Me and Horses

Sometimes there are lessons to be learned April 19, 2018

I was never given the talent of working with horses, or the body for them either.  

My legs are too short, and I am structurally built more for durability, with heavy bones, and lots of muscle to go with.  🙂 So swinging my body up on top of a horse has always been a bit of a challenge for me.

I was much more comfortable with this size.

Growing up, horses felt foreign to me compared to the cows. Never was I fearful of the biggest most bossy or rambunctious milk cow or heifer, but the horses were a different story. Let’s just say I had a healthy regard for them.

However, despite my uneasiness, and my lacking body build, I did spend quite a bit of time with them because of summer and my cousin, Jess. She loved them.

We spent summer days playing Monopoly and eating air popped popcorn that was drowned in butter … and when the popcorn was gone and the game was getting long … we went out and played with the horses.

From the time we were very young, she would take me up to her grandmother’s old red horse barn. We would muck out the horse stalls, pick the feet, and brush the horses in the cross ties. There was usually a box of Domino’s sugar cubes perched on the ledge that we would use to keep the mares happy while they took the abuse of 2 little girls. Poor things …  

I remember the clomp of the horse hooves on the old wooden barn floor, and the smell of sweet alfalfa up in the hay loft. I can still feel the nails on uneven floor boards that my hoe would catch while I scraped dung and wet sawdust out of the straight stalls. I feel the heaviness of the trapdoor that we removed from the floor to push our scrapings into the pit, underneath the barn. The trick was to make sure that the sawdust was cleared off the slats of wood that the wooden trap door rested on; it needed to fit snug. Boy, that was a heavy bugger, with a big round iron handle.

There were days when it seemed that was all we did, play in the horse barn. As we got older, we got to take the old white gelding, Caesar, and the matron, Scarlett, out of the barn for a ride.  

We rarely used saddles (much to my challenge); it was always bareback. And, as I mentioned previously, I was not made for horses. Swinging my leg up over a horse’s back just did not happen easily for me without a saddle.  

Poor Jessie always had to get down off of her mount to give me a boost up onto mine. I know she got frustrated with me: her being a natural, and then there was me, clunky. She would sigh and bend over with her hands clasped for me to put my soiled boot into and hoist me up. Wish I had a picture of that, it was pretty funny.

Years later, as my cousin got older and more serious about showing horses, she got a couple of her own, Gypsy and Jolly. I always rode the paint mare, Gypsy. She had a great disposition BUT — had a bad habit of getting me turned around and headed back for the barn. She definitely knew she had a green one on her back.

Up to the sandpit, down to the river or up the farm road. Still, my cousin was always helping me up and on even through my teen years. I am sure today if we went riding she would still have to help me up.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I just had a saddle to get into, or a stool to stand on, which I always had back at the barn … but, you see, the other thing too, is that I was really good at falling off, on purpose.

Those shorter, stockier legs of mine don’t make it easy to stay on a barebacked horse.  

Truly, I am an expert at bouncing too much on the trot and then having to grab around the horse’s neck for balance as the bounce was a little too high and off-center. I always figured it was better to swing off in full motion rather than fall off. But, when you get off, you must get on again … that’s where my talent wasn’t so great … if only I had taken some lessons to stay on in the first place.

I was never afraid to bail, and these were the days before helmets were used on the trail — only in the show ring. Crazy, amazing, that I lived really … especially on one particular day that I will never forget …

There was a railroad track that ran right behind the farm, always the gateway for us to cross over or under to take the horses down through the corn fields and to the river.

Remember I told you how Gypsy used to take advantage of me and head to the barn? Well, on that particular summer day, we decided to ride alongside the track, past where we usually turned off to go down to the sandbar, and, instead, decided to go as far as the park that abutted one side of the big farm fields.

We got about halfway there, when Gypsy decided she was done and going back to the barn. But, instead of turning into the field and running the path back that we had taken, she turned up toward the train track, deciding that the tracks were the route she was going to take. 

And we were off, full gallup ahead, with Jess and Jolly behind. Jessie knew this scene all too well.

But, unlike other days when this happened, there was a railroad trestle looming ahead. My poor cousin, all I heard was, “Katie, stop her, stop her — the railroad trestle!” I am sure she saw her poor horse’s life flash in front of her eyes — not to mention her cousin’s.

The trestle was the part of the track that served as a bridge over our farm road down to the fields … open track. The horse would surely step through the spaces between the cross ties … !

All I remember was feeling pure fear and panic, as it was coming up fast. 

The mare was going to the barn and I couldn’t stop her …

But, don’t worry, I got my wits about me and I bailed … I bailed hard, dragging off the horse, reigns in my hands, hanging on for dear life to Gypsy’s neck and mane, the imbalance, pulling her strides off of the track. Then, with the help of gravity, we were down, coming to a stop into the field.  

I think I rode Jolly back that day, or maybe we just walked the horses back. I am not quite sure, the echo of “Katie, the railroad trestle …” still haunts my mind.

But, what I do remember, is the bailing.  

What always seemed like a nuisance, on that day, probably ended up saving Gypsy’s life. .. if not my own too.  

Me and horses … how I think back fondly of the happy times that I had with them growing up, and how I certainly would not shy away from them if presented with the time and the right situation to have them back in my life.

I am thankful that Jess always got off and helped me back on. I knew she loved me anyway.

I am thankful for the time we spent together.

And I am really thankful for the lesson that I learned from the horses: “When you are in over your head, it’s okay to bail — there will always be a cousin at the other end to help you get back on — the horse.”