By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
You hear stories about the good ol’ days. You hear stories of the time when towns were so small that you knew all your neighbors and folks never locked their doors at night because why would you when you can name everyone in your no-stoplight-town?
You hear stories of people who were men of their word, men who considered a deal concluded with a firm handshake as sacrosanct as Sunday morning’s Communion wafers and wine — men who consider the promises contained in those hand-shook deals just as solemn a duty as Communion’s spiritual reflections.
You hear stories of cowboys with rough, work-worn hands and faces etched by years spent beneath the glaring sun and country wind. You hear stories of those men — quiet, capable, uncomplaining.
You hear those stories and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking them nothing more than fictions portrayed in Westerns by the likes of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Except, they’re not always fiction, nor are they always from times long past. I know because I met one once at the Los Fresnos Rodeo.
His name was Blu.
I was at the Los Fresnos fairgrounds on the eastern outskirts of town early on a Friday morning some years back. The annual event is always a weekend one. And while local school kids begin gathering there early to show their prize animals beneath the arena on the west side of the property, the east side — with its yellow-gated rodeo corral surrounded by wooden grandstands — remains mostly silent until the sun hangs low in the sky on Friday. For it’s on Friday evening when the first bull and bronc rides wow the crowds.
The east side was where I needed to be since I was scheduled to meet with a rodeo clown for a story I was working on. I was early, though, and he wasn’t there yet. Instead, Rodeo Committee Chairman Mark Milum and I walked around the fairgrounds making small talk. As we rounded a corner behind the arena we came across a rather dirty looking quarter horse tethered behind a small service building. He looked on with quiet interest, paying us more mind than the man who stepped out from behind him wearing a pair of flower-patterned scrubbing mitts on his hands, dark aviator-style sunglasses and a black felt Stetson cowboy hat.
It was Blu. The horse — named Diesel — was his, one of three he’d brought with him from farther upstate. Blu was preparing to give Diesel a bath, to wash off the road grime and dust that had accumulated on his cream colored coat and in his cream colored mane and tail.
“You just watch what his mane will look like,” Blu said as he first soaked Diesel’s mane with water from a nearby hose, and then lathered in a purple horse shampoo. He nickered happily as Blu scrubbed his back and flanks and even under his hooves. In no time flat, Diesel’s fur brightened at least two shades.
Diesel was the youngest of the three horses Blu’d brought with him to the rodeo, where he would serve as a “pick-up man,” he explained. Pick-up men ride to the rescue when a bullrider or bronc-rider flies off their steed. Usually found working in pairs, one pick-up man will chase the bull or horse, steering it away from the rider, while the second gallops up to the man and scoops him onto the saddle with him before riding to safety.
It takes fearlessness, speed and strength to be a pick-up man and to be a pick-up man’s horse. Blu explained that’s why he brought three horses, all of which had foaled on his ranch and which he had broken himself. With a three jam-packed days and dozens of rodeo competitors scheduled to ride, there was a lot of hard work ahead. Blu didn’t mind.
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