The Horse Loses a Friend

The West lost a horseman recently. When Lynne Taylor collapsed and died at his Shepherd, Montana home on March 12, 2008, it was more than the passing of a true cowboy and gentleman. It was the passing of an era.

Born near the Hole-in-the-Wall in Wyoming in 1935, Lynne’s family moved to Miles City, Montana when he was 12. In 1953, the year he graduated from high school, Miles Citians were worried because only 800 horses had been consigned to the World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale. They feared the horse era had ended.

Taylor and the Sale came of age together. At 15, he rode his first bronc at the initial Bucking Horse Sale. Fifteen years later he headlined the match bronc riding with Hi Whitlock, Johnny Ley and Denny Looman.

When not rodeoing, Taylor cowboyed in big country, working for Les Boe, Bob Pauley, Benny Binion, and especially, Bud and Bobby Kramer. The Kramers ran several thousand head of horses on their ranch near Cohagen – with gathers stretching from skyline to skyline—and sometimes shipped thousands more.

Lynne’s big country experience landed him a government job in 1966 gathering feral horses out of the Missouri Breaks. After the passage of The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 the government sent him south to manage the Pryor Mountain mustang herd.

That Act says, in part: "Congress finds that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."

The romantic idealism of "living symbols" and Taylor’s cowboy pragmatism would eventually collide. Handling mustangs in hostile terrain didn’t faze him, but handling bureaucrats, environmentalists, politicians, and animal rights activists ultimately did. He took an early retirement in 1990 – one of several victims of a government cowboy purge that made way for more biologists, information officers, and helicopter pilots.

When Lynne and the cowboys rode away from the mustang range a lot of common sense and experience went with them.

For example: A few years ago government horse experts announced that the dominance of zebra dun, roan, and grulla colors in the Pryor herd was evidence that linked the horses directly to Coronado. "Hell," Lynne told me. "They’re zebra duns, roans, and grullas because I cut every stud that wasn’t colored." Taylor had managed the herd for color knowing flashy horses would show better in the Bureau of Land Management’s adoption program. There’s evidence his plan worked.

But with cowboy logic gone, things changed. There are now 29,000 mustangs in 10 Western states, but there are an additional 32,000 in various government "holding facilities," including feedlots and private "sanctuaries."

Returning to the private sector did not free Taylor from the curse of romance and idealism. Believing there’d always be a need for rugged, big country horses he started a breeding program modeling the mounts that had packed him in the 1950s and 60s. But back then ranchers rode more and rode harder.

And there were fewer horses then. In 1961, when Lynne was 26, the nation’s horse population was 2,367,000 and most horses saw work. Today horse numbers are near 10,000,000 and many stand symbolically idle in back yards and on ranchette acreages. They are fed and looked at but seldom used.

In today’s world, in spite of $4 fuel, the trailer being pulled into the hills more likely holds four-wheelers than horses. And with the closure of the nation’s three horse slaughter plants and pending legislation in Congress to end the exportation of horses to Canadian and Mexican plants, the national horse population is not going to decease soon. The horse, reduced from an animal to a symbol, is not considered livestock in our popular culture. Horses are simply big pets.

What the Kramer horse herds and the Pryor mustangs could never do, Time did. It roared by and left Lynne in its dust. Lynne bred horses for function. But today’s cowboy who actually needs an all-day horse is rare. Lynne never cared about image. Even afoot his posture was of a man horseback and his nature teetered on a humorous edge like a cold-backed colt in the morning. But his style and character was organic, not affected. He rode broncs for 20 years, picked-up at rodeos for 38 years, and never quit team roping or training horses because he loved it. All of it. His day before passing was spent in the saddle, working. That evening he’d talked proudly about the colt he’d ridden and how it’d pinned its ears around cattle.

At his passing Lynne Taylor had handled more horses in his lifetime than any living Montanan. He did it and lived it while never carrying a cell phone, owning a four-wheeler or using a computer. He loved horses and seeing them abused, abandoned and neglected bothered him to his core. Especially neglected. He knew that as it was with him, it was with horses: they needed work to be happy. This past March when his proud heart finally failed, the West lost a horseman.

But the horse lost a friend.

John L. Moore is a rancher, novelist and journalist from Miles City, MT. He served under Lynne Taylor on the Montana Centennial Cattle Drive where Taylor was responsible for 3,337 horses.