Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Nature and Origin of the American Indian Madstone

By Allan B. Colombo

In the WMD article entitled “Did U Know the American Indian Had a Cure for Rabies?” (, we discussed a procedure used by American Indians to treat the dreaded and often deadly disease called Rabies. Well, it appears that there is an additional method used by Native American Indians to neutralize rabies and other forms of poisonous bites, such as snakes. This list also includes general infections.

In the March, 1981, issue of Frontier Times--partner to True West--author, Mary Whatley Clarke said, “They were first used in America by the Indians but how the Red Man discovered their magic power can only be surmised” (p.40). Clarke said that the use of madstones began with Native Indians and that they knew this because early pioneers called them “Indian Stones.”

According to Clarke, these objects were given the name “madstone” because of the mad dog that transmits rabies through a bite. As early as 1864, the word “madstone” appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the term disappeared from the Webster’s New World Dictionary in 1968.

In Europe, Clarke claimed that “Such stones were valued as highly as diamonds or other precious jewels. Only the rich could afford them.” A good example of this, according to Clearke, was Queen Elizabeth who commonly dipped her madstone--called a bezoar stone by Europeans--into her wine glass several times to ensure that it was safe for her to drink.

Where Madstones Come From

Madstones are in good company. They’re made from the same bodily processes that form bezoars, pearls, kidney stones, gallstones, and others. Evidently they can form in almost any part of an animal’s body when things go chemically afoul.

Madstones, in particular, are found in animals that have more than one stomach, such as deer and cows. It’s said that madstones that come from white deer are considered the best. Over time, people of the Old West came to know that Indians had the cure for snake and rabid animal bites. Thus, they would ride several hundred miles to an Indian village just to receive treatment.

In some manner that’s not entirely understood, these objects, in some way, can neutralize and/or absorb poisons from the body--both animal and human.

“In the folklore of the early United States, a madstone was a special medicinal substance that, when pressed into an animal bite, was believed to prevent rabies by drawing the ‘poison’ out. The Encyclopedia Americana described it as ‘a vegetable substance or stone.’ Researchers publishing in 1958 reported ‘130 cases of healing attributed to the madstone’ and ‘three authenticated stones in the United States today’” (Wikipedia:

The Madstone - Talisman Connection

The bezoar stone itself dates back to a time before the Crusades. It was commonly used in Persia and other countries throughout Europe, according to Clarke. The Persian word “bezoar” actually means “protection from poison.”

As mentioned earlier, Queen Elizebeth was known to use a bezoar stone to assure the integrity of her wine. When she died, her stone was given to James I of England who had it set in a gold amulet (see photo).

The March 1981 issue of Frontier Times goes into great detail as to the many cases throughout society when high royalty used a talisman, or madstone, to ward off the poison from a potentially deadly bite. There’s even a mention where a flood was invoked through the use of a talisman.

One historical account of talisman use was told in the introduction of a novel penned by Sir Walter Scott. In his writings he spoke of a Scottish crusader, Sir Simon Lockhart, who had acquired a talisman through a ransom paid to him for the release of a wealthy Emir. The talisman was said to have magic powers as an astringent “which drove away fever and also possessed several other special properties as a medical talisman.”

Lockhard brought the stone back to Scotland where it continues to this day to bare the name Lee-penny. “One reads about the famous Lee Penny in the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’” (


At the time of this nation’s western expansion, Native American Indians were looked upon as savages. And yet, in truth, they were far ahead of the White Man in many ways. One way, as we can see through this and our previous story, is through the medical treatment of a poisonous bite. In many ways, the Red Man was proven to be advanced and capable of feats far greater than we could ever have known at the time. What a shame there wasn’t more communication and collaboration between both races for the good of all concerned.

