I rode over the rise toward home. A line of a dozen horses trotted across
the meadow below me. A big mare toward the back flexed all four legs and
took a few steps in a kind of odd squat. She straightened up for a couple
steps then dropped to her knees and then the ground. She was obviously in
terrible pain. Her month old foal circled with alarm then sneaked close enough
to touch her with his nose. The mare rose but quickly dropped back down and
writhed in the grass.
Resisting the urge to run, I kicked the colt I was riding and trotted rapidly
to the barn. If I had a favorite horse, this sick mare was probably it. She
and I had a long and sometimes glorious history.
I called her "Mae" but her registered name was Lady Lou Hancock. Her sire
was Osage Roan, a son of Little Roan Hancock and her mother was a daughter
of Leo Hancock who was by Leo and out of a Joe Hancock daughter. In addition
to Leo and the Hancock in her pedigree, she had more speed on both sides.
Osage Roan's mother was by Osage Red, a son of Question Mark who tore up
the tracks in California during the late '40s. Her mother's dam was by Stormy
Weather, a son of Lucky Strike, whose colts all seemed to have a lot of
I tied my colt in the barn, grabbed a halter and returned to the meadow.
Mae had been up and down a time or two while I was gone but hadn't moved
far. She was down again when I got there. I haltered her and convinced her
to get up, and then led her to the corrals. I knew it was colic or worse
but inspected her all over hoping to find a bee sting or something that might
cause these symptoms. There was nothing. I sprinted to the house and reached
a vet on the second try.
My dad ran Mae's mother on a share deal with Earl and Alice Holt who owned
her. She was a big unbroke mare that you could catch and lead if you did
everything just right. The first time I noticed Mae, she and a half dozen
other youngsters crowded around a feeder as my brother and I walked through
the corral. Mae spooked and jumped over the feeder. At the time I had been
riding a few hunters and I took note. She was a gangly, plain-looking roan
filly whose legs were a little longer than her mates. I kept an eye on the
mare for the next couple of years but I was going to college out of state
and never laid a hand on her. Dad figured she belonged to the Holts.
When Mae was two, I worked a deal with them to break her and to split the
money when we sold her. The first year I only rode her a couple of weeks.
She showed no inclination to buck and broke easily. The second summer, I
used her to move cows. She was never nasty but she wanted to do everything
at a run if I would let her-uphill or down, it didn't matter-and she didn't
like me slowing her down. Everything she did happened suddenly. From stop
to full speed was a matter of one stride. Even her turns were sudden. I heeled
a few hoof-rot heifers on her that summer. With calf roping in mind, I taught
her to track cattle but avoided heading big cattle. Even then, I could tell
she had a lot of speed. She also had an extraordinary amount of stamina.
I put hours and hours and miles and miles on her. Sometimes I nearly had
to exhaust her to get her to walk to the barn. That fall, I roped calves
in an arena on her for two weeks. The first time I chased a calf out of the
box, she ran so fast that for a few strides I thought she might be running
away. After the second lesson it also became obvious that she had the most
natural, calf-busting stop imaginable.
It seemed like it took the vet forever to get to my place even though it
was a trip of only six miles. "She's got colic," he said, "or a twisted gut."
Twisted gut? At the time, that was a death sentence in our part of the country.
He gave her several shots, painkillers and muscle relaxants, I think, and
listened to her abdominal cavity. He didn't say much and we waited.
Winter quarter, the year Mae turned five, I attended Montana State University
to pick up a few credits to graduate. I practiced with the rodeo team. For
a month or so, I used another mare that I had been competing on. The calves
were big and as they grew, we'd gone from tying them in the ten to twelve
second range to the fourteen to sixteen range. I decided it would be good
for Mae to expose her to the noisy indoor arena and all the strange horses.
At first, I had to lope her quite awhile to ride her down enough to cope
with it all. But she ran so hard and stopped so much harder that suddenly,
I was back to tying those calves in the ten to twelve second range.
Jim Overstreet on Mae - photo
taken Ennis, MT 1975
photographer: a guy from Butte whose first name was/is Bruce
By this time she had gotten fairly tall, 15-2 or better. She was long and
slim, almost thoroughbred looking. She had a big head and a too-long neck.
On the positive side, she had a long sloping hip and a lot of bone. But by
most people's standards she was downright ugly when she was standing still.
Despite her size, she got in the ground low enough that she was easy for
me to step away from to get to a calf. I managed to rope at the college or
with a local roping club six days a week for three weeks or a month. The
old hands in the area just shook their heads at how hard she ran and stopped.
