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Scott Parson, dabbler in typestries and fabulations

Poor Horseman of the Apocalypse

Wouldn't you think that every cowpoke worth his saddle sores carries a thesaurus in his bedroll? Something handy he can pull out to find just the right word for every western-y occasion? Like when he's face-to-face with a greenhorn tenderfoot dude what reckons he knows anything at all about horses. What kind of horse do you put under him?

Dumb broke? Green broke? Saddle broke? Well, that depends. On what, you might ask? On how big a laugh you aim to get on a hot sunny day in Arizona.

While it's true I did grow up in Arizona, and had enough experience to know which end of a horse to point at the sunset into which all good westerners ride, it pains me to admit that I only knew enough to be dangerous.

I rode occasionally growing up, which gave me sufficient experience to get work as a featured rider for one summer in Galveston, Texas. It was during my acting days and I was in an outdoor drama called The Lone Star, the story of Texas independence. In addition to my stage parts, I convinced them to let me ride horses on and off stage, which meant working the critters in the lights and noise of an action story. That summer I got to ride both saddle and bareback, had been on horses that reared or skittered at the noise and lights. On one occasion I had a horse collapse under me, from the back of which I did a stunning pirouette of a dismount that had the real horse wranglers agog, complimenting me on my quick reflexes.

So I came by my bone-headed arrogance honestly. But in truth, I was an accomplished horseman only in my own mind, which is where the seeds of disaster always seem to take root for me.

A year or two after that summer in Texas, I took my brand-new wife (whom I'd met on that stage in Texas) to visit my family in Arizona. At the time my parents kept two horses on their property. Eagle, a bay-colored gelding that belonged to my mother, and a brown patched pinto that belonged to my second cousin.

Since my wife had owned her own horse for a while when she was growing up, I thought it would be a thrill for us to go riding. 

Mom suggested that we ride around to the back of the property. Just a little bit of stroll on horseback. Mom and my brother would tag along with us, walking behind.

At the time the idea of doing a walk on horseback around the limits of my parents "back forty" seemed far too tame. I could just imagine what that would be like:

Rocking Horses

"Go out and saddle a good one. We'll ride like the wind." Can I get me a yee-haw and whoop-di-do?

But they were Mom's horses, so that's what we'd do.

Once we got the real horses saddled, we put Lisa on Eagle, a good-natured, but spirited animal, and put me on the pinto. Since, as my mother pointed out, the pinto was green broke.

Now, if you'll open up that thesaurus I mentioned earlier, let's have a look at the term, green broke. It will tell you a green broke horse is one that has been introduced to the saddle and probably ridden at least once, but may have reservations about letting it happen again. In the case of the pinto I was riding, somebody must have simply shown her a picture of a saddle from a magazine, and then said, "This is you someday. Be ready."

I was there when that day came. She wasn't ready.

The pinto was balky from the start. She would advance a few steps, stop, then lurch forward when I used my heel to start her again. I thought at first it was the uneven ground, but she'd grazed all over the property. She knew the terrain. She kept on like that until she found a nice, flat spot of ground she favored. Then she planted herself, gave herself a huge shake, knocked herself off balance, fell onto her side, and rolled over on me. You know how dogs roll in the dust to rid themselves of fleas and other parasites? Yeah, something like that.

I laid on the ground there a long moment, an amazing pain in my right leg. A number of thoughts flashed through my head all at the same time. First, was anything ripped, ruptured, or broken? Second, is this how cowboys learned to yodel? Because the urge to break out in a long, loud hellacious howdy-doodly-doo rose up and lodged itself just behind my Adam's apple.

But -- my wife was watching. I was determined to be nonchalant even as I lay stretched out, mashed into the dirt by a 600 pound animal, leaving a Scott-shaped hole that my Dad would have to fill in later.

My brother steadied me as I got up off the ground. Mother, pioneer woman that she is, urged me to get back on the horse that threw me. Wise in theory, but impractical in execution at the moment. I needed both legs to re-mount and I was one leg shy for that task.

So there we were trying to figure out how to get me back to the house. I was too big to carry and too proud to crawl.

Mom offered to go get the pickup and come fetch me. I could ride in the back. That was demoralizing. I'd rather we think of something else. Like how about rigging up a travois the way the cavalry troopers hauled John Wayne back to the fort at the end of Rio Grande? Watching Mom and my brother study the situation, I knew it was only a matter of time before they decided to loop a rope around my good ankle and butt-drag me back to the house. No thank you - and the horse I rode in on.

While Mom and my brother were studying how best to get me to the house, Lisa had returned the spot where we were. We told her what happened, and she sized up the situation differently. If I was that badly injured that I needed to be hauled away in a pickup, then I was injured badly enough to call an ambulance. Where she comes from you don't stand around gauging the severity of an injury by its inconvenience.

