I have no idea how old I was. Ten maybe? Twelve? Young enough to be shy and to need permission to go outside of the yard.
Our back yard was big, with my pony’s field off to one side of it and Vandiver’s field off to the other side. Vandiver’s field was bigger and went back further than ours and had a little seep of a creek through it that in places just made it swampy for twenty feed across and in places flowed maybe three inches across. Enough that they didn’t have to have a water trough for their chickens.
I don’t remember anything living in that field but that was probably because I’d never paid attention to the cows. One day I came home and there were horses there. Horses. Big horses. Beautiful horses. And one summer evening I came home and there were people with those horses. They were hanging out on the tailgates of their trucks and saddling up and laughing and talking and riding around the field some. I took up a post beside the fencepost closest to them in the fence that separated our yard from their field. And I stood there.
I just watched. I couldn’t really hear anything. I had no idea who they were. I didn’t care. They had horses; they might let me ride their horses. The girl’s saddle even looked like the Lone Ranger’s saddle, black with silver spots all over it. And eventually I guess they noticed me. Or maybe they noticed that I’d stood there and not moved for an hour. So they hollered at me and invited me over. “I’ll have to ask my mom,” I hollered back. And I ran.
I ran downhill through our yard as fast as my legs would carry me and into the kitchen where my mom was and asked if I could go next door with the people who had the horses. Who are they? I don’t know, they have horses and they said I could come over. Did you invite yourself? No. Why did they invite you? They saw me standing by the fence. I think she smiled at that. I don’t know if she went to see who they were or she just relented to my joy at being around horse people or if she really knew who it was all along (or knew she could easily find out the next day). But next thing I remember I was over there hoping to be allowed on a horse.
I don’t remember who they let me ride that night but they did let me ride someone. I think maybe it was Teardrop. She was the one in the fancy saddle. All the horses were gaited, as was my pony I’d had since I was three. Teardrop was a chestnut with a star shaped like a teardrop, a mare with a presence. Rex was probably the nicest (personality wise) horse over there at that time. He belonged to Billy who was in love with Teardrop’s Sherry and they were probably both still teenagers. Rex was grey and a racking horse and could park out till his belly was near on the ground. There were others I don’t remember their names. There was Honey, a little dish faced palomino who gaited with a dish too.
And not too long after that, and for years thereafter, every now and then on a Sunday morning our doorbell would ring and, as my mother would later tell it, “A grown man would ask if you could go riding with them and they’d brought you a horse already saddled up so how could we say no?” It was Honey they brought for me. If they didn’t have a horse for me that day, they’d still come get me and let me ride in “big red”, the truck that Shirley, Coo Boy’s wife would be driving. It was Coo Boy I reckon who took a liking to me and watched out for me. He loved the horses and knew I did too. Sometimes if they weren’t going so far I’d ride my pony and I can still remember Billy saying, “Look at that pony, hot footing keeping up with these horses.”
We went everywhere, on mountain roads we’d stop by country stores and go in and buy a loaf of bread and some bologna and eat in the saddle. On the strip jobs we’d go seemingly forever. One time in a pond Honey surprised me by going down and suddenly I found myself standing on her saddle not knowing what to do and worried that I had ruined it. When she got up somebody poured the water out of one of the saddlebags and told me not to worry about it and on we went.
I do not understand how that idyllic time came to an end, how we wandered away, or to where.
Now in my life I feel that same grace. When LB calls me and says, “Do you want to go riding?”, when she brings me a horse and all the tack and gets the horse shod and hauls it to a trail near my home so I can come riding . . . what does a body say to that? Now when Lisa gives me run of her barn and riding privileges to her prized mare? What, indeed, does a body say to that except, “Thank you.”
Thank you to every person and every horse and every circumstance and every little thing that has helped me glimpse that shimmery magic