April 24, 2018
Little Horse – Big Challenge
Last year when my dad was about to turn 80, my sisters, brother, and I were asked to tell a story about a favorite memory we had of him when we were growing up. My dad is, as so many men of his generation are, very resourceful. He is a “MacGyver” sort of guy who can make almost anything out of almost nothing. My problem with this assignment was which memory to tell about. I decided on a memory of an adventure we had with one of the horses. This seemed fitting since he had built three barns for my ponies and horses over the years. Two of these animals I grew up with and they lived into their thirties. This story is of one of those great horses, Patches.
I couldn’t have been more than 14 years old at the time. I had started taking English riding lessons at a local stable when I decided it would be a great thing if I could take my little black and white horse, Patches, to the lessons. This horse had never been ridden English style before, but in my young mind I did not know the word “can’t” when it came to trying new horse things. I don’t remember if I was the one who asked Dad about taking him there or if it was mom selling the idea to him. But I remember that Dad was suddenly building a set of truck racks out of old floor boards for our pickup so that Patches could be taken to the stable.
Now this does not sound like a big thing. You build the racks, back the truck into a ditch, walk the horse into the truck, and you are on your way. And that is just how it went at the house that summer afternoon. Off we went, Dad confidently driving the old truck, me all excited about showing off my horse (who I just knew would take the jumps perfectly), and little Patches standing calmly in the back, mane and tail flying in the wind as we headed down the highway.
Once at the stable, Dad carefully surveyed the possible unloading ramps. Because he has the ability to analyze details and figure things out, he backed up to an elevated dirt jump that looked like a small cliff. He opened the back gate and out stepped Patches, up the 1½ foot step onto solid ground. Dad had chosen correctly and the unloading process went smooth as silk. Off I went to the barn, feeling very proud of my dad and that all was going as expected.
The riding lessons started in the indoor arena. With a borrowed English saddle, I rode around with the other riders as though I were in the Olympics. Patches seemed to be enjoying himself, too, and was handling this new riding style very well. But after about 20 minutes of riding around in circles and jumping over poles and barrels, Patches decided he was tired of it and stopped. But he didn’t just stop in the arena. He stopped halfway over the barrel jump. There we were, front feet on one side and back feet on the other. The instructor, Dad, and everyone in the barn, including myself, had a real good laugh! Patches just stood there with ears up as if to say, “What are you all looking at?” Well, so much for the Olympics.
With the lesson over it was time to load back up and head home. It was still light outside so there shouldn’t have been any problems getting Patches back into the truck, right? Wrong! To the little horse the 1½ foot step looked like a 10 foot drop-off in the early evening light and he refused to step down into the truck bed. The challenge we then faced was to get this 800-lb animal to go into a space he did not want to go. My ever-patient father and I pulled, pushed, sweet talked, and tried to out-muscle him, but the black and white equine would not budge. Enough time had passed that it had started getting dark and the shadows were staring to look like scary monsters to the horse. What a picture we must have made! Everyone else had left and we were still out in the field trying to convince this animal that he really did want to get in the truck and go home. Dad started to think like a horse and his “MacGyver” kicked in. From somewhere he pulled out an old headlight. I mean really – doesn’t everyone carry one of these around? He found some wire behind the seat and rigged up a light using the truck battery that illuminated the back of the truck bed. The shadow monsters disappeared, the drop off shrank to a safe size, and with a little more convincing, we finally got Patches into the truck bed. And you guessed it; he never went back to the stables again.
I know many of you have fond memories of your fathers, also. It was good to have a reason to take the time to reflect and write one down. I want to send out a big thank you to all the great fathers out there who help their little girls’ dreams come true in the horse world. And thanks, Dad, for buying that little $150 black and white horse for me years ago. You both gave me million dollar memories.
Happy Father’s Day!
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