Additional Reading:

Madstone (Wikipedia)
Talisman (Wikipedia)

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Gunsmoke: Christopher Robinson's Top Ten Picks

By Christopher Robinson

The year was 1955. The network was CBS. A TV western adapted from a successful radio drama became one of the best and longest running shows ever. One of the first and grittiest “adult westerns” on the small screen, it remained highly rated among scores of other western shows and twenty seasons later went out as the last of its kind. It featured enduring characters and stories and brought James Arness to stardom in the iconic role of U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon. Although set in 19th Century Dodge City, Kansas, the stories frequently dealt with contemporary issues, addressing racism, civil rights, intolerance, human trafficking, capital punishment and rape(off screen and strictly implied). Often stories took on a downbeat realism where the good guys lost and bad men got away in the end.

If the TV Western deserves inclusion in the pantheon of the genre then perhaps Gunsmoke should be its ultimate paragon, owing to its unparalleled scope and timeless appeal. Such distinction would surely place it in high standing as a product of cinema’s slightly inferior cousin. Sadly, though, like other westerns it can be largely ignored by critics and fans who respect but do not appreciate the genre.

Even some of the most diversified movie buffs cannot get into westerns as much as they would like, finding them rooted in traditions they have no real connection to, in places they are too removed from. That shouldn’t preclude one from appreciating a quintessential American art form, though. Roy Rogers was from Cincinnati, Billy the Kid came from New York City and both The Sundance Kid and Tom Mix hailed from Pennsylvania. Even when noted or analyzed throughout various mediums, Gunsmoke seems to be myopically commended for its twenty-year run, never its greatness. Rather than exemplifying its importance, the series’ longevity always seems to eclipse it.

But we won’t let that put a burr in our saddles! Let’s celebrate with a look back at ten episodes that typify the exceptional writing, directing, and acting that made it a cultural phenomenon. Keep in mind, these lists are subjective and are in no way meant to diminish your own favorites. These choices are simply ten out of six-hundred and thirty-five, providing a handy starting point for greenhorns and a retrospective review for old hands. Enough jawin’.

Here they are:

#1 Matt Gets It

The fact that this wasn’t the first episode produced may explain why such an unlikely premise was used to begin a series. An introduction by none other than John Wayne precedes a tightly told story concerning Matt being gravely wounded after interfering in a gunfight between a sheriff and a formidable gunfighter.

“A man’ll draw his gun quicker to prove a point than he’ll draw on his logic.” Dodge City is panicked as Doc Adams(Milburn Stone)relentlessly works to save Matt’s life and, even then, we don’t see how the injured marshal can stop an opportunistic killer who proceeds to terrorize the now lawless town.

Charles Marquis Warren’s first story and second episode as a director set the tone and framework that future stories would inevitably follow. It introduced a recurring theme for the early episodes- Matt faces a significant challenge keeping Dodge safe, but he uses his skill and wits in an unexpected way to overcome that challenge.

#2 The Killer

If there was an unsung hero behind Gunsmoke, then that was John Meston, co-creator with Norman Macdonnell of the radio and television series and prolific writer of many episodes for several years. His richly layered scripts brought acclaim to the show and served as a template for future writers of the series even after he moved on.

In this stellar example of his work, a vicious but meticulous gunman named Crego (Charles Bronson) picks fights with strangers he knows he has an advantage over, gunning them down for the mere thrill. Doc relates to Matt how Crego has killed a meek farmer in the cruelest manner and it becomes obvious that the provoking and killing will go on unless a plan is devised. Matt cannot arrest the sadistic Crego as his shootings are technically in self-defense, so he goes on the offensive.

In many early stories Matt and right-hand man Chester Goode(Dennis Weaver) are something of a western Holmes and Watson, solving crises through careful observation and reason to properly convict and subdue villains. This time around, unethical tactics were required to see it through.

