The Runaway Horse

It’s cold out here today!  I see you’ve got an extra layer on.  Good idea.  Well, let’s talk of warmer things.

That house we moved into where Major left his “mark” was located in the country, about a mile outside of a small town called Bath.  (If you get the chance, Bath has an intriguing background that is well worth checking into.  It is the location of the first recorded school disaster in U.S. history, and it also has the unique claim to hosting “bathtub races” down the Main Street hill in the downtown area every August.)

It was an old house that we lived in with some interesting history attached to it, not the least being that the garden area had once been a Native Indian burial ground.  There was an old granary right next to the house with a huge barn that was just as old.  The previous owners of our home made the granary into a nice living space and eventually sold it to some people who started to board horses in the old barn.  One of the horses that was boarded there belonged to a woman who let me ride it for a 4H class that I thought would be fun to be a part of.  This horse was a good 15 years old at the time, with a bowed back from a previous heavy owner and a very stubborn personality, which means that there was no changing its ways for a teenage boy who wasn’t all that knowledgeable about working with horses.

We lived on a dirt road that had an old railroad bed 1/4 mile down the road.  Sometimes I’d go down the railroad bed and take the horse out onto a highway that was going in behind our property.  That was an amazing experience!  To get out on that wide open area and let a horse take off in a full gallop underneath you down the dirt shoulder of a completely empty highway was exhilarating.  What made it even more so was the advice from the 4H teacher to not have my feet in the stirrups.  Apparently you become less dependent on the stirrups and more dependent on actually riding the horse, which also means that you have no control over your butt slamming into the saddle as you’re galloping along.  This led to this being a much less invigorating experience.  I didn’t do that but maybe twice.

So one summer evening, I decided it was time to get this horse out for a ride and work with it on some things.  I rode it down the road just passed that old railroad bed and was working on making the horse stand still until I used the reins to “tell” it to move.  Being the ever faithful and obedient student, my feet were out of the stirrups as I was doing this.  To say this horse was stubborn is an understatement.  I would pull up on those reins–the sign the horse is supposed to recognize as meaning “stop moving and stay still” (he knew this, old and cranky as he was)–and just as I would think he’s obeying me, he would take a small, teeny step forward.   He was definitely playing reindeer games.  So I tried it again….and again…..and again….until we had worked ourselves too close to a steep hill in the road.  This meant that we were going to turn around and go back to our starting point to do this again until he obeyed me.  Which also meant that we were going to be turning back toward the comforts of home.

Have I mentioned that this horse was stubborn?  He knew where “home” was and was always intent on getting there (I think he loved to eat and he loved the ladies–two very significant things in a male horse’s life).  So, when he felt even the hint of the rein pressure on his neck to turn that direction, he went from 0 to 60 faster than any race car you’ve heard of.  He covered the 1/4 mile distance from home in what would have won any horse race, all the while slamming my butt into the saddle like his own version of spanking me for daring to even think of making him do anything he didn’t feel like doing.  Keep in mind that my feet were out of the stirrups this whole time (thanks again, 4H teacher), which gave me the feeling of Disney’s Ichabod Crane being chased down the road by the Headless Horseman, knees bouncing up by my ears as my butt came down into the saddle, white-knuckling the saddle horn all the way back to the barn.

It just so happened that instead of choosing any other way to get up the driveway to the pasture gate on the far side of the barn, this horse decided it was a much better plan to take me up the driveway between a pickup truck and a tree.  There was just enough space between the truck and the tree for us to pass, with a tree branch that stuck straight out about where my throat would be, effectively de-saddling me at chin level, which was undoubtedly part of this horse’s nefarious plan.  It was just like in the movies:  you see the man on the horse, an expression of shock at  the realization of what is coming his way, with just enough time to duck down as he and his horse break the sound barrier as they pass under the tree branch, mere inches from the truck and the tree trunk.

This is the part that truly amazes me!   That horse remained at a full gallop right up to the last 10 feet of grass before we reached the pasture fence.  Within that 10 feet, he went from a full gallop to a complete stand-still.  The laws of inertia dictate that, especially with my feet out of the stirrups, I should have remained at galloping speed as I sailed through the air over the fence and into the paddock.  But I didn’t!  When he stopped the way he did, I remember feeling a pressure on my shoulders, keeping me pinned down in the saddle until he came to a stop.  You may think differently, but I know the guardian angel that the Bible tells me I have as a follower of Jesus was keeping me in that saddle!

Know what I did next?  You’d be proud of me.  After I started breathing again and checked my pants for any signs of staining, I turned that horse around and took him back out onto the road to finish what I had started. We didn’t go very far, but just enough to make him do what he was supposed to do (I suppose he finally figured that this quiet teenage boy who didn’t know much about horses wasn’t going to be the push-over he was thinking I was).  I don’t remember if I rode after that, but that was an experience that I will never forget!

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