Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Time Diversions

Cliff Morrow
My wife has been a lifelong ardent lover of horses. She grew up in Denver and had spent much of her childhood free time and money by renting and riding horses. That is up until she received a horse for a birthday gift when she was 12. That ownership led to a lifelong attraction to the hairy beasts.
Most of my childhood horse experience was gained in front of a black and white television, watching the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Not a lot of practical experience was gained from observing the Lone Ranger unless of course you think horses should be at a full gallop, all of the time. I think "Silver" was an old barrel horse.
At our farm, we ran out of Dad's work horses in the early 1950s. The last two horses spent their final days here on this farm doing what horses do best, converting hay into fertilizer.
We did 'winter' a horse for a man for a few years back in my middle school days. Uh, middle school would have been the middle two rows of desks in our first through eighth grade country school.
Back then you could get a free horse to use doing your cattle chores in the wintertime so long as you fed and watered the mare from fall through late spring. (Incidentally I would now make that same offer to someone else who needed a horse to look at in the winter time.)
These horses were broodmares and expecting young ones, so they became too wide to ride by about April. Those few years were the extent of my horse experience. It did prove successful in getting me over the "romantic" notion in my mind of being able to ride into the sunset strumming my guitar while singing Happy Trails in two-part harmony. The main reason for my lack of continued enthusiasm is that I didn't know what I was doing, and the horse did know what she was doing. And besides, neither one of us could play a guitar.
Case in point is the day I was at a full gallop in a field of cornstalks and heading to look at the cattle on the east side of the 160 acres. I noticed that the cinch was flapping in the wind on the south side of the horse and that the big leather cinch strap was doing the same on the north side of the horse. I felt like the coyote on the Road Runner cartoons who always looked straight into the camera lens after accidentally running out into mid-air, on a chase.
I really didn't know how to ride but I gained valuable experience that day. I knew I could ride that horse at a gallop without a cinch, and that I could ride her at a walk without a cinch. I had my doubts about the 'trot' one must go through between the two. My doubts were well founded.
As my stunt riding career came to a close, my future bride was in Denver becoming proficient at riding hunters and jumpers. After we met and married, it was my desire to try to impress her with the idea of something that I had seen in a Courier and Ives painting. I was going to make a sleigh, and I would have her buy a single harness and train one of our horses to pull it. I did build the sleigh. It was sturdy and very, very heavy. I had welded it together. Farmers shouldn't build sleighs. It turned into what a training sleigh for an elephant might look like.
Marilyn was successful with her part of the bargain and the big day arrived. We harnessed the horse, placed a set of sleigh bells on the harness, put on all of the clothes we owned, (it was about zero out) and started over to the neighbors to say "Hi neighbors!" Then we answered some of their questions, "Oh sure, the sleigh, yeah we thought we'd save some money and come visit under horsepower." "Well, we were walking because the mare can't pull the sleigh with people in it, it's too heavy." "Yep, she is a stout sled." "Thanks."
As it turned out we had lunch with the neighbors and the horse then had more than enough power to pull both the sleigh and my wife and I, after we had made the turn toward home. Horses are like that. By the end of that frosty trip, I also learned that as romantic as riding in the fresh air on a sleigh might sound, it isn't. Horses constantly shed hair in the wintertime, and they don't have catalytic converters on their exhaust systems and it's so cold that the word "survival" begins to have clear meaning.
If you want to try this yourself, pick a really cold day, put on all the clothes you own, then roll the window down on your pickup for the next 20 miles. Don't forget the bells. Quite romantic, eh?


EV said...

So much for the romantic Currier and Ives images. Is there one of the horse pulling a bridge?

Lucy Stern said...

Cliff, you need one of these....,213971.0/topicseen.html

Ralph said...

Have you ever read something and it almost made you fall out of your chair - laughing? This sentence did it for me, "By the end of that frosty trip, I also learned that as romantic as riding in the fresh air on a sleigh might sound, it isn't"
Good story - I'll take the car, windows ups.

Cliff said...

Yeah Lucy, Jerry had emailed that link to me. Neat tractor. I'd like to modify and old one to do that.

Rachel said...

This post made me laugh Cliff! You know that I love horses, and riding in a sleigh sure does look like it'd be fun, but now I'm not so sure!!

Too bad there isn't a picture of you as you landed in the cornstalks, or a picture of your in the cartoon you described! LOL

Actually I always thought the "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" would be romantic. Maybe you should get one of those instead, and give us a report on how that works out!

Paul Nichols said...

Funny post.

My horse-riding days were limited to the desert. No such thing as sleighs there.

I did ride a horse a couple of years ago at a dude ranch near Amarillo. That horse was so dumb that I didn't even stink after I got off it.

Peter said...

We share an affinity with horses it seems Cliff, and with over engineered metal contraptions.

Granny Annie said...

Trail-ride horses in Colorado attempted to kill me on many occasions (my dad was a horseback rider and insisted I could learn). A friend's team of cart Shetland ponies tried to kill me in my high school years. I make every effort possible to avoid horses unless they are on TV and transporting John Wayne.

Lanny said...

"Farmers shouldn't build sleighs"

I live in a house built by several different farmers and one homesteader. Its sturdy, but can give a good case of vertigo.

Very entertaining read, thanks.

Shannon said...


Jim said...

Cliff, if you'll pay the shipping Mrs. Jim and I will keep a horse or two for you this winter.
Our neighbor has his three over at his 40 acre spot in the hills west of town. I am sure we could keep yours there with his. He takes his to Colorado with him for the summer. So there wouldn't be any hurry for you to come pick yours up.

Did you know that I rode a horse to high school for two years? That was my freshman and sophomore years out at the New England country two room school. It was a three mile ride for us. In the winters I rode bare back (sometimes) to keep warmer.

Connie V at the Museum (retired now?) and her sister also rode horses with me. They would wait for me at the bottom of the hill south of Dad's farm.

LZ Blogger said...

Cliff ~ Ol' buddy... what about "Hopalong Cassidy" and "The Cisco Kid?" Or am I (carbon) dating myself here? ~ jb///

nora said...

The best gift my parents ever gave me was NOT buying me the horse I begged for when I was young.