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A companion piece to Family Camping Follies…

The individuals who were there – my own family from the “greatest ever” camping adventure, and the friend family from the camping follies – have probably recovered from some of these adventures. At any rate, I do not detect permanent trauma.

Again, a disclaimer:  The original text of this post was written several years ago, with the camping memoir, to preserve family lore. Again, “Dad” refers to me, except in this prelude.

My affinity for riding horses began in my halcyon years visiting Mom’s family farm, beginning with the three hundred mile bus ride under the protection of my big brother Roy. I was six; he had me by twenty-one months. The driver was told to drop us off at a particular intersection on Route 1 in Louisiana, and someone (usually my teenaged Aunt or Uncle) would be there to pick us up. Way way back, Uncle Gilmer inspected his cattle on horseback. (Flash forward and his son, Cousin George, would inspect on a Honda cycle.) His horse was too big for us, so he would borrow “Lightning” from a friend. We would saddle, ride, and (I hope, but don’t remember) clean up. There were no incidents, except when I was squelched for trying to run with Lightning; and maybe a near-miss, when Roy was riding and I alerted him to the skunk in the field nearby, then climbed a three-step fence ladder to avoid ambush, provoking laughter from the adults observing.

I was happy, for the most part, to share this hobby with my northern family. Uncle Dan, through one of his friends, provided the first opportunity, for the kids and their cousins, at Gram’s yard and barn.

