Missing My Horse Sense

I grew up on a farm. Among the menagerie of animals I saw and heard and smelled every day, there were cows, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys, cats, dogs and chickens. Of course there were also plenty of raccoons, deer, skunks, coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails, bats, ground-squirrels, red squirrels, badges and foxes.

The stories I could tell you about each of them…ahhhh, yes. Enough to fill this blog easily until the end of the year.

But a question I recently had from CowGirl made the memories of our horses come crashing through and was enough to set me back in my chair in recollection. Do we have horses, she asked.

There was a time that we had at least 15 horses at the same time on our farm. Of every size, color and temperament. Queenie was the gentle mare with the black coat and white hocks. Slower than molasses due to her advanced age. She would plod along anywhere you wanted – except across the bridge on the lane.

Red was our fat pony we kids usually rode. The child’s mini-saddle looked ridiculous on his barrel-round body, but he was always up for a ride as long as you brought an apple or slice of watermelon or fresh sweet corn. No wonder he was so fat. Our less than horse-savvy friends could ride Red; sometimes 3 or 4 kids at a time would somehow be squeezed together atop him.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from Red was Chance. A stocky, buckskin, quarter horse gelding of endless energy and fire, typical of his breed. He didn’t walk, he pranced. His trot, unlike most horses, was not the kind that made you regret not putting on a sports bra. He had more cow sense in him than any other horse my dad ever owned, and it was all innate, not trained into him. If I was on Chance and I was cutting calves, the only thing I had to do was hang on with everything I had. Everything about him was geared for speed and agility.

Cheyenne. Another buckskin registered quarter horse that my parents paid big bucks to have broke professionally as she was high bred and high strung. The only horse I ever knew us to have that wasn’t broke by either my dad or one of the kids. I remember two of her foals: one was a sorrel filly that was born with the most perfect looking build I had seen on a quarter horse, but unfortunately had a piebald eye and an overbite, both undesirable traits to my dad. She also had an unsavory temperament, much like her dam’s. My dad sold her as a yearling (funny, but I don’t remember her name anymore). Cheyenne’s last foal was a colt. His name was Al.

Al was big. 16 hands by two years. That’s big for a quarter horse. He was lanky and had a huge head. He was also grulla  in color. He was a gentle giant that I took under my wing. I loved him. It didn’t take long to get him saddle broke and I used him almost exclusively to go out after the dairy cows every morning and afternoon. He had an innate cow sense, like Chance. He just wasn’t as fast on his feet. His easy temperament was especially appreciated the time I found a newborn calf, abandoned by the cow. I could have gone back up to the barn and told my dad who would have got in the tractor or truck and went out to the pasture to load it up and bring to the shed. Instead I picked up the calf, still slippery from afterbirth, and somehow heaved its 60 some-odd-pounds (and he was tiny for a calf) up over the saddle. Al’s eyes opened wide with fear, and he side-stepped me once but let me finally get the calf settled before I lead him up to the barn by foot.

When I started college, I had to live in the dorms, so the only time I got to come home was on the weekends. I saw less and less of Al. My little sister rode him a few times, but she was just shy of  two years out from going to college herself.

After my freshman year of college, I moved two hours away and was working full-time. I came home less frequently over the next couple of years. My love of horses dwindled as I enjoyed my adult freedom. When I was 24, I moved back home, and enrolled back into college. I still didn’t ride much as we no longer ran a dairy. I met Sparring Partner shortly after that, and moved in with him. And while Sparring Partner said he knew how to ride, we never took an afternoon to go to the farm and take a relaxing ride. Probably because the only adult-sized horse by then was Al. My dad no longer needed cattle horses and was trying to get some miniature pony team horses broke. The others had died or had been sold off or had been allowed to founder and were lame.

And then one day I was talking to my mom on the phone and I asked her how Al was enjoying being the big guy amongst all those little ponies. “Didn’t I tell you? Al died a few months ago. From colic.” My heart flip-flopped and broke. I was so mad at her for not telling me sooner even though that wouldn’t have changed anything. Al was only 10 years old.

For a lot of people, riding horses is a novelty that they may only experience once or twice in their lives, and on what I call a “push-button horse” – if they are lucky. I grew up on and around them and saw dozens come and go. I’d been thrown; been clotheslined by one (a neighbor’s horse); was dragged by another because I foolishly thought I could control an 800 pound animal with my 100 and have a scar on my hip to remind me; been bitten and had my feet stomped on more times than I care to remember. But I never realized how lucky I really was until just now to have had any of those experiences.

When CowGirl asked if we had any horses, I realized that even though my brother and his wife are avid horsemen, Doodicus has never done more than sit on a horse. I think this summer I should take the weekends that are too cool to go to the pool, and take them up to the farm instead and establish the basics of horsemanship. I also think it would be a great time for me to be reintroduced to something that I enjoyed when I was young. Maybe it will help ME feel young again.