#3 Marshal Proudfoot

A memorably comical story has Chester’s uncle visiting Dodge under the false notion that his nephew is the town marshal and Dillon, his deputy. For a brief spell, Chester’s friends in town must keep the ruse going a little longer to save him some unnecessary humiliation. Soon though, the play-acting gets uncomfortably tangled with dire reality. This general storyline served as a clichéd trope, having been played out on other shows and even again on Gunsmoke(!) But it is the laughable way in which chaos unfolds in the finale which gives this version its distinct charm.

The curious episode title reflects the radio series, which spawned many of the TV series’ scripts. Chester’s surname was ‘Proudfoot’ on the radio version, as played by character actor Parley Baer. Early episode title cards were not featured onscreen and therefore named only for the reference of the production team, accounting for a few oddities in the catalogue.

#4 Chesterland

This semi-comical story demonstrated pathos and vulnerability that Dennis Weaver could bring to the role of Chester, making him enduringly sympathetic with the audience and arguably the show’s richest character. Scripted by series stalwart Kathleen Hite and directed by western workhorse Ted Post, this episode drifts between hilarity and heartbreak as Chester vows to resign from his duties with Matt and work fulltime at farming to support a life with his new fiancé, Miss Daisy(Sondra Blake).

After some homestead mishaps in a barren spread of ostensibly dry earth, he vows to live underground, soon finding his freshly-built dugout home unexpectedly flooded. In hopes of recouping his losses, he converts the site into a profitable water well with the help of Daisy, whose intentions seem less sincere as her tolerance and patience run out. Doc soon learns that Chester’s luck will be as scarce as the water in his well and he dreads telling his friend what he’s learned.

#5 With a Smile

Frequent series director Andrew McLaglen helmed this story that features James Best at his most sniveling, playing Dal Creed, a spoiled and reckless son of a respected town citizen(R.G. Armstrong). When Dal kills a woman, he is sentenced to hang in a neighboring town but cannot owe up to facing the penalty.

Knowing his prominent father has certain connections, he expects strings to be pulled, clearing him of the charge. When it becomes apparent that the law cannot be influenced and no pardon or reversal will be made, Dal exhibits cowardly and pathetic outbursts that shame his father. With the local sheriff’s help, a ruse is devised to remedy the sad affair.

Noteworthy for its significant ending, it may be the only instance in the series where Matt Dillon is truly in the dark regarding an outcome that the audience itself is made fully aware of.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "With a Smile" video for this article.

#6 Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood

In Greenwood, Oklahoma, a trio of rugged misfits terrorize a small town sheriff(Paul Fix) in his general store. Before they are through, their actions bring a fatal heart attack upon the aging man whose deputy son, Clayton or “Thad”(Roger Ewing), swears to bring the crooks to justice. Their trail takes Thad to Dodge, where Matt warns him that his warrant is out of its jurisdiction. A simultaneous cattle slaughter problem has Matt searching the prairie for wolf attacks that soon become suspicious with the arrival of Thad’s four enemies. They play it cool as matters heat up in town but the young lawman remains close by, aware of their every move.

It becomes apparent towards the end of the story, that Thad will be a regular in Dodge. As a “second lead” star, Ewing would help to rejuvenate the aging cast with a dose of youth. His tenure would be brief, starring in the final black and white season and the first of the color seasons. Later succeeded by Buck Taylor as Newly, Ewing, himself had replaced the one and only Burt Reynolds as Quint.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood" video for this article.

#7 Mistaken Identity

In a tense and dramatic story that keeps you guessing, Albert Salmi plays an outlaw who drifts into Dodge after leaving a snake-bitten man (Hal Lynch) for dead on the prairie. Passing himself off as the injured man, he introduces himself to Dillon and company before learning that the other man is now in Dodge, recovering from amnesia in Doc’s office.

After futile attempts to kill the patient before he comes to and incriminates him, he takes a payoff from two corrupt deputies anxious to extradite Lynch and hang him in another town. A standout scene has Salmi using a drunken shenanigan to serve as a diversion to get Lynch out of the Long Branch Saloon unnoticed, as well as an alibi for himself.

