THE REAL THING, by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)


by Larry McWhorter (1957-2003)

Have you ever saddled up a horse
You didn’t want to ride,
And gone out where you didn’t want to go?
It’s not a subject much discussed,
This unromantic side,
And only understood by those who know

That empty hollow feeling felt
Of staring at the dark
While hoping that the worst he’ll do is buck.
But you get paid to ride the kind
Who’d rather bite than bark.
You sigh and turn and pray to God for luck.

Have you ever drained the final drop
Out of your coffee cup
While staring at the wind-whipped, driving snow?
You’re warm right now, but that’ll end
By time you’ve saddled up
And then you’ll get the chilling horseman know

Of stinging ears and fingertips
While cold, like novocaine,
Numbs your toes, yeah, you know how it feels.
The cramping in your arches makes
You grit your teeth in pain
‘Til you dismount and walk upon your heels.

Have you ever had your arm so tired
From doctoring all day
You find it hard to build another loop?
You used to think you liked to rope
When it was done for play,
But now you find you’ve come to dread the droop

Of ears or runny eyes and limps.
It never seems to end.
You almost hate ’em just because they’re sick.
But there before you stands one more
There’s no choice but to tend.
You ask your worn out horse for one more lick.

Have you ever felt the urge to quit,
But gone on anyway
And followed through on nothing else but pride?
That’s how it has to be sometimes
When work outweighs the pay,
And you’re not there on just a “whimsy” ride.

You do it even when you know
It’s gonna hurt like hell,
You do it even though you post no score
Except the one inside yourself
Which makes you do things well.
You do it for the men who rode before.

© 2000, Larry McWhorter, used with permission
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

The great, late cowboy Larry McWhorter was certainly an authority on “real.” In his 2000 book, Contemporary Verse by Larry McWhorter, he introduces this poem, writing, “As Vess Quinlan would say, ‘This one is more for the ‘ins” thans the ‘bys”…there are certain things only men of the saddle understand and know.”

But it has a universal message, like so many of his poems.

Listen to Red Steagall recite this poem. The recitation is from an important project that popular singer and songwriter Jean Prescott produced, The Poetry of Larry McWhorter. It includes Larry McWhorter’s recorded recitations of his poetry, and eleven of his poems that were never recorded, recited by some of today’s top performers who were his friends, including Waddie Mitchell, Chris Isaacs, Andy Hedges, Gary McMahan, Dennis Flynn, Oscar Auker and Jesse Smith.

The first-in-the-series MASTERS (2017) CD from features recitations by Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, J.B. Allen, and Ray Owens.

Read more poetry by Larry McWhorter and more about him at

Thanks to Jean Prescott for this photograph of Larry McWhorter and to Andrea Waitley for her kind permission for the use of this poem.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please seek permission for other uses.)