Coming of age in the mid-1970’s I listened to the music, enjoyed a peaceful easy feeling, and rode through the desert on a horse with no name. I’m not sure how horses get names, but I guess someone overlooked that one. I once rode a horse named Toby and in a later outing, Spark Plug. Neither ride was eventful, not like my last ride, on a horse named Buck.
Our family vacations most often happened in the mountains. Mountain vacations offer hiking, streams for wading, crystal clear skies for star-gazing and quiet mornings for sleeping late without the sounds of the city or airport.
Our youngest, Michelle, had dozens of toy horses and her favorites traveled with us. She spoke fluent horse, and on visits to farms her whinny drew horses across the field to the fence where they nuzzled her face. I’m not sure what message Michelle delivered but the horses heard love.
One vacation carried us to the mountains of southwestern Virginia. The girls still describe that as the “Ant Vacation” since large black ants roamed the house where we stayed. While hiking on the Appalachian Trail I spied several blobs of brown moving through the tall grass at the edge of a clearing. I’d read about herds of wild ponies in that area, but never made the connection until the number of animals increased and drew closer.
A short video clip may share the trepidation I felt as Michelle whinnied and the herd immediately shifted direction toward us. Had she insulted them? Were we about to become extras in a stampede scene?
We were surrounded. The colts were adorable, and of course the girls wanted to bring one home as a souvenir. That twenty minute encounter with wild life was a blessing we will always treasure. (Note: No audio on these two clips.)
Michelle decided we should ride horses since she was not getting her own. Horseback riding? OK. Kids are only kids once.
Shawn made reservations at the horse place. It was a barn-like structure in need of repair surrounded by an open cesspool of horse dumplings, rotting hay, juicy mud, and flies. I concluded that horses are expensive pets. The organic aroma cleared my stuffy nose in seconds.
The guide, with his knee-high boots, lined up horses and installed riders. The boarding station, a platform above the mess, allowed riders to get aboard without tiptoeing in fermenting horse droppings. Shawn and Amanda learned to steer their horses while Michelle and I waited for our mounts.
The guide led a beautiful black stallion into the ring. That horse reflected sunlight as perfectly as a freshly-waxed 1968 Shelby Cobra GT. I’m all about sacrificing for the kids but I was thinking, “Sorry, kid, this one’s Dad’s” and took a step forward. But the guide lifted Michelle into the saddle, settled her, and gave her the reins. If only I had the camera! Michelle’s face beamed pure joy, and she walked that horse like she’d been in the saddle for every John Wayne movie.
Now it was my turn. What mighty steed would carry me up the mountain, across the ridge, and into the wilderness beyond? There are moments in life where we feel like Santa forgot our address. Ever been there? My ladies snickered as the guide led a geriatric creature toward me.
“His name is Buck, but don’t worry. He doesn’t.”
Buck needed an inhaler judging by his gasps and wheezes. He smelled so bad the horseflies avoided him. I guess that’s a good thing. And per the guide’s instructions Buck had to walk at the end of the line. I settled into the saddle hoping the old fellow would not drop dead and dump me into the manure, and that was my moment of discovery. I learned why Buck walked caboose instead of point. Buck suffered from five-alarm flatulence. I’m not sure where his exhaust port was, never heard the explosions, but even moving forward Buck treated me to frequent exposures of tear-inducing gas.
The old boy waltzed in rhythm, though. It was one, two, three, wheeze, one, two, three, gasp, one, two, three, flatulate. He ripped a thunder-roll, and my wife turned in her saddle to glare her disapproving look.
“Hey, woman. It’s not me. It’s Buck.”
I swear that horse looked my way and grinned.
Buck plodded a while then stopped. I shook the reins and told him to “Gitty up!” in my cowboy voice. I flapped my legs against his flanks. I even said, “Please!” Buck planted himself and trembled. I persisted in my attempt to jumpstart him until He whirled and tried to nip me. His tail lifted as he ejected a stream of freshly-baked dumplings. Each one hit the trail with a resounding splat.
“I understand, Buck, old boy. I like some privacy when I have business to transact, too. Take your time.”
Buck’s business operation became a franchise. Soon other horses in the line began making their own deposits in the First National Bank of Pooh City. If I ever ride in a horse convoy again I will not bring up the rear. And to think I paid for the experience!
Buck wheezed up steep inclines as my load of guilt grew heavier. Should I dismount and walk? Will he make it? Am I too much load for his aging knees? I felt bad for that horse though he carried me with sure-footed faithfulness.
I had categorized him as a two-speed model, but Buck surprised me. We crested a rise, crossed a bald, and caught a view of the stable nestled in the valley below. Buck double-clutched and hit the gas, I mean, accelerated. He’d shown me stop and plod, and now introduced a third speed which I’ll call “Mercy sakes!” Like Elvis, I was all shook up by the time we reached the barnyard. I was never sure if oats or a girlfriend waited, but that old rascal knew his way home.
…Maybe that’s a direction we all should remember.