The Grulla

As a cowboy I’ve ridden a few broncs. In fact when I returned from a three year hitch with the Marines I was going to ride Saddle Broncs; I didn’t get it done.

Fresh out of the Corps, newly married and heading to school money was tight; I had to choose between riding Broncs and getting my private pilot ‘s rating. The private pilots rating led to becoming a commercial pilot and making a good living flying later on. Also, as a seasonal pilot it gave me the freedom to run a herd of cows and horses and show horses in the reined Cow Horse world.

So I never got to ride in the PRCA or go to the finals at Vegas or any of that, but I made a few rides that would have made Casey Tibbs proud. If you don’t know who Casey Tibbs is then you probably shouldn’t read this.

Just kidding. Google Casey, It’ll be worth your time.

The Grulla was twelve hundred pounds of Montana ranch horse with not a bad attitude but he had an eject button that if you pushed it would try your ability. I pushed it twice and got him rode both times.

This picture is my wife and I packing salt the summer of 1980 at the Trapper Creek Ranch just west of Melrose Montana. My wife is standing in front of the Grulla and the little blond gal in the grass next to the pack horse is my daughter Misty who is my partner in crime in my books and blog; couldn’t do it without her.

It was early summer and we were using salt to move the cows around the range. It was a good practice and we changed locations of our salt to draw the cows to areas of grass they weren’t using.

Late in the morning Joy headed home with the pickup and trailer as she had been away from our other 2 little ones long enough. I was going to finish packing salt and head across the valley with the horses when I was done. If memory serves me correctly it was about 7 miles home after my days work.

It was the second load of salt after Joy left that I was coming back empty for another load and was side-hilling around a steep slope. I had the lead rope of my pack horse wrapped loosely around the saddle horn and her horse was following the other 2 horses, running free, bringing up the rear.

Near as I can figure my pack horse swung her rope up under the Grulla’s tail and that was all the insult he needed. He went straight down that hill firing for all he was worth.

I blew my left stirrup but that didn’t seem to phase me as I knew at that moment that this ride wasn’t for the faint hearted.

Something between rage and terror filled me as I made the ride. One thing that I can’t forget is that I had a vivid image flash through my mind of a gravestone with, ‘here lies Brian Spaulding, killed by the Grulla’. Not today you son-of-a-btich. Sorry folks but I never survived a good fight without a whole lot of attitude.

‘Big Sky Country’ took on a whole other meaning as that was all I could see as he fired off of that hill. It was steep enough that ‘The Man From Snowy River’ would have taken a detour; by the way I love that movie.

When he stopped bucking I looked back up the hill to where my other 2 horses were standing and it seemed like a long ways back up there.

I think at that moment I understood why the horse no longer worked for the Forrest Service. The ranch had bought him from Charlie Haunkamp, a local rancher, on my recommendation. I guess Charlie figured I’d get along with him; the horse that is. I got along with Charlie as well.

With more salt to pack and a ride home there wasn’t much I could do but ride back up the hill and gather up my pack horse and get back to work.

Later in the day as I rode across the valley a rattle snake struck under the belly of my horse. I didn’t kill all rattlers only the ones close to the house but I had had all the insult that I could take for one day. The snakes head came off with a well placed swing of the end of my rope. Killing a snake had never felt so good.

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