When Angus was just twelve or thirteen, he hired on for spring roundup on a spread running a small herd of mangy cows in the Espanola Valley south of Chama, New Mexico Territory. It was either that or the one-room school his Mom taught. He liked numbers and reading, but the Christian part gave him pause, although though he didn’t know it at the time.
It was 1866, and the Civil War was spreading blood like there was no tomorrow. Angus didn’t know there was a war going on, much less that southern men would secede to keep their slaves and Yankees would die to keep their principles. While he didn’t understand politics or morality, it turned out he was good at gentling young, green horses. Men who wanted to break them to the saddle, called ‘em rank.
Back then, and now, there were two ways to take a two-year old horse from its natural state—no one on his back—to a useful state—a cowboy on his back. You could break him—favored in Texas by men with black hats, or you could gentle him, favored by vaqueros and pale-skinned boys like Angus. Texans broke young horses to the saddle by yelling at ‘em, spurring them into obedience, without ever getting to know them. But New Mexico vaqueros favored the other way, gentling the greenness out of a wild colt. They talked green horses out of bucking. They mounted bareback by letting the horse know there was no danger. The cowboy wasn’t a bear, but a man in need of a ride. The difference was whether you were boss or friend. Angus talked to every horse he saw and most of them listened. He let them come to him of their own accord. It took patience and wonderment.
The parallel today is how some parents come to grips with the green kids in their own houses. You can yell at ‘em, put the whip to ‘em, and turn them into belligerent, subservient little people. For a while. Or you can gentle ‘em, talk to ‘em, and turn them into well-behaved little people. I favor gentling the green ones. So did Angus.