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Cooncan by Cheyenne Booker

The other day, my mother, who had recently moved to Colorado, unearthed several boxes of wonderful old photos.

I was looking through them over coffee, and one in particular caught my eye and made me laugh out loud. It wasn’t the picture per se that made me laugh, but rather the story behind the lovely horse, pictured with his back to the camera, moving off up the path, his head turned in such a way as to appear to be looking over his shoulder. His name was Cooncan.

I was all of 19-years-old, and had just purchased my first AQHA roping horse. Purchasing Cooncan on my own was a major achievement, and I was very proud. He was a well-muscled sorrel with a bald face, wonderful conformation, great action and he rode like a Cadillac.

The rancher that I’d bought Cooncan from was a soft-spoken fella, who wore a huge grey cowboy hat, and one of those crinkly cowboy grins, that westerners naturally associate with an honest and gentlemanly nature.

I knew I had made the right decision when Cooncan walked right into the trailer as though he was as eager to start his new life with me, as I with him.

On arriving home, he unloaded quietly, and I immediately saddled him up for an inspection of his new turf.

He glided across the Arizona fields, over the rocks, through the pines and back to the barn as sweet as honey. No spooking, no bolting, nothing seemed to concern him.

Then, I rode him into the arena, where we did some concentrated work. He even did a very nice side pass. It appeared he was well educated for a roping horse.

It had been a splendid afternoon, and I was eager to share the news of Cooncan’s arrival with my friends.

It was about 11:00 p.m., that I first heard what sounded like a gator in a southern swamp at night. Those of you who live in gator country will know what I mean. But, this was Arizona, and there hadn’t been a swamp here in a million years. So, an investigation was in order.

Armed with my trusty flashlight, I followed the deep rumbling sound to the paddock. I crept up to the stall, where I thought my wonderful new horse would be soundly sleeping, but the stall was empty.

He must have gone for a moon-lit walk in the paddock, I thought. So, I walked through his fragrant straw bedding and peered out the stall door into the night. It was too dark to see clearly, so I flipped on the outdoor floodlights.

My hand froze on the switch. There, standing in the paddock, gleaming in the floodlight like a newly minted copper penny, was my beloved Cooncan, his front teeth firmly grasping the fence rail hawking in air, sitting back on his haunches for leverage, his neck bent so that he had that exaggerated arch displayed by Arabian stallions in a halter class.

I had bought a cribber!

A cribber, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a horse that has developed the bad habit of sucking air into his lungs by grasping hold of most any object, fence rail, bucket, feed bin, you name it, if he can get his teeth on it, he will suck air. This is not only an annoying, destructive habit, but unhealthy for the horse, as well.

I don’t exactly remember what my emotions were after the first shock wore off, as everything was a blur, but insurmountable fury was a good possibility.

^top^

After a sleepless night, I returned the next morning to the ranch where I had purchased Cooncan the day before. I hunted down that cowboy, with the vengeance of a werewolf on the night of a harvest moon.

I found, what I now viewed as an evil, wicked man, in a field, mounted on a lovely, grey Quarter Horse, loping after a herd of Herefords.

I screamed some very unladylike obscenities at him, and then drove my jeep right out across the field towards him.

Politely, he stopped, tipped his hat, and with that crinkly grin, now more reminiscent of a smug collections lawyer, then the honest man I first thought him to be, said, “Howdy, ma’am, how’s the new horse?”

The only thing that kept me from running him down — several times — was the beautiful, probably, non-cribbing horse he was sitting on.

I yelled at him about his having sold me a cribbing horse. That it was a cruel thing to do to me, and how heinous it was for him to have hidden this horrid affliction from me.

Then, through gritted teeth, I asked him why he hadn’t told me.

He looked at me quite undisturbed, and said, “You didn’t ask.”

Well, there was nothing to be done, though I let loose another barrage of curse word, the papers had been signed and my fate was sealed.

Arizona cowboys affectionately call cribbers “stump suckers.” Now, doesn’t that have a charming adult store ring to it?

I was soon the snickering stock of my little town, as it seems Cooncan was a veritable legend, having been sold from person to person, never staying long at any one ranch. No wonder he loaded so well in the trailer, the bum was used to traveling.

It is unclear whether it was embarrassment, rage, determination, stupidity, or merely just the challenge that motivated me, but I did not give up on ol’ Cooncan right then and there as I should have.

I was hell-bent on rectifying this situation, and so, the stage was set for some eye-opening and jaw-dropping experiences.

Why not give it a shot, after all, Cooncan was drop-dead gorgeous. From every angle, this boy had it going on. He was perfect. Perfect, all right, a perfect nightmare!

Monica, my best friend at that time, shared with me all the thrills and the trials we had encountered with the horses in our lives. We loved to get together and ride. She was very impressed the first time she saw Cooncan. We decided to saddle up and explore the high country as we so often did.

