Horse Riding Adventures From My Childhood
Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s children like myself watched many westerns on T.V. It was the adventure of the unknown that sparked every child’s imagination while cowboys led their horses and cattle into unfamiliar territory. There were cattle rustlers, gunslingers, and wild cowboy towns filled with wild women and rowdy men. Marshalls were trying to keep the peace all the while cowboys who had been on the cattle trails for months were seen blowing off steam, sometimes with too much enthusiasm. Young lads from every strata of society watched movies like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Rifleman religiously. Filling this frenzy for more, boys asked for 6 gun shooters (cap guns) along with chaps, holsters and of course the white and black cowboy hats. When not being able to afford the plastic headed horse with a broomstick attached, one just “borrowed” mom’s kitchen broom that is until she saw that it was left in the yard near our imaginary buried gunslingers on “Boot Hill.” Endless days were spent playing into the twilight hours when mother’s throughout the neighborhood collectively hollered for their young cowboys to head back to the ranch for supper and bed.
It was not uncommon for homes to have hats and pistol belts hanging from the boys’ bedroom doors. This of course was needed in case any desperado was found slinking by in the middle of the night. If you could afford it, and your trail bosses (mom and dads) would let you get them, caps for your 6 shooters were the “Cats’ Meow”. After purchasing them at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime stores, they usually lasted a young cowboy about two days, or until an unknown varmint needed shooting in the middle of the night. After the midnight shootout rendezvous, pets in the household usually hid under the bed for the rest of the night while little cowboys had their arms or (six shooters) taken away until morning.
In our house we had a Chihuahua that thought she was a German Sheppard. She was fearless until something like another dog, regardless of size ventured too close, and then our courageous canine would head under the bed and shake. Someone needed to protect the area under the bed, why not our little dog. She would guard my brothers and sisters fearlessly, that is, until pretty much anyone or anything came by. And when that happened she would advance to the underside of the bed, which she thought desperately needed defending at the time.
Westerns had become so much the fabric of our lives as little boys growing up, that we ate, slept, and thought of cowboy life pretty much during every waking hour. Our parents patiently waited for this phase to pass, but they were also the ones who joined in on the western shows on T.V. as well. During the day, when our father was at work, we would invent the wild-west not only in our imagination, but also in our neighborhood as well. Behind our home Mr. E. (another neighbor) had an area fenced off for his private zoo. It encompassed many acres of woods, ravines and exotic animals he collected. As young boys we would not only venture into this area, but we would be cowboys out on a roundup, but instead of horses, there were peacocks, Japanese deer, antelope, and of course lions as well. We felt that if we had our cap guns with us, nothing could harm us. Now as an adult, when looking back at this time, I now know that the lions that Mr. E. had were pretty tame. I was told that one day he rode one to work for the others to see and enjoy. I was also told that he would occasionally let a lion out when a salesman drove into his place. This would for some reason would discourage the most of energetic of salesman from exiting their cars when the lion would jump up against the window of his vehicle. Later I would learn that the salesman would drive away never to return again to Mr. E.’s place.
As in the old west, the sheriff would play a major role in keeping the peace in these tumultuous times. Our town too had a sheriff, and he happened to live next door to us. Sheriff Benjamin was a very kind man and he seemed to understand children very well. Like in the old west, we had railroad tracks going near our home. And like what happened in the old west, Hobo’s would ride the rail and come to our town as well. When entering our town, they would need a place to stay and food to fill their empty stomachs. Sheriff Benjamin being kind and feeling sorry for them, he would let them stay in his barn in the back and his kind wife would give them food to eat. After having a couple of days gone by, I would discover that they were no where to be found. They had left early in the morning, our temporary neighbor had taken the next train out heading west. Boxcars were plentiful during this time and they made ideal places for hobos to ride in. Sometimes though the boys in the neighborhood would sneak out at night and we would meet at the Benjamin’s barn, all with intent of listening to the hobo’s telling us about all the places in the world that they had seen. While they spoke, visions popped into our heads of riding with them on the rail, our holsters filled with fresh caps and cowboy hats hanging from our necks as we would ride west into cowboy territory, seeing the wild west in all its excitement that it would bring our way. As we sat around the hobo’s campfire, our eyes would bulge with all the tales they would tell us, and later, we would head home to bed with all the makings of wonderful dreams to come.
I remember when I was 7, we moved to another part of town that was near the river and near the woods, as well as pasture land that belonged to our neighbors, the Olsons. The Olson’s had two horses. They were not ridden much in the winter months and when spring came, they (the horses) had it in their collective minds not to let anyone ride them. Toby was a Shetland pony and Ginger was a rather large mare. Wanting in the worst way to finally ride a horse, I asked our neighbors if I could ride Ginger. They reluctantly said yes, but they put the stipulation that she hadn’t been ridden in months and most likely would buck me off. I accepted the challenge and readily jumped on to her back. Riding bare back with no reins I thought would be easy, after all, the Indains in the old west did it all the time. That was a fatal error in judgement on my part. Upon getting on Olson’s horse, the neighbor boy let Ginger go and her eyes almost seemed to come out of her head with horror. All of sudden she stood back on her hind legs and I thought she would fall back on me and I would be only recognized by a cowboy belt as they put me in the casket all flattened into mush with two eyeballs popped out of my head and a stupid smile on my face. As Ginger reared back I instinctively grabbed tighter on her mane and that only make it worse. She really got upset at that point. I could only imagine what she was thinking, “Who does this little upstart think he is, pulling on my mane and trying to ride on my back!” Ginger instantly came down on all four legs and then broke into a full gallop racing down the gravel path at full speed. Making a sharp right turn I barely managed to hold on all the while Ginger was bellowing out screams that I thought a horse could not make. I have to say that I too was getting pretty excited at that moment. Holding on for dear life, I then realized maybe Ginger would calm down, she then stood in one place, let out a growl of anger and then proceeded to run at a full gallop. Trying to hold on with just her mane to grab hold of, I found my body bouncing in the air as if in slow motion as the horse began to pickup speed. At that moment I thought that the rest of the neighborhood boys were probably in awe over my abilities with horse riding. Just then though, Ginger put both front hooves out in front of her and stopped abruptly. She skidded to a quick halt all the while I found myself sailing past her head as if in slow motion. But, in reality I was flying very fast into the air as I glided down to the level of the ground, skidding across the gravel past my friends, chin first. The boys watching broke out in hysterical laughter while I on the other hand was trying to get my lungs working again by gasping for any air that I could muster after having the wind knocked out them.
My friends picked me off the ground, but as I was being led away, I looked over at Ginger and I swear I could see her smiling and nodding at me as she slowly turned
away to continue her breakfast.