THE HORSE TRADE
by Sunny Hancock (1931-2003)
I traded for a horse one time,
he wouldn’t take no beauty prize;
A great big long-eared, blue roan gelding,
not too bad for weight or size.
I had to make some tough old circles
and this trader guaranteed
This horse would show me lots of country
and not need too much rest or feed.
He said “Now this here ain’t no kids’ horse
but he’ll pack you up the crick,
He will bump up on some occasions
and he has been known to kick.
I wouldn’t trade him to just anyone
without having some remorse
But if you’re a sure enough cow puncher,
mister, he’s your kind of horse.
I stepped on that horse next mornin’;
he began to buck and bawl.
That trader maybe hadn’t lied none,
but he hadn’t told it all.
Because we sure tore up the country
where he throwed that equine fit
And I almost ran out of hand holds
by the time he finally quit.
I guess that musta’ set the pattern;
things just never seemed to change,
Although I showed him lots of country,
every corner of the range.
But every time I’d ride that booger,
why, he’d keep me sittin’ tight.
I knew I’d make at least three bronc rides
‘fore he’d pack me home that night.
Which woulda been OK
with lots of horses that I knowed.
But that old pony had my number;
I’d just barely got him rode.
And the thing that really spooked me
and put a damper on my pride
Was he was learning how to buck
faster than I was learnin’ how to ride.
I pulled into camp one evening;
it was gettin’ pretty late.
I see this grey horse in the corral
and there’s a saddle by the gate.
I looked that grey horse over
and I sure liked what I seen,
Then this kid showed up around the barn;
he musta been about sixteen.
He said he’d lamed that grey that morning
coming down off the granite grade,
And he wondered if I had a horse
I’d maybe like to trade.
He said he didn’t have the time to stop
and rest and let him heal,
And since that beggars can’t be choosers,
he’d make most any kind of deal.
When a feller’s tradin’ horses,
why, most anything is fair,
So I traded him that blue roan
for his grey horse then and there.
But them my conscience started hurtin’
When I thought of what I did,
To trade a “fly blown” dink like that
off to some little wet-nosed kid.
So next mornin’ after breakfast,
why, I tells him, “Listen lad,
If you want to know the truth,
that trade you made last night was bad.
That old blue horse is a tough one,
bad as any one you’ll see.
He’ll kick you, strike you, stampede.
He’s a sorry SOB.
“It’s all I can do to ride him
and I’ll tell it to you straight,
I think you’ll be awfully lucky
just to ride him past the gate.
There’s two or three old horses
out there in the saddle bunch.
They ain’t got too much going for ’em
but I kinda got a hunch
“They’ll probably get you where you’re going
if you just don’t crowd ’em none,
But damn, I hate to see you ride
that blue roan booger, son!”
He said, “I told you there last night
I’d make most any kind of trade,
And I appreciation your tellin’
what a bad mistake I made.
“But my old daddy told me when you’re tradin’
that no matter how you feel,
Even if you take a whippin’
that a deal is still a deal.
That horse, you say has lots of travel,
and he’s not too bad for speed.
Well, sir, I’m kinda’ in a tight
and that’s exactly what I need.
“I traded for him fair and square
and damn his blue roan hide,
When I pull outta’ here this morning,
that’s the horse I’m gonna ride.”
I watched him cinching up his saddle
and he pulled his hat way down,
Stepped right up into the riggin’
like he’s headed straight for town.
Stuck both spurs up in his shoulders,
got the blue roan hair a-flyin’
Tipped his head straight back and screamed
just like a hungry mountain lion.
You know, I’ve heard a lot of stories
’bout the bucking horse ballet.
I’ve heard of poetry in motion,
but the ride I saw that day
Just plumb complete defied description
though I can see it plain,
Like it had happened in slow motion
and was branded on my brain.
I don’t suppose I could explain it
to you even if I tried.
The only thing that I can say is,
by the saints, that kid could ride.
He sat there plumb relaxed
like he was laying home in bed,
And every jump that pony made,
that kid’s a-half a jump ahead.
When it was over I decided
I could learn a few things still,
And I said, “Son, I’m awfully sorry
I misjudged your ridin’ skill.”
He just said, “Shucks, that’s OK, mister,”
as he started on his way,
“But if you think this horse can buck,
don’t put your saddle on that grey.”
© 2002, Sunny Hancock, used with the permission of the Hancock Family
It’s Cowboy Poetry Week, and what better way to celebrate than with this all-time favorite poem. Sunny Hancock, a “cowboy’s cowboy,” was at the first Westerm Folklife Center cowboy poetry gathering in 1985 and was a regular participant for many years. He cowboyed all over the western U.S.and when he retired, he and his wife, Alice, lived outside of Lakeview, Oregon. They were friends and inspirations to many.
The first volume of the MASTERS (2017) CD from CowboyPoetry.com has a recording of Sunny reciting this poem, and others, in front of a live audience at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Gary McMahan tells the poem with music, and you can listen to the entire piece at his site.
Lake County, Oregon’s annual Sunny Hancock/Leon Flick Memorial Cowboy Poetry Show (this year July 27, 2018) “… has become an annual cowboy poetry show to remember Lake County poets Sunny Hancock and Leon Flick while raising funds for a local cowboy crisis/scholarship fund…”
Find more about Sunny Hancock at CowboyPoetry.com.
This photo of Sunny Hancock is by top photographer Kevin Martini-Fuller, who has photographed participants of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for over three decades. Find some of those photos at his site.
(A September, Facebook 2014 post of this poem became our most popular post ever, with currently over 2.6K Likes, and over 7,000 shares. People continue to Like and comment on that post.
We’re not fixated on numbers, but it’s great to see that the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry just crossed the 10,000 Likes marker for its Facebook page, during Cowboy Poetry Week.)
Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but permission should be obtained for any other use.