To allay Lisa's concern and reassure her, we shrugged it off as maybe a bad sprain. Yeah, that's it. A bad sprain. The Parson family is known for being quick healers. And if it turns out we don't heal all that quickly, then we're pretty good at being pain deniers.

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I dutifully re-mounted, putting my left foot in the stirrup, leaving my damaged right side to bear all my weight as I pushed off and swung my leg over. With great pain comes great understanding. I was beginning to understand what a citified ignoramus looks like to western folk. We're not so boorish as to believe that pain is funny, but I've often heard it's a fertile source of great comedy.

The horse let me on again without a fuss, and stayed docile the rest of the way back to the house. My brother led her by her halter and I rode, holding the pommel like a seasick weekend wrangler on a dude ranch.

My brother felt bad for me. Said he thought about saying something, but, I seemed so sure of what I was doing. He shrugged. He didn't see it was his place to give me the reality check I so richly deserved. My brother has always been taciturn.

We tried the usual home remedies on my ankle. Packed ice on it, kept it elevated, put weight on it now and then to see if I was getting any mobility back. It seemed as bad as ever.

My wife continued to insist that I have a doctor check it out. So I chose a little clinic in a shopping mall. What we used to call a "doc-in-the-box." The doctor was out but the assistant was on duty and would be glad to take an x-ray, take a guess at an opinion, and charge me the twenty-five dollars. Sold. Needless to say, my wife was none too happy.

It seemed like just the place were I could get the right kind of bed-side manner. The kind that wouldn't draw attention to the foolishness of my actions.

"You're from New York, I see. What happened?" I could hear the grizzled old Western sawbones ask.

"A horse fell on me."

"I'm surprised."

"You are?"

"That usually only happens in the rainy season. Always a good idea to check the clouds for the occasional horse herd before you go out. About the only reason a true Arizonan needs to  carry an umbrella. You ever hear that song, Ghost Riders in the Sky?"

"Are you through?" I would ask.

"Not by a long shot, but you seem to be. Let's have a look at your leg."

I'd just as soon skip the jokes at the transplanted New Yorker's expense.

The attendant shot some x-rays that really didn't show much of anything. Not much better than a chalk outline of a human ankle. The attendant pointed at a fuzzy white blob that represented bone and said that spot was as good as any for a possible break if there was one. I didn't see anything that looked like a break. Or anything that looked like an actual ankle for that matter. Neither did he. But he assured me that I did have an ankle, although the x-ray was inconclusive on that point as well. He advised me to keep my alleged ankle iced and elevated. Maybe aspirin for the pain. Didn't I say that twenty-five dollars ago? But, I'd been in the general vicinity of a doctor. I was in and out of the clinic, dignity unchallenged. Check that box. Make the wife happy.

I spent the next two days going around on borrowed crutches, and trying to keep up with the family as we continued on our Arizona vacation.

We went to a dinner event at Rawhide, offering a western-themed show and restaurant where they recreate the cattle puncher's experience by serving a typical cattle drive meal with beef, biscuits, and beans. Then, to really get us in the spirit, they encouraged us to act just like cowboys did when the cook, usually named Wishbone, rattled the triangle for dinner –- run as hard as you can to get in line for chuck off the chuck wagon-slash-buffet line. So I ran. They were right. Really made the whole cowboy experience unforgettable for me that night .

Standing in line as we waited for Wishbone to dole out the grub, Mom talked with one old guy behind us about my hobbling around. He said a horse broke his ankle once, too. Didn't think much of it at the time, either. He said, Hell, he even went dancing. (Of course you did, you old Arizona cowpoke, you.) He said he finally had to go to a doctor when the blood started pooling around his toes from bleeding at the break.

We went home and checked. Yup. Blood was pooling around my toes. A purplish puddle under the skin.

I gave in and went to see a doctor at Chandler Hospital. I took along the x-rays from the doc-in-the-box. The doctor studied them a moment and, to avoid criticizing a fellow medical practitioner outright, he asked me if I'd sketched those pictures myself. He asked if I'd mind letting him shoot a few of his own. The new x-rays were crystal clear. He pointed to the spot where the crack was obvious.

A crack? A crack's not a break, right? That old Parson medical optimism came shining through. I don't need a cast for a crack, right?

Of course I would need a cast. Not a full-leg cast I thought he was getting ready to make, but a walking cast.

So, like the tee-shirt says, "I went to Arizona and all I got was this cast." And a nifty cane.

Scott with Broken Ankle

Back home in New York, everyone asked if I'd broken my leg skiing. Because that's how you break bones in the Northeast.

But New Yorkers, no less empathetic than Arizonans, would offer the same advice when I told them about having a horse fall on me.

Carry an umbrella next time.

Horse laugh

Text (c) Scott Parson

Image 1:   Eric Frommer is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image 2: Scott Parson
Image 3: Joshua Morley is licensed under CC BY 2.0