FANCY STIRRUPS, AND THE TROUBLES THEY CAN CAUSE
By Steve Moreland, February 24, 2018
Back in 1970, the first summer after I graduated from high school, I worked as a wrangler on the Moose Head Ranch in the heart of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One of the other wranglers on this picturesque guest ranch was Johnny Smith, from Price, Utah. He rode a nifty old-time Porter saddle, with equally nifty picturesque hide-covered stirrups. These oxbow stirrups were wrapped with the spotted hide of a departed Longhorn cow, with the hair side out. Being eighteen years old at the time, I was prone to following fads.
When I got back home that fall to the ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills owned and operated by my parents, Bob and Elaine Moreland, one of my goals was to come up with some hide-covered stirrups for my own saddle. Dad was in the business of raising Hereford bulls. During the dead of winter, one of those nice yearling Hereford bulls died for some reason. During January, any fur bearing animal has the most fur it will get all year long. The same principal applies to Hereford bulls, and the hair they have acquired during the cold weather. This bull was packing thick red and white hair at least two inches long.
Shortly after the bull had completed his death throes, I was on hand with a skinning knife. I cut off an adequate chunk of hair-covered hide, and put it in a bucket of water until I could get some stirrups covered. First I had to buy some suitable stirrups for this endeavor. Since there was plenty of hide, the next time I was at an appropriate store, I bought a pair of deep roper aluminum bound Visalia-type stirrups.
The hide was still sitting in a five gallon tin bucket in our granary, emerged in water. Part of the time the water was frozen all the way to the bottom. The weather warmed, and the ice melted. Somehow I didn’t get to the remainder of my project in covering the stirrups. The weather warmed even more, and my dear old dad started complaining about the stench surrounding the bucket, every time we went into the granary. This was twice a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, each time we fed grain to the bulls. He warned me that if I didn’t use the hide quite pronto, he was hauling it off.
One night I noticed that the hide in the bucket was missing. I inquired as to its whereabouts, and Dad confessed that he had relocated it to our junk-pile in a sandy blowout. My Irish ire was aroused, and I immediately rescued the hide and started covering those stirrups that very night. Working quite late, I was sufficiently proud of my craftsmanship after sewing the hide, hair side out, onto the stirrups with rawhide lace. They looked a whole lot better than they smelled, and that very evening I took them down to the barn and proudly installed them onto my saddle. The whole effect looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
The next day was cold and windy, but Dad proclaimed that we needed to go sort out some heavy cows. I was riding a big tall stocking-legged sorrel gelding that I had purchased from B. Wallace Mills of Hay Springs, Nebraska. This horse was tall, slender, high-withered and high-headed. He looked like an American Saddlehorse, but he was a registered Morgan. He was the last son of Red Correll, who was an old Remount Stud from the Pine Ridge Agency. [Red Correll, dark chestnut 14.3, born 1940, Morgan, AMHA #8293]. I called this horse Redskin, and always felt pretty spiffy when riding him. He was handsome and had enough “chrome” that I figured either Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne would be proud to be mounted in such fashion. The story on the horse was that he’d had thirty days of riding when he was four years old, and I bought him when he was six. He was more than a little on the broncy side, but being young and feeling “punchy,” I welcomed the challenge.
On this particular evening, I threw my saddle on Redskin, and Dad and I loped off into a fairly big pasture to gather the main herd. The cold and wind naturally brought out the worst in our horses’ attitudes, and I was starting to realize that the stinky stirrups weren’t helping a bit. All was well as long as things were moving fairly fast. Dad and I gathered the herd into a fence corner, and as usual, it was my duty to hold the herd while Dad sorted out the cows which would be calving fairly soon. I had to keep Redskin on the move. If we stopped for a moment, he would turn his head around, smell a stinking stirrup, and jump to get away from it. Believe me, I had my hands full, and the novelty of decorative hairy hide-covered stirrups was wearing pretty thin before our project was completed that day.
Eventually the stirrups aired out and became usable. I ended up trading that saddle to my dad, and immediately upon obtaining ownership, he took the electric mane clippers to the long hair on those stirrups. Perhaps they did look neater and cleaner with the new haircut. The stirrups are long gone, but the memory lingers. If I shut my eyes, turn my head just right, and jump a little, I can still almost smell them.