12 Days of Cowboy Christmas
Hall of Famer’s Ranch Retirement
By Tom Reardon
Bob and Dixie Black used to run a band of bucking horse mares on their ranch in the Cypress Hills near Maple Creek, Sask. Their best-known colt was born in 1978. He was sold as a three-year-old to Bar T Rodeo Company of McCord, Sask., and owned by the late Jerry Myers along with Don and Brenda Peterson. They called him Coyote.
In 1984, Steve Dunham won the $50,000 prize at the Calgary Stampede with Coyote as his dance partner. In 1985, the top bareback riders in the country voted him Canadian Champion Bareback Horse.
As he grew bigger and stronger, the bay gelding was moved to the saddle bronc herd. He was always an honest, consistent, money horse and was chosen several times to buck at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alta., and the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Nothing changes faster than rodeo, and in 1995, Coyote was included in a package of broncs that were sold to Mike Cervi of Sterling, Colorado.
Enter CFR bronc rider Dan Black, son of Bob and Dixie. After some rodeos down south, he told his dad that he had seen Coyote down there. Bob casually mentioned it would be nice if the old boy could retire and come back to the hills.
Dan remembered that sentiment, and the next winter he inquired about buying the old horse when his rodeo days were done. He was told he could have him in a year or two.
Later, Dan heard that Coyote had died and told his folks just that. When he found out the rumour was false, he never updated them.
Time marches on, and like people, horses get old. Dan got the call that Coyote’s rodeo career was over, and he started the ball rolling, while being careful to keep his secret from his folks. He phoned then Calgary Stampede manager and four-time Canadian Champion Bareback Rider, Robin Burwash. Dan knew they would be taking stock to Las Vegas for the NFR and asked if he could get a ride back for the old veteran.
“You bet that good old horse can have a ride,” Robin replied. “He was mighty nice to me throughout my career.”
Dan then phoned Colorado and made arrangements to have the old campaigner brought to the City of Lights, not to be bucked — but to be trucked — back to Canada.
The Stampede’s trucker and flank-man, Ken “Goose” Rehill, delivered the retiree to the Stampede Ranch near Hanna, Alta. on December 23, 2002.
The same day, not wanting to tip his hand by leaving home pulling a trailer, Dan told his folks he had some last-minute shopping to do, but instead hooked ’er for Hanna with a borrowed trailer. On the return trip, he stopped at a neighbour’s and unloaded the old outlaw so he could hide out until the big day.
Christmas Day, Dan brought his gift home. He unloaded his four-legged present in the barn and went to the house to tell Bob and Dixie they had to come and see what Santa had brought for them.
As they arrived at the corral, Dan said, “Here’s your present; I hope you like it,” and slid the door open. As quick as the old bronc was outside, Bob recognized him and bellered, “I thought he was dead, you told me he was dead!”
“For goodness sakes, it’s Coyote,” Dixie chimed in.
“I thought he was dead,” Bob repeated. Fighting back the tears he continued, “What a wonderful present.”
Dixie’s cheeks were moist as she said, “Dan always wanted to draw him, but this is even better.” After Bob put some oats out, everyone went to the house and told and retold Coyote stories over Christmas dinner.
Later that evening on the way to his house, Dan detoured by the corral and threw Coyote a few more forkfuls of fresh hay. “They don’t ask for much,” he said.
After 22 years on the rodeo trail, helping cowboys win thousands of dollars and with countless miles behind him, Coyote had come full circle — but his story doesn’t end there.
The next day, to everyone’s surprise, when the Blacks opened the gate, the bay boiled out and ran right past the saddle horses and never stopped until he found a herd of cows. He stayed with them all winter, and when calving season rolled around, he went to babysitting. Dixie tells of the old bronc with a bunch of calves around him, sometimes just lying there soaking up the sun and other times running and bucking with joy. If a newborn came bunting around Coyote’s legs, he would gently nudge them aside with his leg.
The Blacks volunteered to bring the old campaigner to town for the annual Cowtown Rodeo at the end of May. It was billed as “Coyote’s Retirement Party,” so the honoree had to be cleaned up for the occasion. Dan and Bob put the old boy in the calving chute and combed the burrs from his mane and tail. The Petersons brought their memorabilia, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd as the fat and sassy old bronc pranced around the arena with his head held high and his tail arched. Dan said, “Every spring I’d put him in that chute to worm him, and when I turned him out, he’d hit that same gait. He was a proud old horse.” In 2004, Coyote was inducted into the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
With affection Bob recalls, “I lost track of how many times I cussed him, because every time we moved cows he’d be running interference for the beef. Come branding time, we’d have to chase him out of the gate, so the cows could come in.”
By the fall of 2010, the bronc-turned-babysitter was showing his age. Bob had a contractor with a backhoe come to clean some cattleguards. Before he left, Bob asked him to dig a horse-sized grave beside the big boulder at the top of the hill.
Two days later, while Bob was helping a neighbour, Dixie found Coyote. After a Hall of Fame rodeo career and a glorious retirement, he’d cashed in at 32 years of age. Dixie didn’t want scavengers dining on the pet she’d never touched, so ranch wife that she is, she buried him. The boulder was in place when Bob got home.
That boulder sits high on a windswept hill, overlooking the ranch buildings and the sweeping vista of the Battle Creek Valley. Its weathered surface is a memorial to one of Canada’s greatest broncs, and to a ranch family that changed Christmas to “the day Coyote came home.”