"Bronc to Breakfast" is my favorite Charlie Russell painting. The scene represents the typical roundup out west. In the foreground is a campfire with cooking pots and pans on the fire or hanging from the cross bar. A cowboy is sitting with his plate of beans, Cookie is in an apron standing by the chuck wagon and in the background are some cowboys by the horses on a picket line.
The focal point is a bal-faced horse in an arcing trajectory, hind feet in the fire, front legs off the ground and reachin’, doin’ a nose dive, with his mouth open squallin’! Astride this beast is a cowboy. He’s lost one stirrup, his hat and his grip. Chaps and shirttail flappin’, he’s comin’ off the left side, lookin’ down as if there was a way out.
In his wake, the campfire cooking area is an explosion of smoke, fire and kitchen utensils. The cowboy with the plate of beans is flying backward like he has been shot! In the background, every horse and every cowboy — cook and all — are watching this buckin’ horse tornado through camp.
Horse people are familiar with the term, “feelin’ frisky.” The condition is common, but not limited to mornings after the horse has been fed, the weather has turned coolish and the cowboy is absentmindedly saddlin’ his horse and jumpin’ on like it was any other day.
Last fall, I had my own version of a "Bronc to Breakfast." In my painting, it might show my horse buckin’ under a mesquite tree. It would be hard to see the rider because of the limbs. Or me lookin’ like Russell’s cowboy bursting out of the tree, eight feet off the ground with branches in my mouth. Or the final ejection, me resembling an Olympic diver in some kind of horizontal half-gainer with a rein still in one hand tight enough to hang clothes on.
Now, in the cowboy world, if you survive one of these bucking horse displays, you can earn a little “cowboy cred.” That’s regardless of if you get bucked off or not. Matter of fact, getting bucked off is a better story. My friend Jim’s story would put him in that elevated status.
He needed to gather a small pen of Corriente steers and ship them. He saddled his horse. His wife told him that he didn’t need a horse, they could use the four-wheeler. They were in a hurry. Well, the four-wheeler spooked the steers, so he went back, got his horse, jumped on and touched him lightly with a spur.
In the time it took for him to think, “Did I pull the cinch tight?” he was sitting on the pommel, then back on skirts, then leaning to the port like a yacht sailor, then straddling the horse’s neck, as the normally gentle, dead-broke, 10-year-old gelding fired him over the fence and into the machine shed.
Jim was no match for the three-point hitch on his tractor. He spent several days in the hospital with CAT scans, radiographs, catheters, IV stands and listening to the music of the whistling, binging, ringing, ticking and buzzing monitoring devices.
He was strong and brave and soon healed up. But he never has gotten over the humiliation that he felt every time one of his cowboy friends came to visit. When they looked at the records posted on the end of his bed, they all saw his diagnosis: Fell off his horse.