Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Oldest Friend

Ya'll can thank my associational memory for this one. Mentioning the fact that I'm horse nuts in my previous post got me thinking about my horsey times, which brought to mind my oldest friend, as it always does.

You see, my oldest friend is... was.... a horse. I still have trouble sometimes remembering that we lost him this last winter, I keep expecting to see the old man coming up for a treat and his ration of pets and attention.

Growing up, my family raised cattle. I was still tiny when the patriarchal side of the family got out of the beef industry, but I can remember moving cattle on horseback. I was just big enough to hold onto the horn in front of whichever parent drew the short straw and squeal in delight as they took off after a rogue. As a side effect of raising cattle, and because gangly colts are some of the cutest critters to walk the planet, they raised horses. American Quarter Horses, to be exact, of exalted bloodlines, and patient personalities.

One of the best we ever had, in my memory and anyone else's, was Cutter. Cutter was, technically, Hygro Cutter Sauce, but he was always just Cutter to me. He was born in the early '70s, saddle trained, and started on cutting by one of the best trainers in the land, and finished out by my father, after an afternoon chat aided by some copenhagen and a nice breeze. The trainer, while he still had him, won three minor futurities, sitting square in the middle of one of the smallest cutting horses he'd ever trained. Watching this horse work a herd of cows, and he did it mostly on his own, was as beautiful as any Mozart symphony, or Rembrandt painting in the world. He was a short little sorrel, with a blaze down his face and white socks, and a mane and tail that were perpetually ratted, no matter how I tried to keep them flowing.

When I say he worked mostly on his own, I mean, he'd wait for you to tell him which critter you wanted, and then go to work. When in the pasture, he would amuse himself by cutting the calves off of their mommas and taking them off to play for a while.

By the time I came on the scene, Cutter was a solid member of the family, and had already proven his patience and skill with children. He would not allow a child to fall of his back, ever. Unless there was a person standing there with a firm grip on the kid, he'd hurt himself getting well under the munchkin, rather than let them slide off.

This, of course, made him the perfect horse to teach my brother and I (mostly me) to ride. Of course, once I had a few basic skills, enough to stick my butt to the leather, he moved on to some more difficult lessons.

Like be careful when you ask a cutting horse to turn, or he might just spin you right off. It took many years before the ol' boy was willing to let me take my lumps, and he never entirely stopped treating me like one of his "kids," but he spit me out of my saddle a couple of times, when he thought I was getting too big for my britches.

He was my babysitter as a child, watching over me when I would toddle away from my mothers side and go romping in the horse pasture. He was my confidant, patiently listening to the secrets I cared to whisper into his ear and nodding sagely as I told him of the resolution to some conflict. He was my teacher, instilling in me the love and respect of our equine friends that I carry with me today. He was my friend, sharing with me fiery sunsets out in the pasture, one arm over his neck and leaning on each other. When all else had failed me, five minutes in his company could remove the greatest stresses, and calm the roiling seas of my emotions and mind.

Later in his life, he became more and more arthritic. Our long rambling exploratory rides became limited to him insisting on taking me for a ride in the pasture, meandering around a bit as he showed me the best of the juicy grasses, and then depositing me back where he'd picked me up when he was ready, all sans saddle, bridle, or even halter. The last time we went on a real trail ride, we came upon some cattle in the canyons, and I saw him perk up, felt his muscles tense, just waiting for the signal to go get 'em.

That poor old horse's whole body drooped when I kneed him on past the placidly grazing cattle.

Of course, that meant he had to prove that he still had the same turn on a dime and give you five cents change skills that he'd had in his youth, as I discovered later in the ride, when I asked for a sharp right and got one much sharper than I'd intended.

We spent five minutes checking his legs, and another twenty with his girth loosened and me on the ground, the old sorrel giving me the hairy eyeball the whole time for insisting that he not strain himself.

The more arthritic he got, the less we rode. The less we rode, the thinner the old man got. The rough winter this year was just too much for him, and sometime during the blizzards he laid down and let the snow cover him.

I cried when we found him.

The tradition lives, although we lost all our breeding stock in my grandmother's divorce. While at the horse sale, a couple of months ago, looking for a new horse to take to college with me, we found his sister. Or, she might as well be his sister. She pranced into the sale ring with the same "look at me!" attitude he'd always shown in parades, has the same bloodlines, similar coloring and markings, and even has "Cutter's" in her registered name. My grandmother cried, and I bid, and we got her. Her use name is now Etta, she's two years old and well worked with. Next summer, I'll begin training her.

