Loco Weed or A Runaway

Loco Weed or A Runaway

by Buck Blakely of Redmond, OR

The dictionary defines “runaway” as a horse or team of horses that has broken loose from control of the rider or driver. The definition sounds kind of hum drum but for us so unlucky, better yet careless, a runaway is not hum drum. The words that come to mind are: terrifying, speed, noise, helplessness, and for me, loco.

Loco is a Mexican word meaning crazy, demented.

Definition of Loco weed – leguminous plant of western U.S. which when eaten by cattle or horses causes in them a nervous disorder. A “nervous disorder”? Ha! It causes frustration, craziness, danger, and a runaway.

The winter had lots of snow in the mountains. Too much for horse logging. The desert country of Fort Rock, Oregon had no snow and I had a job to clear 100 acres of sage brush, free pasture, and build a log home. A perfect winter job for my logging team.

We beat the sage brush with a John Deere tractor and brush beater. Then me and my team were to rake the brush in windrows with a dump rake. Then burn the brush and build the log house.

The team seemed skittish as I harnessed them. “Well they’ll settle down once we get to work”, I thought. They did settle down some but I thought I had better be ready if something went wrong. I should pull myself off the seat in front of the rake in trying to stop the horses. Don’t try to run away from it. Jump straight up! And that’s what I did.

A piece of 2’ square foam insulation had blown out in the field coming from the partially built log house. As we passed it the horses shied and then seemed to relax and so did I. Then the rake wheel ran over the foam insulation making a weird ripping noise. The horses didn’t even say “what was that?” They were gone. We would have passed Ben-Hur’s chariot. I stayed with them for about 100 yards though it seemed forever. I only had time for one thought. “I am going to die!”

Pulling on the lines for all I was worth I pulled myself off the rake seat and in front of the charging rake. No time to think I jumped straight up. The rake going probably 20 mph hit my legs and flipped me over the top and behind the potential killer. I was hurt but happy.

The sorrel was the faster horse on the right and they began to circle to the left and in doing so tipped the rake over. Now it was harder to pull. Exhausted, muscles quivering, blowing steam, they stopped, sweating, eyes rolling, snorting. I limped up. “What is wrong with you guys?”

The vet in Redmond, 80 miles to the north said, “Bring them in and I’ll check them out.” I said, “I can’t, they won’t load, besides they would tear up the truck and they are getting worse by the day. I have the kids Shetland pony and he is acting crazy too. I can man handle him. I’ll be there in three hours.”

The vet did not know, he was young and he was busy.

Someone said, “Why don’t you go see Bill?” Of course. Bill Mattis was our neighbor two miles southwest of us. A true rancher, probably seventy, but rode like he was thirty.

“Loco weed”, he said. I asked, “Are you sure?” I shouldn’t have asked that. “Get them out of that field and they’ll start coming around.” “Will they be ok?” I asked. “About 90% he replied.” They had been wonderful logging horses; even at 90% they would be better than most. Bill continued, “I had a good horse, then he got like your horses.” Bill forgot about telling me his story of a good horse that became a dope head. Again I said, “Bill you said 90%, right?” He shrugged, “Sometimes we would be checking on cows and he would be doing just fine, lots of cow sense. Then we would jump straight up and come down on all fours and go back to walking like nothing had happened. I figured a couple of wires in his head would touch, short out and cause him to jump.”

I told Bill thanks. “Be careful.” He warned. Then, “I know I don’t have to tell you that Buck, but be careful.”

So, I don’t know if this is a story about a runaway or a weed. But like Bill told me if it ever happens to you. Be careful and be prepared.