06 January 2013

A Horse Tale

My friends have provided a couple of decent prompts. I'm going to go with writing about something I probably haven't mentioned.

I love horses. I cannot remember a time when I didn't want one. When I was young I would pretend to be riding instead of hiking. I would ask Santa, not for a pony, but for a real horse. I wrote some westerns and stories about horses in general. I read all of the Black Stallion books and any other book about horses I could find. King of the Wind is still a favorite. I collected horse toys. Not just any toys: Grand Champions. They're elegant. 

This is not my photo, but I do have every single one of the Grand Champions in it. Still. 
My fictional horse was named Shadow, out of Queen of the Snow, by King of the Wind. He had five siblings, North Wind, East Wind, South Wind, West Wind and Dusty. West Wind was his only sister, she was feisty and unbroken. Dusty was the only grey, mixing his parent's colors. Shadow was black (as dark as horses get, because there is no true black horse.) He had four knee-high white stockings. When he ran in the snow, this made him look as though he was floating.

My friends (one in particular) and I had all sorts of fun with these imaginary horses. We were mostly just 'lost boys' living in the wilderness with our intelligent horses and the occasional other animal like my red tailed hawk and a chipmunk named Chuck.

Because I lived in rural Colorado, there was no shortage of actual horses nearby. There were several in a large pasture across the road from my house. I would often go over and feed them handfuls of the greener grass on my side of the fence. I would talk to them and stroke them for hours.

I was twelve when my dad took a job remodeling a huge ranch house. Often my summer job was going to work with my dad and cleaning up job sites. That summer, I sort of ditched his remodel because it was horse ranch. Instead, I worked with Karen (look at me using names!) who owned all of the horses. I helped her feed and do all the menial little ranch chores. I was eager to learn how to care for horses. After only a short while she let me help her exercise them.

Saddling a horse involves a bit of work. And some tricking of horses. First, you brush the area where the saddle will sit. It's bound to be uncomfortable to have something pressing a clump of mud or burrs into your back. After a thorough brushing the saddle pad is placed. Then you must put the right stirrup and cinch over the seat of the saddle so it doesn't end up underneath. You place the saddle over the horse's back from the left side. It sits quite far up on the withers. After walking around the horse and gently putting the cinch and stirrup down, you have to connect the pieces of the cinch and tighten. Here's where the tricks come in. Any horse that's ever been saddled before knows to hold its breath while the cinch is being tightened. So you leave it for a bit and adjust the saddle. When the horse is more or less unaware, you must come back and tighten the cinch. The bit is pretty easy. The bridle is held in the right hand and the bit in the left. Left thumb finds the corner of the mouth and opens the mouth behind the teeth and in slips the bit. They'll chomp around until it's comfortable. Untacking is pretty much the exact opposite, including the brushing. Add some oats as desired.

At first, I rode behind Karen and she told me proper body postures (heels down) and how to use the reins correctly. Most horses are trained to neck rein, this means that when they feel the reins on one side, they turn to the other side. Occasionally more force is needed to actually pull their heads a certain way.

It was while working for Karen that I met Raindrop. She belonged to Karen's farrier (horse-shoer). He was short a pasture and was boarding her at the ranch. Raindrop was a quarterhorse; short, slightly stocky and very Western. She was sorrel in color, and technically a paint because her back socks went up past her knees. She had only one front sock, and a wide blaze down her face. Karen and the farrier let me ride her and take care of her that summer. I learned that she was a ignoble around other horses, loved to eat and was for sale.

So of course I begged my dad to let me pay him back if he would buy her.

So I got a horse when I was thirteen, finally. Raindrop came to live on our six acres for about five years. In that time, I took her to 4H and county fair twice. Went on a three day trail ride. Rode in the public lands near my house. Raced between windrows of hay. Chased her down the road. Was bit by her. Was thrown by her three or four times. And I didn't ever own a saddle.

Now, for some of that stuff I borrowed a saddle, but much of my time with RD was bareback and barefoot. I grew to love the smell of horse. It's strong, but not sour. I find it natural and soothing. I learned that she was incredibly ornery and the only things she truly loved in life were food (especially molasses oats), my dad, and chasing sheep.

Then I was a senior in high school and had plans to go away for college. I pinned some for sale notices in the feed store. But in the end my dad traded Raindrop for a sprinkler system.

Sadly, I don't have any photos of Raindrop on my computer, as she existed pre-digital for me. Someday I shall scan some photos in.

For now, here's a photo of horses I took from our barn. After trading my horse in, my dad rented the pasture out regularly.

1 comment:

Abby said...

Great background! Nice story about Raindrop (love the name). Traded for a sprinkler system... RainBird?

A good friend of mine while growing up had horses, and she taught me to ride. Later I had a "cowboyfriend" who also took me riding. We used to live in the sticks with neighbor horses to mow our pasture, but I've never owned any of my own.
I love horses for their beauty and grace, they're one of my favorite subjects for artplay.