Hoof Print In The Corral


Low slung boot heels sinking into the dirt; he's stall walking, walking off nerves, pacing, waiting. He reaches into the chute, puts the heel of his gloved left fist against the saddle horn, fingers wrapped around the braided rope, extends his thumb, marks the spot then slides along the rope stopping his hand's heel at the mark. An easy slide into the saddle, quiet, no talk only exchanged glances with the chute men. A simple nod, right hand in the air, gate flung open, legs and spurs working, horse leaping into action; the eight second contest, wild bronc trying to lose the rider, rider trying to stay in the saddle till the buzzer. Eight seconds isn't very long, about as long as it's taking you to read this sentence. But when you're hanging onto the rein of a wild bronc, it's an eternity, it's adrenalin and excitement; it's the life of a rodeo cowboy and they cherish every second.

Young George Quarta would slap ten cents on the ticket window counter and with his remaining nickel buy a box of Jujubes. Every Sunday he'd go to a Star Theatre matinee at 510 Warren Street in Hudson, George and his buddies called it the "Ranch House". Over the years George saw just about every B-Western ever made, the good guys always beating the bad guys and six guns that were never empty. Tom Mix, Johnny Mack Brown, Charlie Starrett - the Durango Kid, Monty Hale, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard and of course Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, all names that fall off his tongue like close relatives.

George read the books of Will James, one of the best western writers, artists and bronc riders ever. "My name filled up the library cards on those books," he jokes. The only thing George Quarta ever wanted to be was a cowboy.

George got a job at the Arrowhead Guest Ranch in Elizaville, just to be around horses. On Sundays the ranch hands put on a small rodeo for the guests. One Sunday George climbed on a bull and was hooked. He joined the RCA, Rodeo Cowboy Association. The Korean War came along; George was drafted. When his hitch was over he went back to the rodeo, riding bulls for a time. One thought emerged every time he climbed on a bull, "What am I doin' here?" So after seventeen bulls and three wins George switched to bareback broncs. Now, Will James had been a saddle bronc rider, "A lot of cowboys I knew rode saddle bronc because they wanted to be like Will James." George was no different. He saved up, bought saddle bronc gear and rode saddle broncs for the next seventeen years.

George went to the toughest rodeos to be around the best riders, to learn. The rodeo circuit was a tough life back then, driving from one rodeo to another, all over the country, put down your $10 entry fee and hope to win gas money to the next rodeo. "If we had gas money, we'd get a loaf of bread and a roll of red and have a little picnic." George grins referring to eating baloney sandwiches in town parks before hitting the road. "I don't go in for picnics much these days cause of it." Still, George wouldn't change a thing, there's freedom on the road, freedom in doing what you love doin'. "I can hear the sound of the buckles draggin' in the dirt right now," rodeo images dance in his eyes.

George learned horse shoeing in 1956. His farrier work brought in extra cash on the circuit, work he still enjoys today. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, George went to work for Glenn Randall, who trained horses for the movies. Over the years George shod some very famous movie horses, Trigger, Trigger Jr., Buttermilk, Mr. Ed, Fury, The Cisco Kid horses, John Wayne's horse Dollar, Gene Autry's horses, even the horses for the Rose Parade.

George's friends were rodeo cowboys, western stunt men and stunt doubles. He got to know or met many of his western movie heroes, rode rodeo with Ben Johnson and Richard Farnsworth, even met the greatest movie stunt man of all time, Yakima Kanutt, a time or two. George's chaps, spurs, boots and other rodeo gear are in the Gene Autry Museum now; quite an honor.

For eight years George worked as a representative of the American Humane Association, responsible for overseeing the treatment of animals on movie sets.

He frequently returns to Hudson to visit friends. You'll see him walking down Warren Street wearing boots, jeans, a big silver buckle and a hat, always a hat. He was back recently for his 50th High School Reunion, pleased to reacquaint with old friends.

George is still amazed at being a real cowboy, "I sometimes say to myself, look where I am." He pauses, takes the last bite of blueberry pie, "When I see a hoof print in a corral, I just want to roll in it like a dog." His eyes remain those of a fascinated ten year old boy standing out front of the Star Theatre, John Wayne's, "Tall In The Saddle" on the marquee. Yes, dreams are definitely for living.

We'll talk next time From The Road.

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