Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey

Over the years as a freelance magazine writer, I have interviewed quite a few country western stars. Not trying to be a name dropper, but they have included Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, George Jones and a rock star named Elvis.

The one who escaped me was Mel Tillis. He recorded one of my favorite country western songs, 'Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey.' I shall never forgive myself for failing to meet Mel when he was in his prime.

Horse players, and I have been one, love faster horses. And who doesn't enjoy the company of younger women? As for older whiskey, when I was a drinker...well, never mind. I don't like to live in the past.

Many of my fellow horse players have told me one of their fantasies is to be a jockey. Yep. They want to ride in a horse race. I guess they have bet on so many four-legged animals that the notion has gone to their heads that they can actually win a race.

I have news for my horse-playing pals. It isn't as easy as the jockeys make it look.

I know because I actually once rode in a horse race. It happened in Wickenburg, AZ., 'Dude Ranch Capital of the World'. I was in my 20s and pretty fearless when it came to riding horses.

Wickenburg was celebrating its annual Gold Rush Days festival. Back in the old days, quite a bit of gold was taken from the Hassayampa River which flows through town and the hills that surround the community.

There was so much gold in the area that Wickenburg became a boom town. Millions of dollars in gold was taken out of a nearby mountain called Rich Hill. The saddleback-shaped mountain lies about six miles northeast of Wickenburg and after a rainstorm you can still find gold on the mountain and in Weaver Creek which flows past Rich Hill.

Anyhow, the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce decided to capitalize on the town's past fame and organized Gold Rush Days, a week-long celebration that is marked by cowboy shootouts, a rodeo, a rodeo queen, desert cookouts and cowboy horse races.

My friend Doyle Williams owned a riding stable next to South Mountain in Phoenix. One day he and I were riding and he told me about the upcoming celebration.

'You're always doing crazy things,'> said Doyle in his laconic drawl. 'Why don't you ride in one of the cowboy horse races? Heck, I'll even furnish you with a horse.'

The idea appealed to me. I knew Doyle had a couple of fast horses. One was a trim mustang that could turn on a dime and give you eight cents change. That was the one I wanted to ride and I told Doyle I accepted his offer.

When the day of the race came, Doyle called me with some bad news. He couldn't let me have the mustang because it had come up lame. But he had a fast palomino I could ride. I said that would be fine. I had been on the palomino before and knew it could run. It didn't have the early speed of the mustang but maybe I'd get lucky.


The morning of the race all the riders gathered at a restaurant in downtown Wickenburg. We drank our breakfast -- mostly Coors Beer although some of the cowboys topped the beer off with tequila. By race time, I was feeling single and seeing double. All of us riders were in the same condition.

There were 10 riders in the race. Each of us put up $20 to go to the winner and the rodeo committee added another $250 to the pot. We were riding for cash and I was determined to give a good account of myself.

One of the riders was a red-bearded man who wore jeans, a tank shirt and a stovepipe hat. I don't remember his name, but he looked like Abe Lincoln except for the red beard.

We drove to a baseball field north of town where the race course had been laid out. Hundreds of people had already gathered there in their pickup trucks. There were rodeo clowns, bull riders, and cowboys with six-shooters loaded with blanks who were putting on the Wild West shows.

We lined up at the starting line. Doyle handed me the reins to the palomino, winked and said, 'Good luck. Just don't break a leg.'

When the starter raised his pistol, I hunched low over the palomino's neck and got ready. The pistol fired and nine horses beat me to the first jump. I kicked the palomino and lowered the reins but we didn't have a chance.

The rider in the stovepipe hat, who must have consumed half a quart of tequila at breakfast, gave a wild yell and surged to the front of the pack. In a cloud of dust, his horse veered sharply off to the right and was headed toward a pickup truck where the owner was hosting a tailgate party.

Without missing a stride, the horse sailed over the tailgate, scattering food and beer cans in all directions.

He won the race. I came in seventh.

'Not bad for a tenderfoot,' Doyle said with a grin. 'Let's have a drink.'

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