Friday, May 26, 2017

I Have Horses in My Blood

My Aunt Myrtle once told me I had horses in my blood. She grew up in a time when horses were still used for farm work and to pull the family wagon into town on Saturdays to fetch supplies. But, stories my Daddy told me about their horses and photos of Aunt Myrle riding on the wide back of one of their work horses is evidence that the horses were more than work animals. Daddy and Aunt Myrtle grew up loving those horses.

Aunt Myrtle Riding One of the Family Work Horses
Daddy told me a story which seems to suggest one horse named Dan felt the same about him. Daddy got a red sled for Christmas one year. Apparently, the horse pasture was on a slope, perfect for going sledding downhill. One day after having played on the slope with the sled, Daddy, perhaps called to supper or chores, left the sled in the pasture. When he remembered, and went back to get it he found Dan standing over the sled smashing it all to pieces with his hoof. Daddy was sure that Dan was jealous of the time he had been spending with the sled instead of the horse.

That story made Daddy chuckle whenever he told it. But, often times he’d stop laughing and reverently tell me that Dan died of nightshade poisoning, a weed that he’d accidentally eaten while grazing.

My Great Uncle Jerry Boda raced Standardbreds at a small track in Up State New York. A cousin on my Daddy’s side of the family had her own horse, too. Mama had horses growing up as well. She was one of five children. Their first pony that had to be put down after it was bitten by a rabid dog. Her sister had a horse as a teenager. Mama told how she’d ride her sister’s horse all the way to where the paper mill is now. She said Main Street wasn’t paved then and she could gallop all the way and not worry about traffic.

My first horse was imaginary. So, while other kids had imaginary friends, I had a horse. I galloped “Leafy” all over my grandfather’s huge front yard. He got his name because his favorite food was leaves. We had lots of adventures playing cowboys and Indians.

My first time on real horseback was actually on my Uncle Cory’s mule. Once Daddy lifted me onto its back I cried to get down. My next memory of a real horse (pony) ride was when a photographer came through our neighborhood taking pictures of the kids sitting on a pony. Mama couldn’t afford to pay for the photo shoot, but he let me sit on the pony for free.

Then there was a time I rode in a pony-drawn cart at a Halloween carnival at school. I was dressed as a princess in a pink ruffled dress Mama made for me from some old curtains. The teenage boy doing the driving told me I looked beautiful. Be still my heart! I surely felt like a princess in her gilded carriage, drawn by a prancing white steed.

My very first ride “all by myself” was on Candy Etheridge’s pony. Candy rode all the way into town sometimes on that pony. She earned the title as “horse crazy.” I was in awe of Candy for having her own real horse. She invited me to a sleep-over at her house. The next morning, we walked to the stables where she kept her pony. I helped with some chores before she saddle-up Cheetah, so named for that fastest of all land mammals. . First, she led me around the barn. All seemed well, so she handed me the reins and left me to go by myself. Well, Cheetah walked about half the way, then took off running (maybe it was only trotting) around the corner to get back to its stall. Candy intervened and all was well. I didn’t fall off, but that was the end of my ride.

But, it was only the beginning of my long association with horses.

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