I wanna be a cowboy. I’ve been a city boy all my life, but that certainly has not prevented me from desiring to roam the countryside on the back of a horse. As a youngster I dreamt of becoming either a fireman, policeman, baseball player, or a cowboy, like most boys I presume, when I got older. A couple of those aspirations were realistically attainable, but I have to wonder where one would even go to apply for the position of “cowboy.” My fascination with simpler times, horses, and jingling spurs most-likely stems from faithfully watching episodes of Bonanza and How the West Was Won during my childhood.
I can also recall watching reruns of The Lone Ranger, Maverick, and The Big Valley on a daily basis. (My love of Rawhide and Clint Eastwood westerns came much later in life.) I fondly remember trotting up and down the hallway and around the living room, on my imaginary steed, every time the Bonanza theme song coursed through the speakers of my parents’ console television. I would ride into the sunset at the beginning and at the end of every episode. My prancing somewhat resembled the way The Church Lady, from Saturday Night Live, would dance around at the end of “her” (Dana Carvey’s) Church Chat skits. Well, isn’t that special?
I can imagine the serenity of living on a ranch. I can even picture myself riding my horse, Prickly Pete, from one end of the property to the other while looking for trespassers and mending fences along the way. For some reason I have it in my mind that that’s what cowboys do for most of the day. The spirit of the Old West is very appealing to me (except maybe for the lynchings). Bringing someone to justice was certainly swift back then. Whether the accused, with the noose around their neck, was actually guilty or not was often a moot point. I hate to think how many innocent men were strung up under that type of justice system.
Entering through the swinging doors of the local saloon, after a long day of mending fences and searching for trespassers, seems very enticing as well. Quaffing a mug of beer or having a shot of whiskey, to cure one’s dry throat, undoubtedly would be right up my alley. Of course, I’d prefer a craft beer, or at least some Diet Coke with the whiskey, although I’ve never seen that on television. I’m not at all into the bar scene, but I would think the atmosphere of an old-time Western saloon would be quite alluring. The dancehall women mingling with the customers, the piano player in the corner doing his thing, the serious gamblers gathered at the poker tables, and the assortment of cowboys getting drunk would surely be a sight to behold.
I’ve only ridden a horse on two different occasions, throughout my entire life, but I still have the notion to become a cowboy nonetheless. The first instance was when my family called on my grandparents in Missouri, and I was shocked when I found out my grandpa had acquired a pony since the last time we had visited his modest farm. I was ecstatic after being told that us youngsters would have the opportunity to ride the miniature horse later in the week. When the anticipated glorious day had finally arrived my father put me on top of the pony, and my grandpa placed a large cowboy hat onto my small head. He then grabbed the rope, loosely looped around the critter’s neck, and began slowly walking us about the backyard.
The new experience was wonderful (for about 5 seconds) until my hat fell off, spooking the animal; therefore, the beast bucked me off onto the hard ground. I absolutely thought I was finished imitating a cowboy at that point, but you know what they say one should do after falling off a horse. I assure you I did not care, but my father whole-heartedly subscribed to the aforementioned theory, so he and my grandpa eventually convinced me to get back on the horse. I was again placed on top of the varmint, with a few tears in my eyes, but this time without the oversized cowboy hat. The rest of the ride was smooth sailing, and I’m glad I was pressured into…I mean lovingly urged to…get back on the pony.
The second time I rode a horse was in 2003, during a Caribbean cruise, while the ship was docked in Casa de Campo. My family and I had signed up for a horseback riding excursion to entertain us while we were on dry land. We were immediately given plastic helmets to wear after arriving at the site. The unattractive headgear fit our heads just about as well as my grandpa’s cowboy hat had fit mine so many years ago. Our instructors did not speak much English, but we got the gist of their basic instructions from their continuous pointing and nodding. We wandered the foreign land, taking in the exotic scenery, as a couple of guides kept watch over us.
Trotting along the dusty trail was a dream come true, and I felt like a genuine cowboy once I forgot about the hideous helmet on top of my head. That is until our instructors decided to take our horseback riding excursion up a notch. One of the guides hollered something, and suddenly every one of the animals picked up their pace. My horse bolted past all of the other riders, including the lead instructor, and the sprinting steed kept going and going and going. The guides were yelling for me to stop (now that I understood) although I had already been pulling back on the reigns and shouting, “Whoa!,” for quite some time. The lead instructor did eventually catch up to me, only for a second or two though, and desperately tried grabbing ahold of my horse’s reigns, but he was nowhere near triumphant.
My horse was now galloping as though it was favored to win the Kentucky Derby. I realized it was entirely up to me to get the beast beneath me to stop. Making the situation even worse was that my backside was involuntarily rising up from its seated position, with every step the horse took, and then painfully slamming back down onto the saddle. The unpleasant ordeal reminded me of a game of Paddle ball: where a player continuously smacks a rubber ball, connected to a cheap piece of elastic and stapled to a wooden paddle, for as many consecutive times as possible. Obviously, my buttocks represents the rubber ball in the previous example.
My greatest fear was that the dashing horse would come to a screeching halt (like in cartoons) and I would find myself air born: soaring past the animal with only my plastic helmet for protection. I’m not exactly sure if I finally yanked the reins hard enough, or if my assigned horse simply got tuckered out, but ultimately the thrilling ride was over, and fortunately I was still alive. The consequences, for inadequately posing as a cowboy, were an extremely chaffed rump, for the rest of the cruise, and some visible scarring, reminding me of my venture, for several months thereafter. Even after the two less than perfect experiences I’ve had, with the four-legged creatures of the Old West, I still think someday I wanna be a cowboy.