Probably because of all the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies I saw as a kid, I wanted a horse so earnestly it hurt. I let that desire be known on a regular basis to my not-so-longsuffering parents. Their answer was always the same: “We don’t have a place to keep a horse, son.” My consistent response was, “We could keep him down at the farm.” That suggested solution always ended the argument in their favor. They ignored me.
You see, we owned an old farm place in Louisiana, some 50 miles from our urban dwelling. My parents had rented their remote 40-acres and ramshackled house to an old couple named Eb and Flo for next to nothing. They kept the place up, sort of, grew an unkempt and often unwatered vegetable garden and maintained a motley flock of mismatched chickens, some of which regularly wandered up the rickety back steps and into the fetid kitchen. Eb and Flo ate at a table upon which undisciplined hens had waddled, pecking at food particles and leaving behind foul fowl designs.
Eb always had a huge chew of Red Man leaking down his stubble and he maintained several stashes of bargain-priced Red Dagger half-pints around the place. The hearth was decorated with splashes of tobacco juice and the place smelled like Red Dagger, Red Man, Watkins liniment, rotten sticks, mud and the dank and darkened pool hall in my town.
Anyway, when I could write my age in two ciphers, Mother and Pop relented and decided I could have a horse. They acted like it was their idea to keep the critter down on the farm. They purchased an old plow horse named Nancy for $20 and turned her over to Eb to use in whatever fashion pleased him, so long as Danny could ride the broad-backed behemoth on weekends. Of course, this arrangement was satisfactory to Eb, who worked the poor old equine to blisters during the week. When I rode her, I found her heavy-footed, recalcitrant, barn-prone and about as gaited as a slow loris. Old Nancy’s trot was cow-like but her walk made a delightful cradle for observing the country roads in that part of Louisiana. I was leaving the age of playing cowboys, but I learned to appreciate the way a horse ride can put you in touch with smells, sounds and sights no car ride can. And you don’t have to peddle a horse.
So, I wanted a pony, but in the fullness of time I got an old plow horse that had seen it all. She was not kid-friendly, though, so I had to learn to force my mount to do things my way instead of hers, which was good horsemanship training. The only time old Nancy galloped, if that’s what you want to call it, was when her nose was pointed toward home. Then she thought she was a quarter horse. It was a joy to feel her stretch out and even smooth out somewhat as she split the wind barnward.