Festus Haggen(Ken Curtis) played a crucial role in the series, but his absence in this episode serves the dark and moody tone well, with limited comedy relief. It also puts Sam the barkeep (Glenn Strange) into action as Matt deputizes him before the final shootout.

It was an uncanny coincidence that, years later, both actors Salmi and Lynch would commit suicide by gunshot in separate incidents, with Salmi doing so after killing his wife.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Mistaken Identity" video for this article.

#8 Mannon

‘This time… it’s personal!’ That tagline of many an Eighties action flick could have summed up this, one of the most harrowing and dramatic episodes of the run. A gentlemanly but cold-hearted killer named Will Mannon(Steve Forrest) shoots Festus on the outskirts of town and immediately makes a notorious entrance into Dodge, riding Festus’s mule, Ruth, down Front Street. Deputy Newly O’Brien and the citizens of Dodge realize Mannon is the feared gunslinger who marauded and murdered in Captain Quantrill’s Raiders, never a bunch to get a positive reputation in a western. Mannon exploits the fact that Matt is out of town, taking full advantage of Dodge’s money and liquor supply.

Consequently, he waits with Kitty Russell(Amanda Blake), the Long Branch’s proprietor, for the famed marshal to return so he can kill him and subsequently rule the town. His audacity is bolstered by the notion that even Matt cannot outdraw him(see: Matt Gets It). In Festus’s words, “If you was to take a snake’s tongue, grease it and tie it to a bolt of lightning, you couldn’t get nothin’ as fast as his gun hand.” In the ensuing events, Kitty is beaten and molested by Mannon before his tense meeting with Matt Dillon comes.

The episode was memorable enough to be incorporated eighteen years later as a back story for the TV reunion movie, Return to Dodge. Mannon paradoxically returns to even the score with Matt, who has since retired. Flashbacks were utilized to blend the episode with the new story creating a poignant connection between the events separated by the interim.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Mannon" video for this article.

#9 The Fourth Victim

A serial killer terrorizes Dodge, gunning down one prominent resident after another. The motive is unknown but Matt determines that individuals have been targeted for their connection to a trial of some sort several years earlier. That only leads to more questions than answers when it becomes apparent that he cannot stop an unknown and inscrutable sniper who strikes at different moments and locations. Clues to the killer’s identity become the crucial elements as time runs out. Will there be a fourth victim, who could it be and, most critically, can Matt save them in time? The story’s crafty finale, though logistically ludicrous, is nevertheless a gem worthy of treasuring.

This is one of the only episodes in which a former series character is spoken of and briefly commented on regarding where they have gone.

#10 Island in the Desert (two parts)

When Festus stays behind after bringing an outlaw, Gard(William Watson) into a town on the edge of a vast desert, he ends up tracking him after the escaped prisoner kills the town’s sheriff. The trail takes him into the unforgiving desert where Gard injures Festus and takes off again, letting the elements overcome him until he is tended to by an eccentric hermit named Snow(Strother Martin) who lives in a habitable patch surrounded by endless stretches of heat and desolation in all directions.

Snow has found time to prospect gold and has acquired enough to journey to a nearby town called Ten Strike. There he has longed to settle a score with a fellow prospector who left him crippled and lost. Matt and Newly set out to locate Festus by which time Snow has departed to find the town using the weakened deputy as his new “pack mule” to haul water along the way. Soon the pair confront Gard, stranded on foot, who eventually overtakes them until Snow uses his pet rattler to turn the tables once more. The climax sees them enter Ten Strike where Snow’s delusion sets in amidst his broken dreams and hard luck.

Fine performances highlight the story particularly that of Martin whose delightfully maniacal role is the key to the entire episode. It’s curious, incidentally, how someone can manage such social charm despite years of solitude and isolation in a desert. Perhaps rattlesnakes make the finest companions.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Island in the Desert" video for this article.


