Exploring and hunting the roadless Book Cliffs country on a great horse sure was a wonderful way to go, and I love every such memory.
Doing all the above on a less than great horse was another story entirely, but now that the misery and bruises have faded into fuzzy decades the whole experience was still well worth it. We did have some good horses, but we also had some sorry ones. There were a couple you could trust completely, a couple you could trust most of the time, and a couple that were not to be trusted ever. Kind of like they were just waiting for a chance to make your life miserable.
In past pages I’ve written about Harry Ballard’s grandson, Guy Ballard, who came from England to stay with us a few times. I had nicknamed him Lord Byron and several of us still refer to him thusly. On one visit when he was 20, he stayed with us about six months. Deer season found our group horse packed into our nicely set up Book Cliffs camp with all the trashcan storage units hanging from the trees. As usual there were just barely enough horses to haul everyone around.
One early morning we rode over into She Canyon, then climbed up onto what we called Doe Ridge, and formed a deer drive. A couple of us went back to the south end of the ridge to wait on stand while the others pushed the sides and top of the ridge trying to run a buck out to someone or the other. Lord Byron was elected to be one of the ridgetop riders and we left him where he was to start after waiting a half hour for everyone to get into position.
The hunt went about as planned, though no one got a shot. Most of us made it back to camp around 10 a.m. for a late breakfast, but Byron did not. He was new to the country, but we had assured him that once the drive was completed, and if we hadn’t picked him up, his horse, Scarlet, would bring him back to camp. About 11:30 a.m. Scarlet came trotting into camp in a fiery-eyed sort of snooty manner, but minus her rider.
Now, sweet Scarlet was known to take the bit in her teeth and run away with anyone at any time, but she only did that down around home on the desert. We highly appreciated the fact that she was a good girl and did not run away with folks up in the mountains. Sure, she’d spook and jump if you came around a corner on a familiar trail that had a new blown-down quakie tree in a spot where it had not been a couple days ago. Especially if it was dark, but for the most part she was a good sure-footed mountain horse. So, we decided we’d give Byron another hour to show up before going to search for him.
The hour passed quickly and I was just about to saddle my horse when here came Lord Byron tramping into camp with a meaner look in his eye than Scarlet had shown. We asked him what had happened and where he’d been, but he was too grumpy to respond. Kind of embarrassed about it all and damn mad at his horse, I suppose.
I made the mistake of continuing to bug him about why he had to walk back to camp, even though I was kind of amazed he’d actually found camp at all. I suppose Byron would have eventually told the story in his own English time, but he was feeling harassed.
I said, “Come on Lord Byron, how did your horse get away?” “Did you fall off?” “Did you get off and forget to tie her up?” He said, “I just got off and turned her loose.” Someone said, “Why the heck would you do that Byron?” He said, “The rotten beast ran away with me through the woods exceedingly fast, and she was jumping over trees and stones, and it seemed she would never stop, but after a mile or maybe two she finally did and I got off.” Then someone said, “Well, if she stopped and you got off, why did you turn her lose for hell sakes.” Then he swung around just mad through and through, and yelled at us one and all, “BECAUSE I WAS BLOODY BLANKING TERRIFIED, OF COURSE!”
We were stunned, then we all cracked up and laughed our butts off, which didn’t help things at all. Dear young Bryon stuck his nose up at the breakfast leftovers, spread his jacket on a patch of grass away from camp, laid down on his belly, and ignored us all. Pretty soon he was asleep.
A couple of hours later it was time to head out for the afternoon hunt, so we started saddling up the horses. In an effort to be a little nicer, we saddled one of the other horses for Byron to use while we let him nap a little longer. About then, Uncle Kennis went to shake the Lord awake but changed his mind after hearing light snoring. That gave him a bright idea. Byron was still asleep on his stomach with his hat over his head. Kennis snuck back up on him with a squeeze bottle of dish soap and ever so slowly drained a goodly amount of it into the crease between the cheeks of Byron’s jeans.
In a couple minutes we all made a big hullabaloo and started hollering for Byron to jump right up and climb up on his new horse as we were burning daylight and it was time to get gone from camp for another hunt! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
The poor kid was only barely awake as several of us were shoving him into the saddle. In a short moment we were all trotting out of camp with Byron bringing up the middle. It was kind of gruesome how Byron’s skinny butt seemed to be squishing and sliming around in the saddle, and how the look on his face seemed rather aghast. Before long, saying nothing, he veered off the trail and into the brush for some unknown reason. We all had to wait for about 10 minutes before he reappeared, took his place in line, and suggested we hasten along, without saying a word about why he’d just disappeared again.
We all earned a great deal of respect for Mr. Lord Byron Ballard on that day in particular. He was a little younger than most of us, kind of a foreigner, and we were just naturally putting him to the test. He proved he had sand and could take a bad joke. I believe I’ll be in trouble if he ever decides to get even for all the jokes and stuff I was a party to back in the day.
I know I’ve got it coming.