PERRIN, TEXAS - In these parts in June, horse training begins around 3 in the morning. The heat dictates this, and by July and August, days can begin even earlier. Even so, by sunup or shortly thereafter, everyone is sweating — the stall cleaners, the cowboys, the horses, the cattle — while overhead, the hot sun slow-crawls west.
I showed up about 5:30. A thunderstorm with high-sky lightning was sweeping in from Abilene, and soon enough, rain would pelt the metal roof of Casey Green’s arena, an hour or so west of Fort Worth. From a distance, the structure’s lighted, open sides lent it a spaceship’s diffused glow. This was the other morning, and I was 1,118 miles from home, pretty much nonstop, in my truck, pulling a trailer, looking to pick up a horse.
Some people don’t like road trips. But arguably their constant movement, especially when alone, roadsides ablur, afford some of the last freedoms left in this country. At a truck stop on the way down, I slept in my trailer alongside Peterbilts and Kenworths, their big diesels idling, ready at a moment’s notice to be throttled up and kept moving. A long time ago, I earned a living jockeying a similar rig, and the lifestyle still appeals.
Casey was working a 3-year-old when I opened a steel gate to his sand-filled arena. The impressive filly had a hock-burying, square stop, and at Casey’s direction, was tracking a calf expertly. “But we’ll see,” he said about the young horse, who will be entered later this year in the big cutting futurity in Fort Worth. “They don’t pay you to cut in June. They pay you to cut in December.”
An Indiana native, Casey left home for southern horse country the night he graduated high school, his saddle in tow. His dad, Byron, was a cutting horse trainer, and Casey had the bug. He was the 1998 National Cutting Horse Association senior youth world champion, and in the years since, as a professional, he has won a drawer full of buckles and more than $1 million in paychecks.
Thunder boomed and lightning laced the black sky as Casey dismounted the young horse. Then, taking a long pull from a tall can of Monster Energy, he swung a leg over my horse, Dude, one of 30 head he and Cole, a young cowboy assistant, would ride that morning before most Americans settled into their cubicles.
I hadn’t planned to be here. I had sold my last horse in Fort Worth in December, figuring I was parting ways for good with the loping before breakfast, the weekends away, the frustration when I didn’t pull a check. Then came May, the pastures sprouted green and the barn was quiet. Soon enough, reflected in my phone’s soft glow, I cruised horse websites at night beneath the covers, equine porn for the afflicted. “Shut it off, you nut!” my wife, Jan, would seethe if awakened. A swift kick would follow, as would grim reminders of the demented purgatory that awaits the sleep-deprived.
Yet I wasn’t about to discourage what Robert Lowell, the poet, called an attack of “pathological enthusiasm,” an enviable condition that with age grows more challenging to summon.
As clinicians remind us, over time, couches do bend more readily to our forms, and strolling mindlessly through parks with a walking stick in hand can become a day’s highlight. But actuarial tables aside, to me, throwing deep is always the better option. Give it a whirl. Go for broke. See what happens. I had machine-gunned Jan with these and other platitudes the day before while pulling out of our driveway, empty trailer behind my truck, headed for Texas.
She’d heard it all before, of course, and her eyes rolled. But she loves horses, too. “Well, OK,” she said, “let’s see what this Dude horse can do.”
Casey was on him just now, Dude, working the hard-trying sorrel gelding first on a flag, or mechanical cow, and then on the real thing. Years ago, I’d cross Texas in a semi heading from San Diego to Marietta, Ga., earning an extra $100 if I did it pretty much nonstop. I liked Texas then, and I like it now. Especially admirable are the quick hands of the state’s many good cowboys and cowgirls, Casey among them.
Born of the vaquero tradition, which itself is rooted in ancient European horsemanship, the forerunners of these modern Texas trainers were herders, or cattle-punchers. Cowboys can still be found hereabout who trade a day’s work for a day’s pay. But Casey and trainers like him are a different breed altogether. The horses they ride are more athletic and loaded with more cow savvy than ever, and their very specific training methodologies recall the complexities of biomechanical engineering. Except that while training cutting horses, problems aren’t resolved on laptops, but from saddles, at high speed, atop 1,000-pound animals.
I videotaped Casey working Dude. Then we gave the sweaty horse a bath, allowed him to drink a good long while, and loaded him along with a couple flakes of hay into my trailer.
His previous owner, who lives on Hilton Head Island, already had my money, a transaction about which Dude was altogether indifferent. He did, however, manage a whinny to the barn mates with whom he had bunked the last couple of years.
North Texas came and went, then Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.
Eighteen hours after departing Casey’s ranch for points north, about 2:30 the following morning, I made a final turn for home.
With a horse soon in the barn, I couldn’t have felt better.
Throwing deep is like that. Give it a whirl. Go for broke. See what happens.