Having spent most of my life involved in the cattle business around the mountains and high desert country of the West, I’ve been witness to, and occasional participant in, some of these activities.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

Horse-trading among buckaroos is an active and common pursuit. I’ve known guys with trunks full of silver bits and spurs, huge assortments of rawhide reins, romals, bosals and riatas, and two or three saddles that were always on the trading block.

These are the same guys (and gals) who rotate horses faster than a south Georgia used-car lot goes through ’70s-era Mustangs.

That isn’t to say that they don’t stay with their really good ones for years, but there’s always a colt or semi-rank gelding that’s waiting for the right gunsel or dude to come along.

I was never very good at the horse-trading game, due to several factors. First of all, I rarely had anything that was really worth trading.

Secondly, I never had sufficient brass in my gumption to play the game right. And lastly, when it comes to trading, I’ve always been equal parts naïve gunsel and desperate for cash. That’s a sorry combination.


It’s like grocery shopping when you haven’t eaten for a day and a half. How else would you end up with a case of generic pop tarts and two dozen Ding Dongs?

The last, and possibly worst, major trade I made occurred seven or eight years ago. I was helping a neighbor with his fall-calving cows. We did everything horseback, and since Joe’s cows had a deserved reputation for being on the nasty side,

it was a good idea to be mounted on a fairly cow-savvy horse. I had some colts that needed riding, but I didn’t figure I needed any help in making a fool of myself, so I always took a couple of nice 8-year-old mares or the old reliable dun gelding when I worked at Joe’s place.

In addition to a couple of neighbors who hired on part-time to help with the calving each fall, there was always a wandering buckaroo or two who’d hire on for fall calving and then move on in the springtime.

There was a young kid from eastern Oregon who stuck around through that fall and winter. He was pleasant to be around and a pretty good hand on a horse, but he wasn’t much help otherwise. He was too cowboy to start a tractor, and he was a little unsure of which end of the syringe to poke into the cow.

He was a master trader and was always popping off about some trade he’d made: a miniature donkey for a Garcia bit or a Mexican saddle for a 50-foot riata. He was particularly fond of my bay mare and was always hounding me to do some trade with him.

I wasn’t too interested in any trade because Prima, my bay mare, was probably the prettiest and smartest horse I ever owned. I picked her out as a filly, while she was still on her mama, from a friend of a friend in northern California.

Let me be a bit superficial in my explanation: If she were a woman, she would have been the perfect combination of Elizabeth Taylor’s classic good looks, Salma Hayek’s sex-appeal, the graceful athleticism of Maria Sharapova, Marilyn Monroe’s spunk and spirit and Margaret Thatcher’s crafty smarts. I really thought a lot of that horse.

However, the young buck’s relentlessness finally wore me down. Because of my heretofore-mentioned weaknesses, I agreed to trade Prima for three horses, a shotgun and $350.

That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? How bad could it be? Well, it’s roughly the equivalent of trading Michael Jordan for Olden Polynice, Chris Dudley, a junior-college water boy and a seventh-round draft pick. (By the way, there are two rounds in the NBA draft.)

The cash did come in handy, and the shotgun works most of the time, but the first month’s worth of hay was worth quite a bit more than the combined value of my three new horses.

The paint mare that was supposed to be broke was so rank that I only got on her once before I knew enough to get rid of her.

The black mare was nearly as smart as a cedar post, and the little blue roan turned out to be uglier than a mud fence in a rainstorm. I wouldn’t dare be seen with her without a stout bag over my head. I haven’t done much trading since then.

I don’t think trading is a bad method of commerce, especially in the cowboy world, but I don’t think I have the right constitution for it.

I think Aesop could have gleaned any number of fables from this tale. The lesson I learned from the experience is the value of the good trade. Just like we have to make judgments every day in everything we do, each judgment or decision we make is a trade of some sort.

If I trade a day of letting the fence on the mountain down for a day of deer hunting in the middle of the week, that may seem like a no-brainer – until I have to let the fence down in a foot of snow or spend two weeks repairing snow-broken wires next spring.

Some trades have everlasting rewards or consequences which may not be realized for years. The steady job in town with the guaranteed retirement plan traded for a loan to buy a couple hundred cows may be tough to give up.

I’m sure there was a lot of soul searching among those far-sighted and selfless men and women who decided to trade the security of the king and Mother England for a shot at a never-before-tried form of self-government and hoped-for freedom.

A young abuse victim faces unimaginable fears when he chooses to trade the relative security of anonymity for the chance that his courage may bring strength and comfort to others like him.

We’ve probably all traded a mess of pottage for a birthright or two, but if you learn something valuable from it, it was probably a good trade after all.  FG