Lum: Lessons on horseback
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to own a horse. I pasted photographs and drawings of horses in scrapbooks; I would sit on our front porch for hours, listening for the clip-clop of a passing rider. It is a statement of the times that I usually was rewarded with a horse sighting. Now it would be worth the life of both horse and rider to step into that deadly speedway.
Every Christmas I hoped against hope that one of my parents would pause during the modest unwrapping, saying, “There’s a surprise for you in the garage.”
I was 9 or 10 when I saved up enough money for a riding lesson. The price was $2 per hour, an astronomical sum for a kid on a 50-cent allowance and who — being out in the boonies — had no way to supplement that income.
Fortunately for me, we had a plague of Japanese beetles that summer and my mother was at her wits’ end trying to salvage her gardens. She rashly offered a penny apiece for every Japanese beetle we caught, meaning a whole dollar for a mere 100 beetles.
I quickly became a master beetle killer, scooping them off plants into a jug of soapy water and running back for my mother to tally. When the supply began to wane, I branched out to the neighbor’s garden.
My beetle money bought my first horseback lesson and the first thing I learned was that rather than being ecstatic, I was terrified.
Patches, one of four or five horses in the rather dilapidated stable, was led out, and a Western saddle weighing more than I did was thrown on his back and cinched up. Patches looked huge. This was what I had been dreaming and begging for, and all I wanted to do was run for home.
The disheveled stable owner boosted me up, and high in the saddle, I felt about 30 feet off the ground. My mother said cheerily that she’d be back in an hour. The man led Patches into a large, fenced field and showed me how to turn right and left with the reins, to stop by pulling on them and to go by kicking Patches’ side with my heels.
That was the end of the lesson. The man repaired to his house while I sat on Patches, my feet straight out at the sides and nowhere within kicking vicinity. But I made the click-click noise with my mouth — the one I used with my pretend horses — and Patches began plodding around the path next to the fence.
Five or six times around, and I was Annie Oakley. Seven or eight times around, and I was getting bored. What’s with all this slow walking? Hey — how about a gallop? Patches knew better and kept his steady plod. My mother and the man appeared simultaneously at the gate, and my hour was up.
I was on fire. I had enough beetle credit to book a few more hours and couldn’t wait for my next ride. I rode my bike to the stable so my mother didn’t have to drive me, and the man would let me ride for an hour and a half or more. He showed me how to take a small branch to tap Patches into a trot.
I learned how to put a saddle on and take it off, how to groom, how to ride bareback and how to feed, water and shovel.
Once, I got to ride Prince, the best horse in the stable.
The next year, the stable was gone. I visited my grandmother in Alabama, and she rented a pony named Missy for me, the fastest horse I ever rode. When I first saw her I had grave doubts that she could make it to the end of the driveway. I got on for a test ride and gave one click, and she galloped through a cotton field, dirt flying, plants trampled. I said she’d do just fine.
I never did get a horse of my own until I moved to Colorado, where I had, at various times, six of them, but that’s another story for another time.
Su Lum is a longtime local who loves the smell of horses. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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