We had a stable not far off I-70. It was my Grandparents pride and joy and one which they shared with many people over the years. Back in the day, before fancy Bloomer trailers, horses were not transported in luxury comfort!! Some got loaded on cattle pots, some in weird two horse bumper pull trailers, some in makeshift stock trailers, but none of them were comfortable or healthy for the animal! Most often, the horses cost way more than the entire rig hauling them. That being said, we would stable horses from across the country. Most of them American Saddlebred and Hackney because that is the breeds we raised and showed. Long trips down the highway are hard on animals and they needed rest, fed, water and a nice place to bed down for the night before continuing the journey.
If you were a kid in the 1970’s and 80’s and had the pleasure of attending stock shows and horse shows, you would know that there were two great acts that entertained during intermission; the Budweiser Clydesdales and the famous Mr. Rhythm. Everyone knows about the Clydesdales, with their beautiful hitch and Dalmatian dogs, but Mr. Rhythm?? Well, he was a dancing horse!! A horse that could hula!! He could bow down!! He could put his hoof on a big ball!! He could rear up and jump!!! Holy cow was he exciting!! I remember standing on the fence at the Royal watching his trainer, Darrel Wallen, raise his whip to cue Mr. Rhythm and up, up, up he stood!! Man!! I couldn’t wait to try that on my pony Polka!!
Now, my grandfather had a way, much like Tom Sawyer, of getting things done. Things that he didn’t really want to do. For example, one day he told us that the Budweiser Clydesdales were going to stop on their way to Denver and the barn needed “spit shined”! Well you can bet your boots we were going to get that cleaned better than ever before. We deep cleaned stalls, laid out fresh straw, put hay in the racks, scrubbed buckets with beach and filled with cold water, polished stall fronts, swept the runway and hosed it out, cleaned the lounge, polished the harness that was out of the tack room, and then we waited. We waited. Waited and waited. “Well, they must have had a change of plans!”, he said. “But you sure did a great job and the barn looks like a show case!”
“A show case?? Not coming? What the hell??” The conversation in my head was not good!!I couldn’t have been more devastated!!!! I was so mad that I spent a good three days super pissed off!
But then it happened. For real. Something even better than Budweiser! Time to clean the barn again!! “Mr. Rhythm will be here tonight!! We have to work fast!! Get this barn ship shape, hurry up!” he cackled.
We worked hard, fast and diligently all day. Scrubbing, shining, polishing, we wanted to prove that we had a barn out on the prairie of Western Kansas that would rival any barn back East, or so I thought!! This 8 year old kid worked and worked and fell asleep in the lounge waiting for that pickup and trailer to come around the curve toward the barn. Bop called from the driveway, “Get up Sister!! He’s here!”
Oh. My. Lord. They backed the trailer up, opened the gate, Mr. Rhythm was wearing a red blanket with his name on it, red and white leg wraps and just as beautiful as I remembered! My eyes were glassed over like I was looking at the King himself. He turned and walked him into the barn and we showed him to the fresh stall, cold water, and hay. We slide the door closed and I asked Mr. Wallen if he could please do one trick? Just one trick? He flatly said “No. He’s had a long day. “. Are you kidding me??? A long day?? I will tell you about a long day!! He’s a horse!!! A frickin dancing horse!!! Just one? Nope. I had never felt so incredibly defeated in my young life. Outside of the humiliation of being the fat kid who couldn’t climb the rope in school. It was at that very point when I realized that no good deed goes unpunished!
The next morning he was gone before daylight. I went to the barn to feed my little pony and I looked in his stall and to add insult to injury he had left all of his shit piles there for me to clean. That was like saying that it wasn’t nice enough, or that we were below him. We were always taught to clean up after our animals, especially if someone gave you a room for free. I was doubly angry when I had to go get the pitchfork and wheelbarrow. Insulted and disappointed. One trick? Trick was on me!
Over the years we boarded many regular horses. I didn’t mind getting the barn cleaned and ready for anyone. Most often they cleaned up and said thank you! I realized that just because you have a fancy blanket, you aren’t any better than my sweet pony. Or as my Gram would say, “You can put a harness on a mule, but it’s still a mule in horse harness.”
I lost respect for Mr. Rhythm and his shine was gone. The signed picture went to the trash and I didn’t really care to see him again. Lessons of life learned early. The reality is that the impact an adult has on a kid is life long. It may seem like a super small thing, but this was rock star status in a kids world. It could have been life changing! I guess it was.
The Budweiser Clydesdales still make my heart pound out of my chest. What I wouldn’t give for one chance on the lines. I don’t need no dancing horse!
Memories! Oh how they sparkle!