Many man years ago, quite a bit more than twenty, I bought my all time favorite set of reins. Soft woven cloth roping style reins, they came with clips on the ends. The kind everyone mocks for their lack of coolness. They sure came in handy though, for unhooking a rein to use as a lead rope, to switch between bridles, to, gasp, unhook so I could use them to tie my horse.
I rope with those reins constantly. They were probably about ten years old by the time I was riding with them doing ranch work.
I still loved them. They felt good in my hands. Even if the clips were showing a bit of wear and tear. They were getting weak and loose.
I was also still riding my hot little bay Morgan that was about the same age but not showing any wear and tear. He was just as energetic as he had always been.
We were bringing cows out of the canyon pasture. Its name derived from the big deep draws that filled most of it. Two of them that came down and met in a Y shape at the gate down in the bottom. These draws were lined with smaller draws feeding into the bottom. There were springs all throughout leaving water holes in some places, bogs in others. The sides were steep, riddled with banks, brush, and holes.
Cows had an easy time disappearing up the finger draws in thickets of chokecherry bushes.
The rest of the herd must have already come down and through the gate. They were a wild bunch, to suit the pastures they grazed. A few were probably trying to stay where they were instead of moving on to the fresh pasture. Somehow I came to be galloping down the hill along the draw trying to cut off a cow who wanted to go back up. Nate, my hot little bay Morgan was up to the job. With legs of iron and endless stamina he could go all day. Barefoot even on the sharp rocks he was like a mountain goat in those hills.
We thundered down one side hurrying to cut off the cow. I was always scared of heights so I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic as him in the chase. The cow went through the bottom of the draw and up the other side. We were running along one of the finger draws. It went straight down right next to us. Using it as a fence we turned her and she took off back down to the bottom of the draw. She probably went out the gate with the other cows. I have no idea actually.
Because we didn’t stop.
Nate was going full out by the time we caught her. He wasn’t going to let a little thing like having finished the job stop him.
I pulled back on the reins. Nothing happened.
I yanked back on the reins. The aged weakened clasps that attached my reins to my bridle gave out. They flew back past my head, nearly grazing my ears. I was still holding my reins in my hands but they weren’t attached to anything.
We were still galloping headlong up the side of the draw. A steep bank on one side. Fortunately nothing but a grassy incline directly under us. For the time being.
I leaned forward in my saddle, reached down the length of his nec and grabbed the side of the headstall.Then hauled his head around pulling him to a stop.
We spun circles for awhile until he conceded and halted for a moment. I reattached the clips and we took off back down the draw to catch up with the herd.
No, I did not replace the clasps as soon as I was able. Instead I took great joy in knowing they could fail any moment. They were my special safety break away reins. I figured that as long as they stayed attached I knew I wasn’t pulling to hard on the reins. The safety break away was for the horse not me. Especially if I was using them to tie with. Those clips stayed on my reins for a very long time. I don’t remember why they did finally get replaced. It wasn’t because they were a safety hazard. They were, but it wasn’t why they got replaced. It could have been that they got broke. Or it could be that they reached a point where they wouldn’t stay on at all any more.
I always have enjoyed the walk on the wild side brought on by improper tack, whether it’s gambling on my reins staying attached or a snaffle without browband or throatlatch. That doesn’t mean it’s a safe or smart thing to do. Just adds that bit of excitement to my life. Like riding Nate did.
Nate is long gone and well missed. The reins are still hanging with my bridle, still as comfortable in my hand as they were then. The clips are newer.