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The true story of
Sad Sam

None could stay on till the whistle blew!

Legends are often born from the heroic fires of battles, the impossible nose-win down the last furlong, or in the arena with blood-soaked brows and swords. But in the case of a gangly colt from Texas, a legend was born when a horse refused to be ridden.

In the 1920s, while America was lamenting the retirement of the famous racehorse Man O’ War, another bay in the flat ranges of Texas was being saddled for the first time as a bronc. The four-year-old colt was a gangly looking thing, with a large head and a lop-sided ear that never seemed to sit right.

W.T. Johnson, a man who prepared horses for the rodeos, found the colt in his new stock of broncs. His method for training was simple; quit the saddle when the horse was bucking good. That way the horse thought he threw his rider every time, and horses trained like that, he used to say, would keep going forever in the ring.

But when one of his handlers mounted this sleepy mount the man never got a chance to quit the saddle before he was eating dirt. With a wild roar, the colt ripped loose and bucked the poor man ten feet skyward. They quickly ran in to subdue the colt and check on the rider, but unlike his fellow broncs, the colt did not continue his rampage either. The horse just watched the fallen rider with a soft, sad look, as if regretting his actions. And so, his name was given; Sad Sam.

Sad Sam took part in many a rodeo that year; from Boston to New York and all in between. At first, no one cared much for the glum-faced bronc, but he soon became a favourite for the riders. He was easy to catch, and easy to handle and didn’t try to bite your leg off. But as time passed the riders and the watchers began to realize that no one had ever managed to stay on Sam till the whistle blew.

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The watchers turned into fans who loved the unlikely-looking star. They liked how he gave the rider every chance to get settled. They liked the roar he let loose when jumping into the first buck, and best of all, they loved that remorseful look he turned on the rider he’d just dropped.

But time caught up with the old bronc and in 1930 Sam would become disoriented under the floodlights of the nightly arenas. During the day the old horse would still toss 'em good, but more and more shows were being held at night, and so old Sam was sold.

The two Heard brothers who bought him, Long Tom and Short Tom, harnessed the horse and used him in the oil fields to pull carts. Sam tried to buck the harness once or twice but soon settled enough to be worked. One morning, while watching the horse pull the carts along, Long Tom began wondering how much fight was still left in the old bronc and decided on starting up a rodeo. The event would do the workers some good and might bring in a little money. Sad Sam did not disappoint.

The rodeo was a success. And no matter who took a seat on Sad Sam, they were sure enough to eat dirt, sometimes on the outside of the arena. So, it went for several years, and despite countless men from all walks of life taking a turn in the hot-seat, Sam was sure to make him land hard.

But in 1940 Sam sent Buck West to hospital, and it seemed to send a ripple through the riders. No one wanted to ride the mad horse. The years had started taking a toll on old Sam, although an old legend by this point, his body had been strung up by age. Patches of white covered the bay, his ribs and bones stuck out like gnarled stonework. And despite this, the riders feared Sam. They gathered in the little office of Reagan, the Beeville rodeo organizer, and said; “You let that horse in the rodeo and we’ll drop out of your show!”

Now you can’t very well have a show without riders, so Reagan relented and dropped Sad Sam from the roster. But what were they now to do with a horse past its prime? Long Tom thought long and hard about this. A horse of 23 that could scare hardened workmen out of riding had deserved his rest. So, he put the horse to pasture in Blanco Creek, where old Sam lived out the last four years of his life, eating grass and rolling in mud puddles.

Sad Sam was not the regal Man O' War, nor the brave Reckless. He was a colt, a bronc, with a lopsided ear and a sweet disposition, who just had an aversion for a man on his back, and through that, he became a legend in his own right. And although there would never be a rider who would outright admit that Sad Sam could never be ridden, he still stands today as the doggest of broncs to ever grace America.

Like the old ranch saw goes:

There aint no man that can’t be throwed.
There aint no horse that can’t be rode

"But they’ll be dogged if they can recollect a man who stayed on Sad Sam till the whistle blowed." - Reader's Digest.

Copyrighted© to the Absurd and Fantastical - use of material prohibited


Readers Digest: Animals can be people too
(This story was rewritten and reworked and heavily inspired by the work done by Readers Digest, all credit must go to them)

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