I grew up with horses everywhere. Our barns were full. Our pasture was full. My Irish family were horsemen since time began. I rode/showed Saddlebred horses from the time I was little. My brother Drew rode quarter horses. My Gram loved her hackney ponies, and she had a hack named Jim Dandy. He was a cob tail hackney which means he had a cute bob tail and was a little smaller than other hackneys. I think Cob’s were actually used to help pull coaches and carriages up hills in Europe in the old days. They are very strong and very smart! He was one of her favorite show horses and he loved the ring. When people ask me about my first memories that I clearly remember in my life, I can remember first when I was 2 years old, losing my pacifier in the bumper of our car one dark night at the lake when they were loading boats. The other super clear memory is when I was 3.
If you couldn’t find me I was in the barn. I loved leading Jimmy around and he loved me. I was notorious for not wearing shoes, and still today you will find that I’m barefoot 90% of the time! That particular morning I had gone to the barn with my dad and we were letting horses out for the day. Jimmy’s stall was in the back of the barn and shorter than the big horses stalls so that he could see out and not hurt his back. I could open Jimmy’s stall because even the handle was closer to the ground and it slid so smoothly on the wheels of the track. I opened his stall and he came to the door, he nudged me and said “good morning”, and then he began to walk out. When he stepped onto the concrete runway he accidentally stepped in the middle of my foot and turned. I let out a wail like a banshee! He froze. He turned around and wouldn’t leave my side until I stopped crying. It was obvious that he felt terrible. That was my first lesson that horses had feelings and could show emotion and feel love. Even at 3 I knew that he felt bad! That pony was on the farm a long time. He eventually had cancer and was taken to Kansas State, but there was no cure. I won’t recount Jimmy’s passing because it ended up being one of my father’s deepest regrets. But let me tell you, horses know love, deeply.
When I was 13 my Grandfather died suddenly. He had a beautiful Palomino parade horse. He was 18 hands tall and as golden as the summer wheat. When Papoo died we went to his barn that morning to feed and I swear it was like that old horse knew that his owner wasn’t coming back. I could feel it. Maybe it was my 13 year old way of reconciling that he wasn’t coming back, I don’t know. We took his horse home and that horse was never the same. I rode him, I groomed him, I loved him, but he had a broken heart. Sometimes even animals never recover from loss. Grief is funny that way.
My Dad always told me that he wanted to ride until he was 92 like his great grandfather had. My dad was a horseman in every sense of the word.
Right down to his core he was patient, kind, firm, but always a horseman. He had a way with animals, he showed them respect and they returned the kindness. He was 78 and still riding, but he got bucked off and that was the beginning of the end. My father was stubborn and knew that you got back up, got back on and don’t let that horse think he whooped you! Dad wouldn’t go to the doctor and that accident eventually would claim his life. I could be mad at the horse and never let my kids ride again, but that solves nothing. I could be mad at him, but he was doing what he loved. Horses are our way of life that without them, life doesn’t hold much interest.
In 2008 my 13 year old daughter told me she was going to be a rodeo queen! “How are you going to do that without a horse?” I asked. “Well, Gaga is going to get me one!” She had been riding since she was a little girl at her grandpa’s house. She rode an old crippled horse named Mooney. He was a wonderful horse to learn on because he was too stoved up buck! He really wasn’t good for much more than yard ornament, but he loved that little girl and she thought he was a knights mount!! My friend was selling a paint horse named Thunder and he quickly became her second love and he was “reasonably priced”. Some might say he was cheap, I still prefer to think he was reasonable. It wasn’t long and she was riding every day and practicing hard, she has since become and excellent rider. I had a rodeo Queen for 5 years with several titles and a Miss Teen Rodeo Kansas 2012. It was some of the best times in my life hauling horses and my girls to rodeos all over the state. It was a time in my life that I was able to share with them that I would never change. Today she is married and team ropes with her husband. I guess that’s how this blog got started today.
I am sitting in the car watching them host a memorial roping at their farm for a friend who passed from ALS. They get together and remember, throw some ropes, drink a little beer and reminisce. It it windy and dirty and I am not too far out from surgery, so I am hanging in the air conditioning. Erin rode up and said to me, “hey Momma, better come get my picture. Leon is looking pretty good today!” Leon is the best purchase I ever made. His given name is He’s From Flyo. He saved her……just ask her. Don’t know why I get so damn sentimental. Loads of memories are flying out here. I think my Dad, Gram, Grandfather’s and my friend Julie are here watching. They would love to be here…..Yeah, I’m pretty sure they are…….
Until next time…..tighten your own cinch and keep it clean….
peace, love, memory