And so sums up the summaries. Feel free to share your favorites with us. If you’re new to Gunsmoke, you’ve got some television to watch. Already a fan? Keep tuning in. Everybody else? Well, everybody else can…
Get out of Dodge!


Dennis Weaver Talks About Getting The Part of Chester in Gunsmoke!

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Personal and Professional Life of Steve McQueen

By Allan B. Colombo

Steve McQueen was many things to many people. To those of us who enjoy watching westerns, he provided many hours of entertainment over the course of his life. Not only that, he fit the part so well in those roles that he projected the very feel and look of the old west, and convincingly so.

Early on, Steve McQueen became a motorcycle and motor car race driver and, like his father, he also became an airplane pilot. He used these skills to augment his income for many years. Steve credited his interest in these and other things to his Uncle Claude who, at the age of four, had given him a red tricycle.

“McQueen [earned] money by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, a Harley-Davidson and Triumph. He soon became an excellent racer, and went home each weekend with about $100 in winnings (equivalent to $900 in 2018). He appeared as a musical judge in an episode of ABC's Jukebox Jury, that aired in the 1953–1954 season” (Wikipedia:

Steve learned to act by attending acting school as part of the GI Bill benefit. To be given this benefit, Steve joined the U.S. Marine Corp at the age of 17. He served from 1947 through 1950. After a series of theater parts and minor parts in a number of films, he became a successful actor in the western movie venue. In 1974, he became the highest paid actor in the world.

In brief, there are five notable accomplishments in western acting that comes to mind. They include:

Wanted: Dead or Alive (Television: 1958 to 1961)
The Magnificent Seven (Film: 1960)
Nevada Smith (Film: 1966)
Junior Bonner (Film: 1972)
Tom Horn (Film: 1980)

We've attempted to assemble each full-length movie for your watching enjoyment. Where possible we have provided the free version. Otherwise, a YouTube charge may apply.

Wanted Dead or Alive 1958 1961 The Legend of Cool: The King of Cool Steve McQueen starring in my third favorite all-time TV western "Wanted: Dead or Alive" originally aired in Black and white on CBS. The pilot aired on the series "Trackdown" in March 1958. Bounty hunter Josh Randall was unlike any bounty hunter, he usually gave half or all of his reward money to good causes. He was a gentlemen and very respectful of the elderly.

The Seven Gunfighters: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson
The Magnificent Seven is an American western film directed by John Sturges and starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen. The picture is an Old West-style remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese-language film Seven Samurai. The supporting cast features Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz. They play a group of seven American gunfighters hired to protect a small agricultural village in Mexico from a group of marauding native bandits led by Calvera. The film's musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein.

Nevada Smith (1975): A half-breed gunslinger and a friend he hasn't seen in years join together to escort a shipment of explosives across Utah. I believe this was a failed pilot for a TV. NEVADA SMITH is a rugged innocent boy born in the 1890s during California's gold rush days to a Native American mother and white father. When he finds his.

Junior Bonner Western 1972 Steve McQueen, Robert Preston & Ida Lupino: Junior Bonner is a 1972 film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen, Joe Don Baker, Robert Preston and Ida Lupino. The film focuses on a veteran rodeo rider as he returns to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona to participate in an annual rodeo competition and reunite with his brother and estranged parents.

Steve McQueen & Linda Evans - Tom Horn ( 1980): Tom Horn is a 1980 Western film about the legendary lawman, outlaw, and gunfighter. It starred Steve McQueen as the title character and was based on Horn's own writings.

Steve McQueen’s Personal Life

McQueen’s full name was Terence Steven McQueen, born March 24, 1930. His parents were William McQueen (1901 to 1958), a stunt pilot with a barnstorming circus, and Julia Ann Crawford (1910 to 1965). The family started out in Beech Grove, Indiana, however his father left the family to never return.

