A horse named Palin
I don’t like horses, and let me tell you why. As a young child I was afraid of their size. Even though I grew up in the country with a plethora of farm animals, a horse could not be found in our barn. A friend of mine named Jimmy, who lived up our little country lane, had so many horses, I am sure he was making up for my shortcomings as a lover of equines. On several different occasions, against my better judgment, I ventured into the fields along with him in his effort to become a better horseman. Jimmy knew everything about horses. At his young age he tried to impart this knowledge to me.
“Now don’t walk behind him too close. Only mount a horse from this side,” were just a couple of little tidbits he gave me with such an air of authority that I thought there must be a whole catalogue of do’s and don’ts with horses.
One day, Jimmy convinced me to actually ride a horse. Looking back on it now, I know it was my first brush with peer pressure. However, little Jimmy was so convincing in his argument.“Why, this horse has never been ridden before, so he will be happy to let you ride him. He doesn’t have any bad habits yet.”
“Shouldn’t we ask your grandpa first if we could ride him?”
“Oh no, don’t worry about that ... see, he is in a pen all by himself today, so grandpa probably wants him to get a little exercise.”
“I don’t know. He looks so big, and shouldn’t we put a saddle on him?”
“Saddle — why, real cowboys ride bareback, I tell you.”
“Oh, I see…”
“You aren’t scared, are you?” Little Jimmy questioned.
“And how do I get on him?”
“Glad you asked; why, you just climb onto this fence and I will get some hay and bring it to him.When he walks up to eat, just jump right on him.”
“Won’t he be upset?” I asked, but Jimmy was already heading towards the hay barn.
I climbed the fence and got into position while the horse eyed me as if he knew what was coming. He stared me down and I am sure it was fire that came out of his nostrils, if not deep hatred or perhaps excitement for what was about to happen.
It took twenty years to convince me to ride another horse. I had long since cleaned the farmyard muck out of my teeth, but the memory was still vividly present — as well as the scar on my head.
It wasn’t peer pressure that got me back on a horse again. It was a woman. She thought a date at the dude ranch would help prepare me for meeting her cowboy family. The ride was to a scenic overlook, followed a sunset dinner with a moonlit ride back to the camp. After faking several ailments and a double booking on my schedule, I was forced into going.
The cowboy at the dude ranch must have known about my past, or it could have been my size that altered his decision to pick out a horse for me. I have put on a few extra pounds since my college football days and was wondering which horse would be burdened with my weight. The cowboy gave a couple of clucks and a big horse slowly sauntered out of the saddled group of horses and made its way to us.
“This here is Palin; she is only ridden on special occasions.” The cowboy said through a squirt of tobacco juice that nearly hit my feet.
“Wow, she is big.” I said.
“She has only been ridden a few times this year, and yeah ... I think she will do for you. Now, come on and get on her.”
I walked up to her, trying to remember what side little Jimmy had told me so many years before.
“Don’t be shy now; she doesn’t bite hard,” the cowboy said in the direction of the other riders who were already mounted up and waiting on me. A little polite laughter erupted from the group.
After I got one foot in the stirrup and tried to swing my other foot over the horse, the party started. Palin started from a slow walk to a jog. I had one foot stuck in the stirrup and the rest of me dragging, bouncing, and jumping to try and get in the saddle. The laughter was growing in intensity because Palin was running in a circle with me stuck to her and the cowboy frantically holding the reins to try and keep Palin from going rogue. After several minutes I finally made it into the saddle. Palin gave a deep sigh and puffed out what appeared to be fire from her nostrils.
The actual ride went well except for Palin’s habit of brushing me up against every shrub and tree she could find. I thought one time she tried to purposely decapitate me with a slight gallop under a low-hanging branch. The cowboy kept yelling back words of encouragement to the riders and would always snicker before he asked me. “How are you doing in the back?Any problems yet?”
The dismount from Palin, as well as the dinner, went well and I even enjoyed the chuckwagon meal. However, while eating I was positive I could hear Palin plotting my demise due to the noises she was making from the area where the other horses were tied up. Several times I thought I heard a diabolic whinny coming from the horses. The cowboy even came up to me and asked if I was doing all right. My ego slightly bruised, but still intact, caused me to joke back with him a little.
I was thankful the climb back onto Palin was in the dark, for it hid the repeat action of the earlier circus and the cowboy’s effort to help push me up into the saddle. Several times I had to let out some cautionary warnings. Palin was trying to bite me. I felt like the cowboy was trying to give me a full pat down while I had one leg in the stirrup and was in my circle rotation of death, with Palin going at a full trot. Once I finally made it back into the saddle, Palin settled down and I could hear the cowboy cursing his way back to the rest of the participants ready to finish the ride.
Palin was not ready for the return trip. She would stop to graze along the path and in no way could I get her to start back. On cue the cowboy would give his call, a mix between a chuckle, a cluck and laughter, and Palin would bolt forward in an effort to catch up with the rest of the group. She repeated this stop and gallop process throughout the ride back, as well as continuing to massage me against every tree and the brush along the trail.
It all culminated with the little ravine that was at the entrance to the dude ranch. In the daylight, I had halfheartedly listened to the cowboy’s lecture on which way to lean in order to not fall off the horse as it went down and then up the ravine. To this day I still can’t remember which way to lean. I should remember— because the way I leaned was the wrong way. I lay flat in the muddy pool of goo, trying to figure out if I had died, when I heard Palin give out a whinny of delight as she victoriously made her way into the dude ranch.
It was a slow, aching walk into the soft pool of light cast by the porchlight at the dude ranch. As I entered the light I stopped. I could see the rest of the riders were dismounted and standing around, probably wondering about how far back I had fallen off. The cowboy was consoling my date who seemed to be deeply concerned. I stopped, maneuvered the mud in my mouth, and spit it to the ground next to my shoe. I straightened up and tried to sound as calm as possible, but what came out was a soft, hoarse “Here I am ...”
Randy Davis is a member of the local Trout Unlimited Club. When not fishing, Randy enjoys spending time in the outdoors as well as writing about those experiences. Randy is currently working on finishing a degree in Creative Writing. He can be reached at email@example.com.