Let’s get one thing straight from the start, we were urban cowboys. Not to be accused of knowing what we were doing. We lived deep within the city of seven hundred people, and it was our uncle’s acreage on the edge of town. I’ve never repaired a fence, never baled hay in my life, and I wouldn’t really know tack from tic. Yet somehow by the grace of God we live to recount our adventures. And of those we had a few.
We knew Joker Peterson would be trouble when we found out he studied geometry. Joker was Bill’s horse, clearly with a higher IQ than our collective. Who knows, he probably sketched this out on a white board in the barn while chowing down on oats. He calculated that if he ran to one corner of the pasture and waited, we would get close enough to him that he could then bolt for the diagonal corner and wait us out again to avoid the bridle. Rinse and repeat. So it took a while to get him ready to ride. And second, we needed to remember that Joker had a keen eye for partially open dutch barn doors, because he knew that if only the bottom half was open he could shear you off on the top half. And he never hesitated to look for that opportunity.
He had a glass eye too, so you always wondered where he was looking and what he was thinking. He was an ornery cuss. And rode like a barrel of oil. Joker had dedicated his life to never galloping. And I’m sure that in the history of horseback riding there had never been a pony that could delay the trot to gallop transition longer than he did. The heaviest, most pounding, most enduring and debilitating trot you’ve ever subjected yourself to. A day’s ride could liquify your organs. But if you ever inspired him to break into a stride you would suddenly hear music coming from some elvish place in another realm. (Think John Williams at the Iowa State Fair). And in slow motion there you would be, in Middle-Earth, aboard Joker Peterson, trampling orcs in The Ride of The Rohirrim. When really you were just approaching Kunz’s gas station to get a soft serve. But it didn’t matter. You had been granted the moment and you embraced it. And at least he didn’t have Sox’s backbone.
Sox was Jeff C’s horse. Sox was leggy and Palomino in color, with a backbone like two-inch iron pipe. Mind you, we almost always rode bareback. You had to “adjust” how you sat on him, or you wouldn’t go riding the next day, if you could even get out of bed. I mean, try riding bareback on that your entire adolescence and give me the odds that you’ll father a foal. Somehow Jeff made it work though, as he apparently developed calluses in all the right places and bagged a lot of ice. Beyond that, I remember Sox being dependable but otherwise unremarkable. A Chevy Malibu with 115K miles.
Wish was Nick’s horse. Like black lightning. Glossy. Also leggy, but in an Olympic athlete kinda way. He had a “bring it” attitude. And not really a team player, he never shied away from competition. Wish was light on his hooves, like a welterweight at the first bell. He twitched his head and snorted a lot, and was both lithe and angular. He was always anxious and eager to be somewhere else, especially at the starting gate, which was located behind Nick’s house, at the end of an alley which stretched for maybe a hundred yards. And the horse knew that’s where we were going. So he would get into the zone. Fidgety and focused, he would paw the ground at the starting line, as beneath you he filled with oxygen and jet fuel. And all Nick had to do was ease the reins, and make that side-mouth sucking “jhik” sound, and the kerosene under him would ignite and explode. Good luck beating that horse on his home track.
Our horse Sue was never accused of being ambitious. She exhibited a “sure, why not” attitude toward going for a ride. Maybe slightly more interested as we approached the lake, yet easily distracted by tasty grass and philosophical ruminations. She also wasn’t much for a schedule. And our horse… maybe all horses… have that way of staring off into the distance, contemplating the horizon, as they cultivate a life completely separate from our own. As everyone knows, horses don’t like to be looked in the eye, and I imagine that’s partly because they’re looking through you to behold profound vistas and would just rather you didn’t get in the way. Demonstrating not exactly contempt, but a blend of introspection and disregard. “Can we go back to the barn now?”
Pastoral scenes punctuated by moments of bareback riding terror. We were probably idiots, but it crackled with life. We loved it, and we didn’t know any better. Then we grew up and left it behind. And off-ramped ourselves into protected adventures. Especially the internal ones. Measured doses. Gentle slopes. Lots of paperwork and no offense. I miss the old days. And our Four Horses of the Apocalypse.