Slave or Partner
by  Carole P.

WHIB High Riders


“Murdoch, where’s Johnny?” Scott walked into the Greatroom coming up to Murdoch’s desk.

Murdoch frowned a little, “Out at the corral with his horse.”

“He shouldn’t be riding yet should he?” Scott looked concerned.

“He isn’t as far as I know.  He promised he was just going out to check on the horse and Cipriano is out there to make sure he doesn’t do anything he shouldn’t.”

“Well, I think I’ll just go out and check.” Scott turned and walked out the door.

Johnny and Cipriano were at the corral.  Johnny was sitting in a chair and talking with Cipriano.  At least Johnny still had his arm in the sling as Sam had ordered.

His horse was in the center of the corral facing away from Johnny. When Johnny whistled the horse spun around and came to the fence and leaned his head down.  Johnny was laughing now and patted the horse’s nose with his good hand.  Cipriano called to one of the vaqueros who came and led the horse back to the center of the corral, again facing away from Johnny and Cipriano.  The horse who balked a little as the vaquero mounted.  Johnny’s voice was sharp now and the horse stood still.  The whistle was a little different this time and the horse turned slowly and walked towards the whistle with the vaquero holding the reins but seemingly not guiding the horse.  Again, Johnny spoke softly to the horse and patted him.  He turned slightly in the chair and looked up at Scott. “Checking up on me, brother?”

Scott grimaced there was no way to deny that was exactly what he was doing.  “Just checking to make sure you aren’t overdoing, Johnny.” He paused a moment, “Just exactly what are you doing?”

“Making Barranca my partner.”

“What do you mean Johnny? Partner, a horse and you named him?”

“Yeah, Scott, my partner and of course I named him. How do you expect him to come when I call if he doesn’t have a name?”

“Maybe you should come inside, sit down and explain that to me.” Scott could tell Johnny was looking a bit tired and thought that an explanation was a good excuse to get him to rest.

Johnny turned to Cipriano and realized Cip had left and the vaquero was taking Barranca into the barn. He shrugged and turned to Scott starting to rise. Scott put a helping hand under Johnny’s good arm. Johnny tried to shake it off, “I can make it on my own.”

Scott held firmer, “Oh, no little brother, that didn’t work so well the last time.”

Johnny paused, nodded his head and allowed the help.

Once inside the Greatroom Johnny sat down on the couch and leaned back with a sigh.  Scott made a detour to the kitchen and came back with glasses and a pitcher of lemonade.  Murdoch looked up from his paperwork and smiled.

“Would you care for some, sir?” He asked lifting the pitcher towards his father. Murdoch nodded and Scott poured glasses of lemonade, handed them off to Johnny and Murdoch and sat down next to Johnny. “Okay, brother, explain that statement you made about your horse.”

“What statement, Scott?” Murdoch asked. 

“He said he was making his horse his partner and he said his horse is named Barranca.” Scott looked at Murdoch and then turned his head towards Johnny and raised an eyebrow. “Well, care to explain?”

Johnny laughed softly. “Well, it’s like this Scott…” He paused, thinking…”Your horse can be your slave or your partner, and a horse that's a slave isn't worth the powder to blow it up. But if you want your horse to be a partner you've got to let it know when it does things right, not just when it does wrong. Any good horse will figure out what to do when it knows what's right.” Johnny paused again, “I was out there getting to know him and letting him get to know me.  I broke him that first day and made him my slave, now I am taking him to school and teaching him to be my partner.”

“I’m not sure I understand Johnny.”

Johnny breathed out heavily through his nose thinking hard. “Okay, have you ever ridden a horse that seemed to know what you wanted even before you did?”

“Yes, a few.”

“That’s because those horses weren’t just broken, they were made partners.  Someone took the time to teach them right from wrong so they would know what to do. I want Barranca to be like that, to come when I need him and to know what to do. We’ll both be happier for it.”

Scott nodded even though he couldn’t imagine a horse being happy.  Johnny looked like he believed it and that was good enough.  Scott turned to look at Murdoch and Murdoch was nodding also.

“John, did someone teach you to do that?” Murdoch was curious to know something about Johnny’s past.

Johnny shrugged, “Not really.  I learned by watching. I’ve just been around a lot of places where horses were broken and watched and learned. After a while you could tell by watching the different ways they were broken and trained which ones would be good and which ones wouldn’t.”

Murdoch smiled and nodded.  Just then Maria walked in and announced that dinner was ready.  They all moved into the dining area and sat down.  A few minutes later Murdoch glanced at Scott and noticed that he was smiling. Scott made a slight nod at Johnny and Murdoch looked at his other son, Johnny was watching what Scott was doing and copying his moves.  It seemed that his son was again “watching and learning”. Murdoch brought his napkin up to his mouth to hide the smile that he couldn’t control.

Later that night he walked quietly into Johnny’s room to check on him.  Johnny was sound asleep on his stomach with one hand near the bandages on his back and the other under his pillow. Murdoch smiled and wondered if this particular half broken colt could be taught to be a true partner who knew what was expected of him.  Murdoch shook his head both looking forward to and dreading that particular conversation with his son.  He turned and left the room as quietly as he had entered.






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