In 1933, his mother, who allegedly had a drinking problem, gave her 3-year-old son to her parents, Victor and Lillian Crawford, who lived in Slater, Missouri. Due to the Great Depression, the Crawfords, along with their young charge, eventually moved to his Uncle Claude’s farm. Claude was his mother’s brother.

Uncle Claude was like a father to Steve, eventually giving him a gold watch that bore the inscription, “To Steve -- who has been a son to me.” Steve later said that he had learned a lot from his Uncle Claude.

It was probably Steve’s experience with Claude that influenced his own care and love for his own children. In fact, according to Neile Adams, McQueen’s wife of 16 years, Steve had become the world’s greatest father to their two children. Adams was a Filipino-American actress, singer, and dancer.

Problems in the Family

When Steve was eight years old, his mother, who married and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, sent for him. Unfortunately his step father turned out to be a harsh man, often beating his stepson. Thus, young Steve ran away from home at the tender age of nine. He ended up on the streets committing acts of petty crime in a gang environment, and so his mother returned him to his Uncle Claude.

At the age of 12, his mother once again asked his Uncle to return young Steve to her. She had remarried and was living in Los Angeles. According to Steve, his new stepfather was even worse than the last one, often beating both he and his mother. His mother sent him back to Uncle Claude’s farm one last time, and at the ripe age of 14, Steve left Slater to never return.

He joined a circus, and shortly after that he returned to his mother and abusive stepfather where he began roaming the streets of Los Angeles, becoming once again involved in gangs and criminality. After the police caught him stealing, he was returned to his stepfather who beat him harshly.

After Steve threatened to kill his stepfather if he touched him again, he was sent to Boys Republic, a reform school, where Steve eventually took a leading role in student leadership. So instrumental was Boys Republic in changing his life that Steve later returned to the school as an adult, endeavoring to assist troubled students in any way possible. In fact, at the end of his life, it was rumored that he had willed $200,000 to the school to assist them with expenses.

On November 7, 1980, Steve McQueen died of heart failure at Juárez clinic, 12 hours after doctors attempted to remove metastatic tumors in his abdomen and neck. He died at the age of 50.

To hear more about his life, please watch the following video:

Editor's Note: We will feature one or two more stories on Steve McQueen over the coming months. Be sure to tune in again next weekend!

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Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Advantages of Riding Bareback

The common, ordinary horse was a necessity for those who lived in the day of the Old West. Today, as a beginner, or even as an experienced rider, if you haven't already been introduced to it, you might want to get some exposure into the practical art of bareback riding.
It wasn't until I was in my late-twenties that I became interested in horses and western riding. After several rides at two riding stables while visiting in Michigan, I was hooked. While it may have been wise to seek out professional training of some sort, I mostly learned by trial and error and with some additional informal coaching by the patient owners of a local riding / boarding stable just outside of my home town in Ohio.

They sort of kept an eye on me as my confidence level and balance progressed, and allowed me to ride horses of increasing spirit and agility as time went on. There were two of the better horses there which I preferred. One was a large paint horse gelding named Comanche and the other was a black quarter horse mare named Susie. Susie liked to buck occasionally when you prompted her to run, but she was very responsive to neck reining and leg pressure, and had a nice fluid gait.

Comanche was a good energetic mount, but a little hard to stop sometimes, and did not give to the bit and leg pressure nearly as well Susie.

The riding stable was open seven days a week during the summer months, but operated mostly on weekends the rest of the year. It's a good thing that they began to tolerate my showing up to ride on so many of those off-season days. But that's when I figured that my two favorite horses would be available. But since those good folks also appreciated my help when it was time to cut and bale hay that previous summer, they decided to put up with my frequent mid-week arrivals, I guess. So, in the off season, I pretty much had my favorite horses all to myself on those week days, and on many winter days they were mine even on the weekends, weather permitting. We would grab the appropriate bridle and saddle from the tack room, and I'd saddle-up and ride. By the time spring rolled around again, the folks at the stable started to drop little hints that maybe I was ready to own my own horse, and I readily agreed.