I thought this would be a fine time to test Cooncan with another horse, and to relieve the stress I was feeling. So, off we rode into the northern Arizona splendor.

It was a beautiful day and the wildflowers were in bloom across what we called the “loping field.” Because there were no gopher holes or rocks, this was a great place to let our horses gallop.

We clucked, leaned forward and eased our horses into a nice rocking horse lope that we would build to a good run. It was at that moment, that I realized the bit I chosen to use on Cooncan would not suffice.

I remember seeing Monica on her bewildered palomino, left in a cloud of dust, the distance between us ever increasing as Cooncan, his lovely, shapely ears pinned back in perverse glee, thunder like Secretariat across the field.

I shortened my left rein and began to slowly turn him, the object being to make the circle smaller and smaller until he stopped. It didn’t work. He shook his head and began to do ballet maneuvers, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I saw the Bolshoi ballet as a child.

In retrospect, it was hilarious, but at the time, it was all I could do to sit the caprioles and side to side leaps done at a full, lathered gallop.

Like a crazed kangaroo, he boinged-boinged his way across the field until he came to a huge clustered of rocks far too high for him to climb. There, he slid the perfect reining horse slide, stopping cold and planting my face in the poll of his neck.

Twenty minutes later, Monica appeared her face ashen and full of concern. She suggested I walk Cooncan behind her back to the barn. That seemed a safe and reasonable suggestion. I took a deep breath and we started off slowly. We hadn’t gone more than 20 paces, when Cooncan laid back his ears and took a mighty bite out of Monica’s well-mannered horse’s butt. Monica’s horse squealed and let out a buck that sent her airborne.

I leapt from my saddle to assist her. She was shaken, but intact, so we remounted and decided to take the high trail home. It was narrow and up a side hill and required a horse and rider to concentrate to navigate it safely. It was a shorter way home and seemed a sound decision. Surely, Cooncan’s mind would be on staying upright, so off we went to the hills.

I led the way, and the next half hour went well. We were riding alongside a sharp cliff on a narrow trail that was impossible to turn around on. The bank below was a sloping hill of landslide gravel, so the only choice was to go straight ahead.

That is when Cooncan decided to balk and turn around. I urged him forward to no avail. He began to rear, so to keep him from going over backwards; I relaxed, leaned forward and loosened the reins.

^top^

He was determined to turn around, and as my life flashed before me, he gathered himself into a hump-backed position. At that point, I bailed out, hitting the dirt as Cooncan fell off the trail and slid backwards, then rolled haphazardly down the slope until he crashed into the pine trees at the bottom of the hill.

He got up, the saddle beneath him, the bridle completely off, the reins around his neck and looked back at me as though I’d had something to do with this disaster. Then, snorting loudly, he began bucking and taking his frustration out on the trees with strikes and kicks.

Monica and I stared down in horror, absolutely immobilized.

Cooncan stopped for a moment, then bolted through the underbrush at a dead run until he vanished from our sight.

We rode double back to the barn, where we found Cooncan standing buck-naked next to his paddock. To this day, I have no idea what became of my tack, lost forever in the wilds of the high desert.

I looked Monica dead in the eye and said, “I’m going to kill him. No, really, I AM going to kill him!”

It went downhill from there. Cribbing collars, hot wire on the fence, nothing stopped his horrid stump-sucking habit. What was worse, once he settled into my barn, his entire disposition shifted. He developed a less than charming habit of pinning his ears and snarling at me, nose wrinkled and teeth bared, during saddling.

He soon began rearing and kicking under the saddle, which ultimately led to him bucking, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the last National Finals Rodeo.

After hitting the ground enough times to need a chiropractor for the rest of my days, a rodeo man named Lucky (I know, but that really was his name.), who was a dear friend of mine, suggested I sell this now rank bucking horse to the rodeo. I was told that the way he bucked, he would do very well in that venue.

I was beyond fed up with the seething glares I received from Cooncan when I tried working with him, so the decision to sell came easily.

Lucky made a few calls and soon I had some money in my pocket and was rid of the wicked, “stump-sucking” roping horse, that was afraid of ropes and cattle, wouldn’t cross water, kicked at me, charged me, tore down his stall and cribbed the night away until he was lightheaded and stumbled like a drunkard.

There was a lot of build up about Cooncan’s sun fishing ability — that is bucking so violently that he would go belly up in the air. So, all the cowboys were eager to watch this horse in action at the local rodeo, where he would make his debut.

The cowboy who drew Cooncan was an accomplished bronc rider, and on that hot July day, we all gathered in heated anticipation. The hushed crowd stood motionless as the young rodeo star mounted the wicked Cooncan in the chute, where he squealed and reared, kicked and struck, teeth flashing, and eyes red. Our pulses raced.

The cowboy pulled his hat down tight, put his spurs over the point of the horse’s shoulders, raised his hand, held his breath and nodded.