No horse will ever replace the Old Man in my heart, but with any luck I'll do justice to the memory of the partnership he shared with me and my family.

P.S. My grandmother carries around more pictures of her horse than she does of me. No wonder my priorities, when it comes to my equine friends, are skewed.


Kate said...

This is one of the most beautiful and loving posts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

farmgirl said...

Thanks. I was lucky to have known the Old Man.

Anonymous said...

Way to go! That was very touching. Thanks for sharing your great memories.

farmgirl said...

Thank You

Dixie_Amazon said...

Great post. You got me all teary eyed and thinking about Cricket (Mr. Cricket Leo) the retired cutting horse that taught me be ride, won more than a few barrel racing trophies and was my best friend.

From another horsey gal.

Anonymous said...

Farmgirl, thanks for bringing back some memories of my horse riding days. I purchased Diamond from a co-worker back in the early ‘70’s. I had some land in Johnson County, TX and along with some relatives that loved to ride every weekend I decided to get back into riding after a long hiatus. Diamond was a gelding that came off a working ranch and he wasn’t cut until he was about 5 years old. He was a large quarter horse with a beautiful broad chest and powerful neck. He was 16+ hands and weighed in at about 1250 lbs. I was looking for a large horse since I am 6’ 4” and was about 225 lbs at that time. Of course he had a white diamond patch on his forehead hence his name. For such a large animal, Diamond could move like a running back and had the speed of a wide receiver. He liked to show off when we went riding every now that then by bowing up his neck and start lifting his front legs in a prancing step. People would marvel at his meticulous movements. When I would dismount, squat down on my haunches to talk to a fellow rider, Diamond would come up close behind me, place his nose on the top of my cap or hat, and take a short nap. I guess he wanted to make use I didn’t walk off and leave him. I would get underneath Diamond’s belly and shave off the botfly eggs on the inside of his legs. People were always telling me that he was going to kick me some day – but of course he never did. I was sitting on Diamond one afternoon talking to a neighbor when someone else tossed a M80 (a large firecracker) under Diamond (what an idiot). When the firecracker went off I felt Diamond tense his powerful body but he didn’t move one inch. Most other horses would have been bucking, spinning or headed down the road at light speed. Diamond was an excellent piece of horse flesh.

The Old Marine

farmgirl said...

Dixie Amazon, I'm glad you had a friend like that, everyone should meet one horse of that caliber in their lives.

Old Marine... You need a big horse? I've got a ten year old mare thats probably sixteen to seventeen hands (I haven't measured her) and most of it is leg. I, being 5'7 and skinny as a fence rail, feel like a real twit when I'm sitting up there on her, sometimes.
I need to find the time to put together my idea of a rope ladder that hangs from the saddle horn, so that my 5'1 mom can ride her....

Anonymous said...

Farmgirl, since I've moved to the city I don't have a place to keep a horse. Right now I'm riding a 1500 cc horse (Gold Wing) weather permitting. You might train your horse to lay down, your mom climb in the saddle, and then she can hang on while the horse get to its feet. My uncle had a shetland pony years ago and that's how us kids mounted up sometimes.

The Old Marine

farmgirl said...

Old Marine, I think the rope ladder bit would work, I've thought of a way to allow it to be rolled up from the saddle and put in a saddle bag, or left tied to the horn without being a problem.

I just need to find time to put it all together. And then convince my mother to try it out.... that part could be interesting.

HollyB said...

sounds like you love[d] The Old Man the way I love my dogs. What a wonderful tale!
You just keep churnin' 'em out, don't you? What a prolific little thang you are. And I mean you're young and diminutive in size, not talent or smarts. Just clearing that up since nuance doesn't translate all that well electronically, for me, anyway.

farmgirl said...

Holly, I blame having a little time on my hands and plenty of things to remind me. And a reason for wanting my mind engaged on something non-stressful.

I get writers block just like anyone else, and I hope that everyone who has been reading and commenting bears with me when I do have those times of "crap, my life isn't interesting at all!"

Course, all this prolific praise I've been getting seems to juice up the old urge to write, too. I don't get that "no one wants to read this" feeling, and I have incentive. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when people say they like my writing, and I've caught myself blushing several times over effusive praise.

I'm not sure that all of the praise is deserved, in a technical English paper type sense, but it shows me that people are enjoying my writing, and thus the whole point of the exercise is achieved, so its all good.