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A short story by Emma Carpenter.

A Good, Plain Brown Horse - Page 1 of 2

MaryAnn was a rancher’s daughter. Bill and I had known her parents, Paul and Jackie, for years.

They owned a ranch at Eureka, Kansas and also owned and operated a sale barn in El Dorado. During the winters, when Bill and and I weren’t hauling rodeo stock all over Kansas and Oklahoma, we worked for Paul and Jackie at the sale barn.

A horse standing in a wooden barn

I had never met MaryAnn, but sometimes when I’d go into the office after the sale Paul or Jackie would talk about her a little, the way proud parents do. I knew she was married and had a daughter, and lived and worked full time on her parents’ ranch.

After several years I finally met MaryAnn. It was early on a hot July morning and Bill and I had driven to Paul and Jackie’s ranch to help them ship. The sun still wasn’t quite up when I led my horse by the pens at the house and saw a slender, pretty young woman already there. She was wearing jeans and boots, but no cowboy hat, and had shoulder length hair. When she saw me walk by she stepped forward, and put her hand out.

“Are you Emma?” she asked, kind of quietly. I nodded and said hi, and she said she was MaryAnn. She said her folks had told her a little about me, and I laughed and said they had told me a little about her. We were kind of curious about each other, I think. We talked for a minute or so before she turned and nodded at the horse she was holding.

“He’s just plain brown,” she said, like I might think that was some kind of fault. “But I get along with him real well. He’s a good horse for me.”

At the time MaryAnn and I were having that conversation it was all the fashion to ride a horse that was the "right" color. While it’s hard to say what that was, it’s a safe bet it usually involved being something other than a plain brown or sorrel. I had never cared what color a horse was, and one of the best horses I had ever owned had been a plain brown. That particular day I was riding another horse I liked a lot, and he was a sorrel.

I looked at her and probably gave her a stupid grin.

“One of the best horses I ever had was plain brown,” I said. “He died several years ago. I’d give anything to have my brown horse back.” MaryAnn glanced quickly at my sorrel horse before she looked at me. When she did she smiled just a little, and her eyes seemed very familiar, like I’d known her a long time.

By now the sun was beginning to come up. Everyone started to get on their horses and ride through a gate into the first pasture of the morning. We mounted up and went with them, the riders spreading out to cover the backside of the pasture.

MaryAnn and I rode by ourselves for a little while, her on her plain brown horse and me on my sorrel. Talking to her was easy, and the silences didn’t feel awkward. We probably talked a little about a lot of things, but mostly we talked about our horses, and the yearlings we were about to bring in.

I remember she seemed to feel shy around some of the other riders, most of whom worked throughout the year for a lot of different ranches and had brightly colored horses and newer, fancy equipment. Somewhere along the way she said she wasn’t a real cowboy or cowgirl like the rest of us, that she just worked there on that one ranch and didn’t ride a horse as often as everyone else there. I thought that was an odd thing to hear from a woman who had just saddled her own horse, knew how to ride it, and who was leading the way across the creeks and hills of the ranch she grew up on, knowing every inch of it.

When we got to the southeast corner of the pasture MaryAnn and I found a small group of yearlings that we started driving north toward the pens. We drove them out of a dog-legged area and continued north. Soon our little group melted into other groups, big and small, that were coming together from other parts of the pasture as the riders brought them up. After a while, all the smaller groups became one big one, about 700 yearlings, surrounded by riders on all sides. As all the riders continually adjusted their positions, I lost track of MaryAnn.

It all went pretty well for a while, but as we got closer to the pens the calves started to feel the trap. Little bunches and singles started to pop out of the group to challenge the horses. Everyone was trying to ride as quietly as the could but as hard as they had to, and every rider was needed to hold them. We tried to let them settle, but it seems like we spent all our time putting back individuals and little groups that were trying to make a break for it.

Finally, a big bunch of them toward the front broke and ran to one side hard, trying to push through the horses. Just as the riders got them stopped the back half of the herd suddenly wheeled and bolted back the direction we had just come. They were running all out and this time they weren’t going to stop for anyone.

They blew through a line of horses and riders without even looking at them. The front half of the herd turned and followed them, and in just a few seconds the whole herd, being brought in on the ranch’s once-a-year payday, had been lost. It was only a question now of how far they would go, and how many pounds they would run off, before we could stop them.

From eBay

From eBay. Story continues below.


I was riding hard, like everyone else. I was almost at the front of a group of 50 or 60 head, with most of the rest of the herd right behind them. My horse going as fast a fit, healthy, willing ranch horse could run, and with every step I was asking him if he had any more. We were streaking across grassy, rocky, dangerous ground, and I kept turning my head back and forth to look forward at where we were going, then to my left to keep an eye on the stampeding herd.

I was trying hard to get to their front. I think I was gaining on them, barely. I kept looking to the front, then to the side, seeing an ocean of grass and rocks then an ocean of bobbing heads and straining necks. We were on the top of a hill, and a side where it dropped off sharply was coming up fast. I knew if they beat me to the side they would take the steep descent faster than my horse and I could, then they would scatter across the same hundreds of acres we had just gathered them from.

Continued on page 2......


A Good, Plain Brown Horse - Page 1

A Good, Plain Brown Horse - Page 2


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About The Author

Emma Carpenter and her husband Bill are the owners of the website. Emma is the administrator of the website, and when not writing articles for other areas of CowboyWay she enjoys writing the occasional short story.

For many years Bill and Emma maintained a small cow/calf herd while also doing day work for area ranchers in the Kansas Flint Hills. The Carpenters are retired from Carpenter Rodeo Company, a family owned rodeo company that put on rodeos in Kansas and Oklahoma for over 40 years. They still own a small cow/calf herd.


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