I thought I was a great rope horse trainer.
Later that spring I took her to California for a few weeks. We placed in
our first rodeo at Folsom. We got out late on a big Charolais calf in Cottonwood
but caught up quickly. Afterward, Walt Woodard's dad, Sheldon, found us in
the parking lot, "How's that mare bred?" he wanted to know. "She can really
run." We placed another time or two and won at Stony Ford before going home
I've never been on a horse I thought could touch her in the length of an
arena. I had always had ambitious goals in the rodeo arena but only sporadic
success. Riding Mae, I knew I could do much better. However, I had a problem,
I didn't own her. I was still riding her on my original agreement to sell
her and split with the Holts. When I went to see them, I figured that I would
be able to buy them out for what she would have sold for before I broke her.
At first they talked about keeping her for their son in case he ever wanted
to learn to rope. Then, after an hour or so we arrived at a price over three
times what I had planned on paying. I left a little stunned by the price
but extremely relieved to finally own Mae.
Riding my "new" horse, I was soon in the race for the year end Championship
of the Montana Rodeo Association. I missed a calf at a late rodeo and we
ended up the year in third place. For the next two years, we placed almost
every weekend. I was MRA Champion Calf Roper in 1975 and 1976. She was
calf-roping horse of the year in 1975 and should have been the next year.
Bill Armitage, a rancher neighbor attended the 1975 Fourth of July rodeo
in Ennis with his brother-in-law. I rode into the arena with Mae's thick
tail nearly dragging. She held her homely head high with her chin tucked.
Bill told me later that his brother-in-law shook his head in disgust and
said, "With all the horses the Overstreets raise, you'd think Jim could ride
something better than that when he comes to town." It was a fairly tough
roping for those days with several ten second times already recorded. I let
the calf move more than I had planned and had to hurry. Mae boiled out of
the box in her usual burst, positioned me for a quick shot, and buried up
as took my slack. I stepped away and tied the calf to win. When Bill told
me this story, I acknowledged that Mae was not pretty to look at; and he
agreed with me that she was a beautiful rope horse.
Jim Overstreet & Mae -
photo taken in White Sulphur Springs, MT
1976 Karen Davidson photographer
Late in the summer of '76, at a rodeo in Ronan, Montana it had rained the
day before and there was a slick spot in the box. It was a short score and
I drew a hard running calf. When the gate man's hands started to move, I
let Mae start. The gate hung up before it opened and I checked hard. Mae
skidded on the slick spot and for a moment, I thought she was going to fall
over backward on me. Of course the gate man hurried and opened the gate as
quick as he could. By the time we got straightened up, the calf was a full
third of the way down the arena. For some reason, instead of pulling up and
going home, I let Mae run. We must have been running in AAA time when we
overtook that calf. I roped as quick as I could and Mae locked up in her
crunching stop just like on any other run. As I recall, we tied that calf
in a short 11 and took home third money.
Mae had one normally good trait that occasionally got us too far down the
arena and out of the money. She was very cowy. She would have followed a
calf through a maze if I'd asked her to. Twice, hard running calves started
ducking before we caught up. She followed each duck from too far back and
it took us a while to get within roping range. In 1977 we led the PRCA Montana
Summer Circuit for most of the year. Unfortunately, I was unable to practice
for or compete in the mid-winter finals so we did not win another championship.
Mae and I only rodeod occasionally after that. Over the years, she continued
to grow and thicken. By the time she was ten, she probably stood about 15-3
and weighed over 1300#. Eventually, I bred her.
The foal at her side as the vet and I looked on helplessly waiting for the
colic to subside was her second. Time passed and there was no improvement.
By then, I don't think we could have gotten her on her feet. The vet asked
if I wanted him to "open her up." I knew that the chances of her surviving
abdominal surgery there in the dirt was probably close to zero. Hauling her
for twelve hours to the Veterinary College at Fort Collins was out of the
question. As I was weighing the choices, Mae lifted her head, looked right
at me and nickered. She seemed beg for me to stop the pain. Her toughness
and life-long independence made this plea even more heart-wrenching. I still
get a hollow feeling when I think about it. Walking to the house with long
quick strides, I returned with my pistol.
Lady Lou Hancock - Mae - is buried on a knoll above the meadow where she
died. I often think of her with fondness when I ride past. In many ways she
was the epitome of the good old-time Hancock horse - hard running and hard
stopping with a lot of cow sense. I'm sure she liked roping calves every
bit as much as I did. She was a perfect fit for me.
© 2004 J. R. Overstreet