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Horse Tradin'

Near as I can remember, my uncle, Malcolm “Malc” Pyle took the job of livestock inspector for the Tonto Basin, which includes Payson, about the same year as my dad, Gene Pyle took the job of foreman on the R-C and that was in 1952. I might be a couple of years off, ‘cause I was eight-years-old in December of that year and didn’t care much about dates unless it was my birthday, the Payson Rodeo, or something important like that.

Malc had a passel of daughters and it seemed like he couldn’t buy a son for love or money. Maybe he should have tried money. Anyhow, his family kept growing every year and he turned to horse tradin’ to supplement his income. Malc did well in this endeavor because he was honest; anyone who bought a horse from Malc could try the horse for thirty-days and bring the pony back if he wasn’t happy with him. Now any cowboy will tell you, honesty is a rare commodity when it comes to dealing horses and more than a few claim that the term “honest horse trader” is a sure enough oxymoron. Be that as it may, Malc sold many a horse to ranchers, cowboys and just folks in the Tonto country for over a quarter century, kept a good reputation and the majority of his sales were to repeat customers.

Malc was a good judge of horses and never bought a horse that was crippled, didn’t move well, or that had any noticeable problems. Still, no one can spot every problem that a horse might have just looking at him in an auction ring for a couple of minutes and one out of ten horses that Malc brought back to the ranch was about one taco short of the full-meal-deal.

During those years from the 1950s through the early 1980s, the Pyle family owned and or operated three ranches and had cattle from Starr Valley to Clear Creek on top of the Mogollon. I put more miles on horses than I did riding in a car until I was in high school. Due to Malc’s horse trading we were the only outfit in the country that didn’t run short of mounts during the spring and fall roundups. Malc always had sale horses that needed the kinks ridden out of them before he sold them.

I can recall a conversation around the breakfast table one morning when Malc said, “Jinx, I have a little buckskin horse that I sure wish you would throw a leg over this mornin’. He’s gentle as a dead pig and handles good out in the flat, but he must have been kid-broke ’cause he will try to run under any tree he gets close to and drag a man off.”

I was riding with my granddad, Floyd Pyle that morning and sure enough, Buck headed for the first tree we came near. I stepped off him before he could take me under the limbs, then got back on. I made him spin by pulling one rein and spurred him away from the tree, but the next one I came to, he pulled the same stunt and I gave him the same treatment.

Grandad told me, “You know, Son, he is trying to get you off by running under a tree and you are playing his game by quitting the saddle.”

I thought about that a minute and determined to try a new approach next time Buck bolted for a tree. The general rule with horses is: make what you want them to do fun and easy and what you don’t want them to do hard and uncomfortable. Sure enough, Buck made a dive for a low-limbed cedar and in spite of my pulling his head clear into my lap with the off rein, he took me under the tree, but I stayed low in the saddle and spurred him until he came out. Twice more we repeated the process before Buck decided he couldn’t get shed of me by dragging me off and he didn’t like the spurs. We got along the rest of the day and early the next morning, I saddled him again.

I was ready for his antics this time. I took along a stout rope halter and as I had thought he would, Buck made a line to the first tree we came near. I let him run under the tree and stepped off. I put the halter on him, threw the lead-rope over a limb, pulled his head up till his chin was only about four inches under his ears and tied him there with a bowline. “You like trees do you, Buck?” I asked him. Well, mother up to this one for the rest of the day and we’ll see how you like ’em tomorrow.”

I left Buck snubbed up to that tree and rode another horse. Buck spent an uncomfortable day under that tree and never again tried to drag anyone off. In fact, he was a little hard to lead under a tree for a couple of weeks. He soon got over that, though, and made a good horse. Malc told me he sold Buck to a family by the name of Baker in Globe. Their kids rode him for years and loved him.

I also recall a mare that we called Daisy. She was a sorrel, bright as a new penny and a pleasure to ride in soft country. Her problem was that any time we started up a hill she would roll over on her side and refuse to get up. After a while, she would get to her feet and could be led up a hill, but would go down as soon as I got on her. I was riding with Malc and, Malc told me, “Just stand astride her the next time she goes down. I did and he sicced the dogs on her. She came to her feet and climbed that hill like a bull goose leaving a wolf den, but the problem was not solved. It is not much fun riding a horse that flops down and has to have a pack of dogs on her to get her up.

I thought about Daisy for a couple of days then rode her up Mayfield Canyon and asked her to climb out. She laid down right in the sand wash. I cross hobbled her so that she couldn’t get up and threw a tarp I had taken along over her head. It took her about fifteen minutes before she tried to get up and I let her struggle for about half an hour longer. It took four treatments to cure Daisy, but once cured she was a delight to ride.

Not all the problem horses Malc traded for could be helped. He picked up a blue roan somewhere with the unlikely name of Peaches. The roan moved well and got around in rough country, but would fall to his knees and sometimes go completely down for no apparent reason. Dad and I were riding around the Rim Road at a walk one day when Peaches fell down and rolled completely over. That same day, I rode him off the Myrtle Trail (off the Mogollon Rim) and though I rode with just my toes in the stirrups, Peaches never stumbled. A couple of other times he fell with me, once just walking in open country and another time trotting off a hillside. We never did know what his problem was; just that he had some kind of physical or mental problem. I always thought it was something like a seizure as he seemed plumb goofy for a few minutes after he would fall, then was apparently fine.

I hauled him to the Cornelius Livestock Auction for Malc when I was about sixteen along with a letter telling of his problem.

Malc also picked up some horses that were just too good to sell. Most notable of these horses was a yeller horse fittingly named Yeller. Yeller had as much ability as any horse I have ever seen and won many matched races around Payson during the 1970s and 1980s. He once beat a motorcycle in a race at the old Y arena, rodeo grounds and I can’t recall his ever losing a race. I won a bunch of money betting on him and rode him in several races, all of which he won easily.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had an uncle in the horse trading business. I learned a lot from those trade horses. Some I was able to save from ending up in cans of Dr. Ross dog food by solving a problem and making them valuable animals. Others, like Yeller, were so much a part of our life and culture that they were almost like family.

Now it seems that I write more than I ride and when I recall that my uncle Malc was an honest horse trader, I still have hope that someday Jayne and I might find an honest book printer.

*story told by late great historian, Jinx Pyle.

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