Since every day is Labor Day in the ranching world, here’s a tribute to another sort of tireless worker:
NO REST FOR THE HORSE
There’s a union for teamster and waiter,
There’s a union for cabman and cook,
There’s a union for hobo and preacher,
And one for detective and crook.
There’s a union for blacksmith and painter,
There is one for the printer, of course;
But where would you go in this realm of woe,
To discover a guild for the horse?
He can’t make a murmur in protest,
Though they strain him both up and down hill,
Or force him to work twenty hours
At the whim of some drunken brute’s will.
Look back at our struggle for freedom—
Trace our present day’s strength to its source,
And you’ll find that man’s pathway to glory,
Is strewn with the bones of the horse.
The mule is a fool under fire;
The horse, although frightened, stands true,
And he’d charge into hell without flinching
‘Twixt the knees of the trooper he knew.
When the troopers grow old they are pensioned,
Or a berth or a home for them found;
When a horse is worn out they condemn him,
And sell him for nothing a pound.
Just think, the old pet of some trooper
Once curried and rubbed twice a day,
Now drags some damned ragpicker’s wagon,
With curses and blows for his pay.
I once knew a grand king of racers,
The best of a cup-wining strain;
They ruined his knees on a hurdle,
For his rider’s hat covered no brain.
I met him again, four years later,
On his side at the foot of a hill,
With two savages kicking his ribs,
And doing their work with a will.
I stroked the once velvety muzzle,
I murmured the old name again,
He once filled my purse with gold dollars;
And this day I bought him for ten.
His present address is “Sweet Pastures,”
He has nothing to do but eat,
Or loaf in the shade on the green, velvet grass,
And dream of the horses he beat.
Now, a dog—well, a dog has a limit;
After standing for all that’s his due,
He’ll pack up his duds some dark evening,
And shine out for scenes which are new.
But a horse, once he’s used to his leather,
Is much like the old-fashioned wife;
He may not be proud of his bargain,
But still he’ll be faithful through life.
And I envy the merciful teamster
Who can stand at the bar and say:
“Kind Lord, with the justice I dealt my horse,
Judge Thou my soul today.”
Most are familiar with this poem from respected horseman Randy Rieman’s outstanding recitation. Randy’s source for the poem was Songs of Horses, an anthology edited by Robert Frothingham (1865-1937) in 1920. (Find links to digitized versions of the book here.
We also found the same “No Rest for the Horse” poem under a different title, “To a Quiet But Useful Class,” in a 1902 edition of Life magazine. There is no author attributed in that instance, either. You can see the poem in that Life magazine in an edition that has been digitized by Google Book Search, on page 488.
This c. 1910 photo is titled, “Harvesting machine pulled by 32 horses in Spokane, Washington.” The photo is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more here.
This poem and photograph are in the public domain.