My dad loved beautiful horses. We had a mare that was part thoroughbred, and part quarter-horse. She was feisty. She scared me to death! Her leg had been injured in a cutter race, so we didn't ride her, which contributed to her flighty nature. But she made some beautiful off-spring. Men need a hobby and for my dad it was breeding beautiful horses. He'd pay big bucks (at the time) to hire a stallion, and then take Bo-Peep in his truck over to the romantic rendezvous. Each spring, we get a fantastic foal that pleased Daddy so much. Now, we weren't cowboys. We didn't have a big herd of cattle that someone needed to ride the range with; nor did we round-up and rope and brand calves out on the prairie. Milk cows are different. So, we did not need horses like a rancher might. But, beautiful horses was my dad's thing, so we always had four or five of them. He used them in the fall to go elk hunting. We children rode them during the summers for fun. He liked to show them off to his cousins who'd occasionally visit. He would sometimes sell one of the foals, and make a little profit. You know how some people just like having a collection of cool cars, or motorcycles, or a room full of fabric? Well, my dad had his horses.
But, something about getting my own horse made it all different. First: he was just a little baby! He was small and not taller than me. After all, I could look over the top of a cow's back since I was about nine years old. And cows moved slowly. Horses were all legs and stepped lively. But, he seemed calmer than his fidgety mother. I'd read a lot of books about horses (well...ALL the books about horses in the town library...) and I had some ideas. I worked on gentling my colt (named Bucky) and over the course of a year, I'd taught him to come when I whistled, (I bribed him with grain), and to stand calmly while I touched him all over. He grew taller, but I didn't get frightened of him. We had an understanding. The winter he was two years old, I asked Daddy to let him stay with the calves in the field behind the barn, instead of going to the upper fields with the rest of the herd. During most winters, our horses just hung out with the cattle, living a herd life, eating hay daily when we took it to them. But they weren't "our" horses during those months--they became a little band of their own, with the oldest mare as the leader.
With Bucky available for me to talk to, pet, and bring grain snacks every day at milking time, he and I became a little team. I started to tie him up to the fence during milking, and I'd go out and talk to him, and touch his back, and lean on him. Eventually, I climbed the fence and sat on his trembling back very gently. I did this every day until he didn't care anymore. Then, I introduced the saddle blanket, then the saddle, then I cinched it up. Then, I sat on the saddle. All of this was done gradually over the Christmas break,and through the January evenings while we were outside anyway. Finally, at the end of February, when the sunlight isn't gone so early, I had my dad lead me around the barnyard. Bucky was very nervous, walking with that saddle and a 14 year old girl on his back. But, he calmed down when I talked to him. Daddy led me through the gate, so that I could ride him in the pasture, which was three feet deep in snow at that point. Bucky and I rode like that for several weeks, and by the time the snow melted, he was completely comfortable with me climbing up in the saddle and riding him wherever I chose.
I know it sounds like a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, or maybe something by Walter Farley. But, seriously, I just was so obsessed with having my own horse, that I was determined to really make him mine. I've reflected on this two year period, and realized that having my horse helped me to grow up. At the same time I was taming and training Bucky, I was also in Junior High School. Now--picture this: very tall, skinny, knocked-kneed girl with ugly corrective shoes. She is now entering a school with about 250 other students, of whom she only knows about 25. And, although she knows them, and can chat and say "hi" she really doesn't have a "friend"---yes, I did not know anyone who I could say was my "BFF." I was friendly, but not in a group. I look back and realize that I preferred reading books all the time, and that I tended to be a know-it-all because I'd read so many books. I wasn't shy about sharing my knowledge. I was taller than most of the boys, and I milked cows every day. I wore my sisters' hand-me-down dresses, which had been fine up till then. However, fashion changed dramatically in the middle of Junior High, and now my clothes were so last decade. Sigh. Plus...who among us has ever felt "cool" at that age?? (I also realized as an adult that NO ONE loves Jr. High.) So, at school, I was always embarrassing myself by talking too much, or by not having anyone to sit by at lunch, or by getting caught reading a book in my lap, when I should have been paying attention to the teacher.
BUT! At home, I was a confident horse trainer! I helped my parents milk cows, feed chickens, gather and sort the eggs, feed the calves, help with younger siblings, and generally be a competent contributor to our family. I was a decent student. I got good grades. I had writing skills...math?...not so much. But, when I wasn't at school, I lived in a world that brought me a great deal of satisfaction, all thanks to my horse, and the cows, and even the dopey chickens.
See, this is my plan for the little gangsters I see roaming the big city where I now live. They get into gang life for real around middle school age. They're looking for a purpose in life. They need a team, they need to feel value in their existence. School work? Maybe not...It's hard to care about the "author's purpose" when you don't read that well, your parents don't read English at all, and your hormones are telling you that you need to go and show off for the girls. But...if some of these kids had a group of calves to take care of, or a car to fix, or a horse to train, maybe then they could channel some of the youthful enthusiasm into a positive place, and they wouldn't need the fake validation of gangster life.
Here are some more horse photos. I'd post one of Bucky, but I do not think I own one of him. He was a beautiful buckskin, with a black mane and tail. We looked good together.
There are many more horse stories. Someday I might tell them. The horses were just part of the family.
Trish was the Lincoln County Fair Queen,
parades all over the area. Suzie loved to barrel race.
was born that spring. I'm the flagpole girl on the left.