photo by Carl Johnson
HORSES VERSUS HOSSES
by S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)
I heard an oldtime cowboy swappin’ off some drawlin’ talk
about them nags men used to ride, who didn’t like to walk.
He spoke of them as “hosses,” so I up and asked him why
he didn’t call them “horses.” Well, a gleam come in his eye,
and here is what he told me—be it right or be it wrong—
some salty information that I’d like to pass along:
“You go out to the race track or some modern ridin’ school,
And what you’ll find ’em ridin’ there is horses, as a rule.
You’ll see ’em wrapped in blankets when they raise a little sweat,
And bedded in warm stables so they won’t git cold or wet.
Their saddle is a postage stamp; they’re combed and curried slick:
Their riders bobble up an’ down like monkeys on a stick.
Them purty tricks are horses, son, but that there ain’t the word
We used to call them shaggies that we rode behind the herd.
They might not be so purty, but they stayed outdoors at night.
They maybe weighed 900 pounds—all guts an’ dynamite.
They took you where you had to go an’ always brought you back,
Without no fancy rations that you purchase in a sack.
They loped all day on nothin’ but your two hands full of grass.
On a Stetson full of water they could climb a mountain pass.
They swum you through the rivers an’ they plowed you through the sand—
You an’ your heavy saddle, an’ they learned to understand
Which end of the cows the tail was on, till all you had to do
Was set up in the saddle while they did the cow work, too!
Sometimes they sorter dodged your rope, sometimes they bucked you high,
But they was sure the apple of the oldtime cowhands eye!
These stable-pampered critters may be horses sure enough,
But them ol’ cow range hosses, they was born to take it rough.
So that’s the way they took it, till they earned a tougher name
Than these here handfed horses, all so delicate an’ tame.
So you can have your horses, with their hifalutin’ gloss—
I’ll take four legged rawhide—or in other words, a hoss!”
© S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker from “Songs of the Saddlemen,” 1954
S. Omar Barker, as described in Cowboy Miner Productions’ collection of his work, “…was born in the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico… a rancher, high school teacher, college professor, forest ranger, soldier, outdoorsman, and legislator… named after his father Squire L. Barker, but went by Omar, he often signed his books with his initials and trademark brand, ‘Lazy SOB.'”
Barker was one of the founders of the Western Writers of America (and twice the winner of their Spur Award) and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum ‘s Hall of Great Westerners, the first living author to receive that recognition. His poems were frequently published by Western Horseman and appeared in many other publications. He published four collections of his hundreds of poems, edited many books, and wrote novels and non-fiction.
Paul Zarzyski does a great recitation of this poem.
Find more poetry and more about S. Omar Barker at CowboyPoetry.com.
This photo of ranch “hosses” is from third-generation South Dakota cowboy and poet Ken Cook. Taken by rancher Carl Johnson several years ago, the image includes two of Ken’s sons; it was a part of Picture the West in July, 2014.
Find more about Ken Cook at CowboyPoetry.com.