Friday, January 6, 2012

My Kingdom for a Horse

When I was a kid, cowboys were king. It's only natural that a few of them became my heroes. The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and Lash Larue were high on my list. They tore across the plains, ten-gallon hats jammed tight on their heads as their faithful steeds easily overtook the poor nags the bad guys always rode. When I reached my teens, it's only natural that my admiration for cowboys and their legendary horses like Silver, Trigger and Champ would cause me to forget my Brooklyn street upbringing and lead me to believe I could actually ride a horse.
My first equestrian adventure came in the wild western part of Forest Park in Queens where they had riding stables for many years. My friends and I must have been so bored one cold winter day that we decided horseback riding was a good idea. The poor horses they kept there were as tired and tame as any horses could be. They knew they would never be running in the Kentucky Derby, and had traded in their horsey dreams to carry city kids on their backs all day in exchange for a bag of oats and a place to sleep. We mounted up and rode single file into the woods. The horses knew the trail and the stable guy with us just said to give them their heads...they knew when to run and when to slow down.

We did OK for a while and I thought I was getting the hang of it. The stable guy had not given us much instruction in how to ride, so I just kind of bounced around in the saddle trying to look like I had done this before. All the while I was thinking, how the hell did anybody in the old west ever get anywhere on horseback. We reached a little valley in the park where all the horses stopped in unison for a break, just like union carpenters at coffee time. When it was time to start again, our stable hand said that we were about to ride up a steep hill, and that we really had to plant our heels in the horses' flanks to get them moving.

Now my mother didn't raise no fool, and kicking a thousand pound animal hard didn't seem like a good idea. My friends complied however and their horses were soon galloping up the hill. I gave my steed an apologetic kick and he didn't move. "Harder" stable guy said. I kicked harder and still nothing. "God damn it, kick the f**king horse" said our helpful guide. This time, embarrassed by now that my friends were nearly to the top of the hill, I whomped him good. (Did I mention before that it was a cold winter day, because that fact is about to grow in importance in this story.)

The poor horse took off up the hill like he had been shot, with me holding on for dear life. Just like nobody told me how to stop the first time I ever went skiing, nobody told me how to stop a horse in a full, furious gallop. As we raced to the top of the hill, the rest of the group was waiting with a look in their eyes that said: Is he going to stop? Now, in all-out panic mode, I did what I thought Hopalong would do and pulled back hard on the reins. The horse reared up (this is where the winter day comes into play) and slipped on a patch of ice at the top of the hill. Luckily horses don't have seat belts because I was thrown clear as the horse wound up flat on his ass.

By the grace of God, only my dignity was bruised that day, but from that point forward in my life, the closest I ever got to a horse was in the winner's circle at the track on those rare occasions when my horse won. I now smile knowingly when I hear that great Willie Nelson country song: " "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


The Whiner said...

I had a similar experience on a horse on a slippery hill in high school. I stay far away from horsies too.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

let me tell you about Apache someday!

Joseph Del Broccolo said...