Just finished Wildhorse and wanted to jot off my thoughts before I take off for the holiday.
I think you really nailed the structure, it reads nice and easy, and the right parts are all in the right place.
It's interesting to read a 20th century oater that uses the classic mythos of land baron versus small farmer instead of trying to be revisionist or turn over unturned stones ala Brokeback Mountain.
As for the characters, they were all appropriately likable or unlikeable and the dialog between Wynn and Jasper and Wynn and Deedra had an easy going and natural feel.
I did have a couple of issues with it that I'll try to tackle in order.
First, I don't know what use the bookends with Devon are. He doesn't figure into the story except as a sort of bittersweet coda. It would be one thing if he was violent like his father and did something that caused Jasper to have to come bail him out and that led to him explaining about his father, but I'm not even sure that would make a difference for me. Have you thought about losing it?
I feel the first act is tight, but lacks conflict. Albert is the bad guy, but the whole buying out land from under people who can't afford to pay their taxes seems, I don't know, not very macho. I like that he steals land from people, but I'd like to see his dirty work in action earlier. It would be useful to see him victimize someone before Wynn so we know what he's all about.
In fact, I would say there wasn't much conflict up to the time when Picco gets beat for loosing the cattle.
The beginning of the second act, especially the romantic parts, seem a little drawn out. The whole fall in love thing could happen on the round-up and that would allow you to push that scene closer to the beginning of the second act and increase the sense of urgency around raising money to save the farm. It might also be nice if the round-up wasn't so easy. Maybe an animal predator threatens the cattle or something?
I also had a logic problem with the loosing of the cattle. If Albert is so smart that he knows he can scare the locals off from buying the cattle why would he even bother having Picco free them? The warning to the locals about underselling them was a clever piece of intimidation that spoke volumes about the way Albert works and the Picco bit seemed to undermine his cleverness. I also felt the planting of the hide in the barn was weak for the same reason. It seemed like a bush league move and so transparent that it undercut Albert as an indomitable force worthy of fear.
It makes no sense that a guy trying to sell a bunch of cattle would take a steer from another man.
Have you thought about having Albert try to exert influence over Dickerson to scuttle that sale? It could get operatic.
Lastly, I couldn't understand why getting his ass kicked would make Albert suddenly passive when it's a vendetta over his father's death that inspired his behavior toward Wynn in the first place.
These beats seemed more convenient solutions than probable ones. Though it provided a nice twist, the idea that Jack bought the land of a friend also came from out of left field.
That gets to my biggest concern about the piece: It's very well crafted, every beat is there, all the characters fit, but it feels small instead of big. I think this is because there isn't enough conflict and Albert's evil isn't explored to it's fullest extent. I would have loved to see the townspeople band together to surround the jail and free Wynn only to be flanked by Albert and turn craven at the last moment and betray their ideals.
Westerns are pretty well trodden ground and your best chance to set one up is serving up a story that feels totally fresh. This piece is well written, tight and enjoyable to read, but I think you could push further and really heighten the conflict between Albert and Wynn to get the most out of this story.
Anyway, these are my thoughts for what they're worth. Thanks for the read.