The Natural Horseman – First ride

By Steve Stevens

I made my way from Albuquerque up Highway 550 north through the Jimez Indian Reservation, then through the Zia Reservation… on my way to a colt starting competition in Durango, Colorado.

The windows rolled down, I was enjoying the early morning breeze.

Watching the landscape change from desert to rocky hills, to open meadows and aspen trees. It is hard to not get lost in the vastness and think of the Native Americans that made this land their home so many years ago.

I think whether you’re going to a rodeo, a horse show, or a colt starting competition, it is so important to take in our western heritage. We wouldn’t be enjoying our life with horses and livestock if it wasn’t for the Native Americans and cowboys that rode before us.

As I continued driving, I was blessed to see a herd of wild horses running across an open plain.

I drove lost in the moment. There is a Navajo AM radio station you can pick up in this part of the country that has been running at least since I was a kid. They only play classic country, like Bob Wills or Mel Tillis. During the commercial breaks they speak in Navajo. At this time, the song “Coca Cola Cowboy” was playing. They talked about all the rodeos coming up. And today, September 11th, they said blessings for all of our fallen heroes lost on 9/11.

It was an emotional morning, thinking of old times and old friends from when I rodeoed in these parts back in my youth.

I started preparing in my mind for the colt starting that would be later that night and I started thinking about the first time I had gotten on a colt.

I had been spending time with a World Champion Steer Roper named Kenny Call, who seemed to like having dumb, naive kids around to torment. I say kid, but I was about 17.

At the time, I had no idea what and how much I had bitten off to chew.

I had been going up to Kenny’s place a lot. I was riding almost every day.

I had been riding just enough for me to think I knew everything there was to know about riding horses. Kenny always found ways to put you in a scenario that could humble even the most tenacious warrior. I had loosely been throwing around the fact that I was going to become a bronc rider.

One afternoon, I guess Kenny saw how boisterous I was and decided it was time for me to take one big step towards being a cowboy.

Kenny had grabbed a little paint colt, saddled it, chased it around to make sure it wasn’t too broncy. He got on his big horse named Dunny and ponied the little colt over to the middle of the arena. (Ponied means leading the horse from horseback.)

He trotted right up to me like he was John Wayne in the “The Cowboys”.

I’ll never forget his words to this day.

In his Okie twang and with a big twinkle in his eye, he said – “Alright cowboy, get on.”

I should have known better, but I was going to be a bronc rider… and there’s no time like the present.

Kenny dallied up snug on his saddle horn to the little paint so I could climb up safely.

His dun horse who was a superior athlete could be a little suspicious of things at times.

And I could see the whites of Dunny’s eyes as I climbed up between them.

Kind of a precarious position to be in, especially for me at the time.


I got my stirrups and Kenny said “Are you ready?”

Words I would later learn to take more seriously.

So, like Casey Tibbs, Larry Mahan, and so many other great rodeo cowboys before- I said “YEP”!

Kenny knew what was going to happen before it did.

Especially since I was just sitting straight up in the saddle, oblivious to what it feels like when a horse jumps forward and you are not holding onto anything, but your ego.

Kenny squeezed Dunny forward and pulled on the paints’ lead rope and halter.

Just like he thought-the little paint took a big jump forward and I flew through the sky like a box of rocks, only a box of rocks would have landed more gracefully than I did. I landed flat on my back, all the air being knocked out of me.

I tried to get up quick, but my body didn’t move.

Then as I refocused my eyes, I saw the nostrils of two horses.

And that little paint, Dunny and Kenny peeking over the top holding back the laughter.

As all tough cowboys would say to their would-be protege after they fall off of a horse-

Kenny said “Get back on!”

At this point I realized this wasn’t what I bargained for. It didn’t look like this when I watched Roy Rogers run Trigger a hundred miles an hour over jumps through rocky passes chasing the bad guys.

This hurt and wasn’t any fun at all.

I got up and tried to hold back the tears welling up in my eyes. I wasn’t going to let Kenny or the other onlookers see my fear so I climbed back on.

Kenny said “This time you might want to try a little harder”. Something at the time I knew little about.

I grabbed onto the saddle horn. Tucked down my chin and held on for dear life. Kenny led the little paint around and I am pretty sure he couldn’t have jumped over a penny. I held on for all I was worth as he scattered around. When I was done, (or I should say survived,) I was sure I was destined to be the next world champion bronc stomper.

I had no idea the long road ahead of me.

That day on that little paint would be one of the many moments in my life that would lead me to where I am today.

This photo was taken about 10 years after Steve first started going to Kenny’s. Steve was there that day getting on some practice broncs. Kenny is on the far left watching the action and Steve is on the far right on the ground. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Stevens)


That day on that little paint would be one of the many moments in my life that would lead me to where I am today.

Every morning, I get up and start colts to put food on the table for my family.

It was nearly 25 years ago that Kenny put this kid on his first colt. How time flies.

This Friday and Saturday I will be competing at another colt staring competition for

Colt Starting Challenge USA.

This one is a bit closer to home, in Gainesville, TX.

If anyone wants to come out and watch a fun colt starting competition, here is the info:



To this day, Kenny still torments me every chance he gets.