I’ve always loved horses. Probably because, as I’ve noted in earlier essays, I was raised on a seemingly unending series of TV westerns during my childhood back in the 50’s (remember my essay? Cowboys and Cowgirls)
As a youngster, I begged my father for a horse. I mean, we lived out in the country and we had a healthy 20 acres or so of land for grazing and such. But, to no avail—until my little sister wanted a horse. And then, suddenly, we had a horse. Hmpf.
His name was Clyde.
I had already left for military service by then but had the opportunity to ride Clyde a few times when I was home on leave. I looked forward to those rides, but Clyde, well, not so much. In fact, he made it perfectly clear that he would prefer that I go back to wherever I came from and leave him alone. And, in any event, he had no intention of being a willing participant in those outings.
Preparation for a ride would normally take place just outside the one-horse stable Dad had built for him behind our home. For you equestrians out there, I’m sure you can relate: First, there was the “bit fight”. No sooner would I get the bit in his mouth, he would quickly push it out with his tongue and hold it in his teeth. Usually took two or three tries.
Next, was the “saddle dance”. I would first throw on the blanket, which he accepted readily; but when I swung the saddle up, he would simply take a little side step, just enough to make me miss. Again. And again, until I finally managed to account for that little sidestep.
Finally, I would have to try to get the cinch tight enough so the saddle would stay in place. Each time I reached for the cinch he would take a deep breath to expand his chest. I would pull the cinch tight, and then he would exhale and the cinch would hang loose. But I found I could trick him by acting as if I were finished. And when he exhaled, I would quickly re-tighten and secure the cinch. Having been outfoxed, he would show his displeasure by swinging his head around and trying to bite me on the leg.
Finally, we’re ready to go.
Sometimes Clyde and I would roam the farmland and virgin woods behind our our hilltop home. But on some of those outings we didn’t get far: As we headed out, Clyde would take short little steps, sloowly, sloowly he walked. No amount of encouragement from me would get him to move along any faster. I have no doubt that this was because he knew that wherever we ended up he was going to have to walk all the way back as well. And, sure enough, when I would eventually reign him around to head home, he would immediately break into a trot.
The one time Clyde acquiesced to work with me toward a common goal (other than getting back to the stable as soon as possible) was on a brisk autumn afternoon when we emerged from a path in the woods that opened up to a familiar dale. The clearing harbored a deserted apple orchard behind a neighbor’s barn and, as in the past, I had brought with me a small paper bag in order to take home a few apples. However, on this occasion the best specimens were high above my reach. The only way I could get to them would be to stand on the saddle—a tricky move given that it would be a nasty fall if I slipped. Nevertheless, I decided to take a chance that Clyde would understand what I was doing and, thus, accommodate me by standing perfectly still. Which he did. Clever steed that he was, he had learned from earlier trips that there would be an apple or two in it for him before we headed back to the ranch. Once I had a few in the bag, I dismounted and shared my harvest, which he seemed to appreciate well enough to stop trying to bite me on the shin as we trotted back to the ranch.
When my sister graduated from high school and left home to get married, Dad decided to give Clyde to one of our neighbors. I’m guessing they had some black and blue thighs from Clyde’s nips until they could figure out how to get that belligerent ol’ cuss saddled.