In a blinding moment, the chute crashed opened, the flank strap was pulled tight, and…

Silence. Total silence. The wind could be heard rustling the hot dog wrappers as they blew beneath the grandstand.

The cowboy, still frozen in position, opened one eye.

Cooncan stood calmly in the chute, and then, just as calmly, walked out into the arena. He WALKED out into the arena.

At first, the crowd remained silent. All I wanted to do was to disappear beneath the bleachers and vanish into oblivion. But, all I could do was stare in horror, as laughter started to well up around me.

In the arena, Cooncan cleared his nostrils and stood, awaiting a command from the cowboy with his rosined glove wedged tightly into the riggin’.

Making the very best of the situation, the young cowboy rode Cooncan around the arena, first at a jog, then an easy lope. I think he even tipped his hat to the judges as he loped around the arena for the third time. I couldn’t say for sure, as all that was left of my presence that afternoon was the cloud of red dust my pick up left as I sped out towards the highway.

I learned a lot about hoss tradin’ in my younger days, but something about Cooncan always stayed with me above the rest.

 

War of Wits Publishing, Ltd. welcomes our April guest author, Cheyenne Booker. Cheyenne is an avid horsewoman and a talented artist. Self-taught, she took to heart her Step-Grandfather’s, a famous artist in his own right, words, “Never go to art school, they’ll take away your gift and mold it into something else.”

Cheyenne was born and raised in Sedona, AZ on a horse and cattle ranch. Her talent for sculpting and drawing became evident at the age of two, when she began molding animal figures from clay.

Encouraged by her family, her creativity blossomed. Inspired from within, Cheyenne’s creations are magical. She works in oil, acrylic watercolor, brush and ink, mixed media as well as pencil, colored pencil and uses airbrush accents. She also makes furniture in steel or stone or whatever the client chooses. And her jewelry is stunning.

“I love to co-create with clients,” Cheyenne says. “This is probably the most gratifying work of all because they have an interactive roll in the art. The smiles and hugs are well worth the time and effort.”

Every piece of Cheyenne’s art is one-of-a-kind and never to be repeated.

“It is what and who I am,” she says, “and I am grateful to have an opportunity to share it.”

We thank Cheyenne for submitting her wonderful story Cooncan. We hope you enjoyed reading it and will take a moment to let Cheyenne know what your thoughts are of her first efforts as a published author. We look forward to publishing more of Cheyenne fine work, both her writing and her art.




Comments

  1. April 16th, 2008

    An intriguing, well constructed story, beautifully told. Cooncan shows a strong and independent character. A horse determined to do what he wants, and that is never what the humans ask of him!

  2. Lj
    April 16th, 2008

    What a wonderful story to be told around a camp fire. Cheyenne creates visuals in the mind that are absolutely cinematic. Everyone can relate to at least one horse like that, but Coocan takes the cake! I hope Cheyenne will give us more stories in the future.

  3. JB
    April 17th, 2008

    HOOboy, Cheyenne, how I love this story–teaches all of us the right value of sensibility–he was gorgeous, after all–as well as when to know what’s best to do. Thank you, best wishes, JB in LA

  4. BBB
    April 18th, 2008

    Loved it ! Her use of words and humor flowed brilliantly throughout the story . It held my attention from beggining to end …
    Cooncan’s independents reminds me of a lovely lady friend I hold very dear to this very day because of it ..
    I hope Cheyenne will be featured again as a guest author ..I’ll be looking forward to the next one …

  5. April 19th, 2008

    What a wonderful story and true to the nature of the horse. Wonder if ferrit droppings may have stopped him wind sucking? It stopped our old Connamara pony, he hated it. I would love to hear more on what became of Cooncan.
    Karris.

  6. April 21st, 2008

    Cheyenne,
    There can’t be anything better than taking the reader out on horseback with such a wonderful tale. You write well and we are there with you all the way turning the pages. We want to know more. I wish I knew America better but through this wonderful tale I’ve learnt a lot. You’ve kept my interest, tossed in the tension and had me wondering how it might all end. A good horse to me is like a finely tuned motorbike; both obey commands when given. Trouble is Cooncan is different and that makes your writing new and enjoyable. And to do a bad deal over a horse? If it is any help to know we’ve all done it. Makes you smarter. Makes you want to write something like this. You know what you write and thank you for sharing this tale with a fan of the real West, coffee, soda-bread and a thousand other memories. It would be refreshing to read more of your work. Thank you.

  7. Capt. Rusty
    April 25th, 2008

    Fantastic writing, loved each and every word. The visuals of the story had me right there. I’m not a horseman per se, although I have owned, rode and cared for a few. By trade I am an ocean going Captain and YEARS ago I commander a small ocean tug that handled very much like Cooncan…or it could have been my skills and talents as a very young skipper. One thing’s for sure, only the pilings, docks, barges and a frightened crew knew for sure!

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