I left the house before daylight and was hoping that the early dew hadn’t hit and that they were still in the pasture I had left them in. It was just barely light when I got to the farm and there wasn’t a cow in sight. It doesn’t take long to look over five hundred acres and tell there wasn’t five hundred cows there.
Everyone was gone and I could see all the way to Salt Flat and there was nothing for a cow to hide behind; much less five hundred of them. I felt like a tire that someone had let all the air out of and I couldn’t imagine where all those cows had gone in the last couple of hours since I had seen them. I sat there looking, not knowing where to look, then finally I realized that they left tracks somewhere unless there was something to that Martian Theory.
I started circling the farm on the opposite side of where I had come and sure enough, I found a trail going west that was a foot wide and a foot deep. It wasn’t any problem to follow, so Champ and I hit a lope and followed the trail all the way to the salt lakes where it turned north and went to highway 62-180. They crossed the highway like it wasn’t even there and the trail was just the same on the other side of the pavement; headed north and still only one foot wide and one foot deep.
Can you imagine being a trucker in the early morn and having to wait on five hundred cows to cross the highway before you could continue on to El Paso? Granted, this was forty years ago and there was not as many trucks on the highway as today but the thing that impressed me the most was that they crossed without any sign of difficulty or delay. I was already figuring how I was going to negotiate this obstacle going home. The main concern at this point was where were they going!
The trail led me to believe that they knew exactly where they were headed. I had been following it for three or four miles and still not a single cow in sight and I could see all the way to Guadalupe Peak. Well no problem, it was still easy to see the trail and I had hired on to ride so I was enjoying this puzzle. I continued on for another mile when the trail dropped off into a big ravine full of water and I questioned going in and so did Champ but all those cows went in there, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad.
Champ on the other hand was thoroughly convinced that it was full of alligators wanting to eat a horse. He didn’t think his contract had anything to do with crossing rivers and getting wet so I had my work cut out trying to change his mind and I wasn’t very patient as I sure was excited to see where these cows were headed. I finally convinced him that getting wet wasn’t going to hurt him any but when we hit the other side, there was a cattail bed full of hogs.
Well Champ knew that was where the alligators lived and he thought all those hogs leaving were the alligators coming. He couldn’t see either of them but he heard and smelled something he had never encountered before so he wasn’t taking any chances on being out run because of a late start. What was nearly swimming water on the way over had turned into a wading pool on the way back and he was busy splashing most of that out.
The trail where we entered the swamp was steep and hard to find going as fast as we were retreating. My riding skills were being tested even in this water, especially since I was getting so tickled at Champ. He was busy running away while he was looking back and trying to see what the critters looked like that lived and smelled so bad in those tall reeds. I was soaking wet but glad to still be on board and Champ was settling down some and beginning to accept his foreign position.
He couldn’t find the trail that we had come down and the rest was cut bank. The ravine was long and full of water and on the other bank was all reeds full of smelly, snorting somethings. This is where my humorous thoughts turned to pure amazement. Champ decided there was no escaping, so he turned the tables and pulled a full blown charge into the reeds. He had his ears pinned and was chasing the invisible monsters as fast as he could go. We were gaining on the critters and as fast as we were going I sure was glad these water bushes didn’t have any thorns.
Just about the time we were getting in site of these blowing, snorting, squealing, thrashing darlings, we busted into the wide open. Champ was really excited to catch up to one of these slimy little grunters and he was sure beating the tracks out of one of them. I had lost interest in the swine chase because the field we had busted into was an alfalfa patch full of MY COWS! On the other side was a farm house with Mr. Farmer just stepping out of the door and surveying the disaster unfolding in his front yard.
He couldn’t believe the 500 cows harvesting his lush, knee-high alfalfa, much less some idiot chasing all his hogs on the other side of the alfalfa field. My mind immediately switched from humor, excitement, relief, pleasure and pride to pure disbelief, horror, fear, disgust and total wonderment.This was going to take some fast talking, creative explaining and serious negotiating.The last puzzle of where the cows where going wouldn’t hold a candle to this next quiz of how I was going to explain this situation.
I didn’t know this farm even existed or who these farmers were or if they had ever heard of me and my boss and all his cows. The only thing to do was go straight to the front door and face the farmer, who’d now been reinforced by his whole family, several farm hands and all the snarling farm dogs. It took everything I had to talk myself into riding up there. I then had to find some more oxygen in order to talk myself into getting off Champ and sticking my hand through those snarling dogs and greeting these people with their mouths dropped full open.
I didn’t know it at the time but I had the advantage, they were totally lost as to how to herd cattle with a tractor. After some quick explanation, which they weren’t interested in, they were more concerned on how to get these bovine alfalfa bailers out of their total livelihood before they ruined all the profits. I could see a chance to redeem myself and become the instant hero so I bid a quick farewell and told them not to worry, because me and Champ would get these cows on the road home before they could get their tractors started.
Lucky for me the cows had taken the edge off their hunger and were ready to go exploring some more. Now usually one cowboy would have his hands full with 500 cows no matter what he intended to do but you must remember that I had spent the last three months, day and night, with these lovely grass eaters and I knew them all by their first name and we were completely understanding of each other. The farmers were cheering by the time I got all the cows out of their alfalfa and headed home. They thought I was king of the cowboys and were impressed with my herding abilities; they were always friendly and glad to see me and we became close friends through the years. I never did ask them if I could chase their hogs again.
It took us the better part of the day to get the cows home but they enjoyed their outing and seemed content to stick around for a while. Champ was still prancing on the way home. He was all horse and always a pleasure to ride as long as you didn’t mind coming in first.