As it turned out, one of the former boarders from the stable had a horse for sale, so I headed down to her mini-ranch to check it out. She had named him Dale for some reason. He was a bay-colored gelding with a black mane and tail. I could see that he was well cared for and in good health. After a relaxed ride around the pasture where we went through the usual walk, trot and canter with some short turns and and S-turns, I was pleased with the smoothness of his gait, his response to the reins and leg pressure, and the way he carried his head.

I didn't bother to dicker on the price, and made arrangements to haul Dale back to the boarding stable where we had a stall waiting for him. The woman wanted to keep her saddle, but preferred that I use the bit & bridle that Dale was accustomed to, and threw them in with the sale.

I still needed a saddle, but I soon found an old, but well-preserved, hand-made M.L. Leddy saddle with quarter horse bars. And as my horse was a Quarter horse-Morgan mix, it fit him perfectly. Needless to say, Dale and I put in many hours getting to know each other, and while showing no signs of meanness, Dale had his unique 'moods' sometimes. His occasional bucking was easy to ride through, and he seemed satisfied that he let me know that he was still young and feeling good, I guess. And I was satisfied that he was not able to dislodge me from my saddle. We soon got our collective acts together, and after some long trail rides in one of our state parks, I became even more confident in Dale's sure stride and balance on those extensive rugged trails. Being part Morgan likely gave him that sure-footed ability and maybe the Morgan and Quarter horse bloodlines combined gave him plenty of endurance.

Then it was time to join the bareback world that many of the other horse owners at the stable were enjoying. So, after a few practice vaults up on his back with someone holding the lead rope, I was ready to ride. And here's where I want to inject a few thoughts and precautions to new riders and maybe for some experienced riders also... whether you ride western or English style, if you ride often, you need to take heed to that old adage that says: “It's not a matter of [IF] you are going to fall, it's a matter of [WHEN] and [HOW OFTEN].

I would also advise something a little different here. My suggestion would be for you to get involved in Judo or any of the martial arts that teach you how to break a fall. I'm convinced that this was one of the things that helped me avoid serious injury during my attempts at horsemanship. It was either that, or my reflexes were so slow that I did not have time to tense up before I hit the turf.

After riding Dale bareback for many hours, I acquired a much better balance and a feel for what was going on with that horse under me. We rode the trails in the fields and woods there at the stable for a many weeks, or maybe several months, without me falling off. We even cleared a few low-level jumps over some small logs I had stacked up without incident. And when Dale tried his bucking act, he still failed to dump me. But one day... while we were running along a fence line at a pretty good clip, and a pheasant flew out of the brush in front of us, (and you guessed it) Dale suddenly reversed direction while I continued going through the air in the previous direction. I hit the ground with a thud and a few rolls, but with no injuries. But now, Dale knew how to get me off his back, and used this little move on purpose several times. And there were other times I came off while riding bareback, like when there was a collision with another horse, or similar odd incidents that happened for one reason or another.

But that extra time spent riding bareback improved my balance and confidence in the saddle for sure. And with the proper precautions, I'd recommend it to everyone. If you are a beginning rider, you should be able to find a riding instructor who would coach you on the correct way to safely accomplish this challenging, but rewarding method of riding. For even some of you old-timers who may have thought about riding bareback but never quite got around to it, there should be an experienced bareback rider that you know and trust who could help you get started.

And when you think about it, in some ways, bareback riding is safer than using a saddle. If you do fall from your bareback mount, at least there's no danger of getting hung up in a stirrup and being dragged across the arena or over a dangerous rocky trail where the terrain and the horse's hooves could really spoil your day.

Just a thought.

Happy Trails,
Gary Miller

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Isaac for the great photographs! Isaac lives in the nation, Colombia. --Allan Colombo

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