  1. “Willie Boy” at Gram’s house, Dad and Dan. Mom and I had driven from Texas to the Mexican border for a shopping trip, when Dan was a baby (camping adventure #2). We left Mary with MawMaw and PawPaw, and took Dan with us, because of his infancy, and we bought a saddle for Willie Boy, a large Welsh pony we kept at Gram’s house in Stoughton. Willie Boy had a mind of his own. I tried to show him who was boss one day, by deciding he’d have to carry my weight. He was too short for me to use the stirrups, and too large for me to just swing up and over, so I decided to dive on my belly onto the saddle and then pivot over. As I dove, Willie bucked, and I decided to keep going, breaking my arc into a somersault on the ground, rather than being bounced into the air. That showed him! I would have to hold the reins and lead him when the kids were riding. One day I got a little confident, with Dan on the horse, and after a couple of minutes let the reins drop to the ground, thinking by then Willie Boy would just follow me. He did, for about five steps. Then he noticed he was free, and galloped off with Dan in the saddle, taking him under a low branch of an apple tree, knocking Dan off onto his keister, and adding to the insult by dropping him into a dung pile. Oops!
  1. “Willie Boy” at Gram’s house, Dad and Chris. Willie Boy was a collective extended family pony, but I wound up going to Gram’s to do most of the stall shoveling. Chris was with me one day, and I made the mistake of having him sit in the saddle inside the barn while I shoveled. Uncle Dan came to the window and spooked Chris and the pony, Willie Boy lurched, and Chris bounced up in the air and onto the concrete floor. Oops #2!
  1. Family Horseback Adventure #1, with friends Buzz and Roni and family (same camping trip as last post), Acadia National Park, 1979. Mom, Anne, and Tim, and Buzz, Maura, and Katie, were taking a hay ride, while the other eight of us were going horsebacking.  The younger kids (Chris and Chris) were understandably nervous.  Some young, loud roustabout, wearing holy cutoff jean shorts, came galloping down the hill in front of us, yelling “The horses got spooked. They must have seen a bear!” He didn’t look the part, but he was a guide on the prior ride. That didn’t quite calm the kids. The stable hands started to bring our horses out. I told them I wanted to be in the rear, to keep watch on everything. They said no, I’m on the lead horse. Six of us (Me, Mary, Dan, Roni, Rob, and Molly on a tether rope Roni held) mounted up. I told them they forgot Chris and Chris. They brought out their two largest horses for seven-year-olds Chris and Chris.  The boys mounted up, both with “We’re not sure about this!” smiles frozen on their faces. We started up a long, steep incline, thirty-five degrees or more. The horses challenged the riders by bending down to eat grass.  At this slope, all that the riders could see was the bottom of the ravine, about fifty feet down. Suddenly, Dan’s horse bit Mary’s horse in the rear. (Maybe it was the other way around.) All the horses started jumping around. One of the guides had to come back to calm them down. Mary, Dan, and Rob decided “no mas!” and were led back down to the stables. We had made only about thirty yards up the slope at this point.  The ride continued. The horses challenged again, eating grass so Chris and Chris, from their highest perch, could see only the bottom of the precipice. They decided to join Mary, Dan, and Rob back in the stables, about fifty yards into the trek, their smiles still frozen since mounting the monsters. The only ones continuing the ride were me, Roni, and Molly on the tether rope. When we got back to the stables, I told the owner or foreman this will be the first time I ever cancelled a check, but I’ll send him payment for the three rides we completed. He yelled at the office guy for taking my check. It was the only check I ever cancelled. Mom reported no incidents on the hay ride.
  1. Texas Family Reunion, 7A Ranch, 1981. Only evidence is in photos I took from horseback; my pictures show only Dan and Chris, wearing Orioles baseball caps, apparently recovered from Adventure #1, riding with cousins. Others may have been boating or swimming. This was our first “away from hometown” reunion, with each family enjoying an apartment inside a large recreation building. No drama or excitement on this ride.
  1. Family Horseback Adventure #2, with most of kids, Shenandoah National Park, 1993. I don’t remember all participants.  Mary was pregnant and decided not to ride. Her husband Chris had never ridden before, so they mounted him on “Bob,” a horse specialized for blind and handicapped riders. Sarah was all excited – maybe her first ride. I wasn’t sure Susie wanted to ride, but she didn’t want to be left behind. However, she wasn’t tall enough, and the lady who ran the stable was adamant, but our guide, nicknamed “Mississippi,” turned the stirrup upside down so she would appear to be tall enough. I guess your feet had to be able to stand in the stirrups. Dan’s fiancée Jill was a veteran rider. The trail was beautiful – lots of ups and downs, but a wide trail, no incidents other than Susie’s boost. “Mississippi” sang a song he had made up. Later that night, Mom and I were having a drink at one of the restaurants, and Mississippi showed up, so we had a good follow-up chat with him.
  1. Private ride with Blackfoot Native American guide, friend Maureen and me, Glacier National Park, Montana, 2000. We were visiting Annie and Tim in their early western career stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and visiting as much of the Lewis and Clark trail as we could fit in, plus the Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. No one else showed up for the ride, so we rode peacefully through the forest, our guide pointing out where bears made their scratches on the pine trees. I asked if he had been an athlete in college, and he said yes – rodeo. I tried dropping a historical reference, but malapropped asking if he was familiar with a song about the palominos, which could “toe dance on a ridge, or gallop down a mountainside” (reference below). He said, with maybe a little sneer*, those were the appaloosa** of the Nez Perce tribe. (My “approximate” memory in play again!)
  1. Family Horseback Adventure #3, Teton National Park, 2006. Now the tradition became “Grandpa pays for the horse rides,” justified by the infrequency of family get-togethers. Dad, Dan and Jill, Sarah, Emily, Andrew, Adam, Lauren, and Kevin rode this trail. Almost Susie, but she wasn’t feeling well. This might have been the first non-pony ride for Emily, Andrew, Adam, and Kevin. Lauren was cool – she had just had a week of horse camp. Kevin might have been a little nervous, but they brought out his horse named “Batman,” and he was excited. I was allowed to ride the trail horse. The kids were pretty much lined up by age. The only horse challenging the rider by eating on the trail was Jill’s, and she quickly thwarted the challenge. The trail was steep, rocky, tree-lined, and very narrow – barely one horse wide – but no one brushed up against a tree, and no horse stumbled on the rocks. We had nice views from the side of the mountain to a meadow below. And, we learned what to do if there was a bear on the trail. The guide showed Sarah how to hold her horse still if we saw a bear, while the rest of us rode away as fast as we could.
  1. Family Horseback Adventure #4, family reunion, Chain-o-Lakes Resort, Texas, 2008. Each family had a cabin overhanging the lakes carved from former gravel pits, visited each morning by “friendly” alligators. We had a very large, family-only ride. I’ll have to check the albums to see which siblings and nieces and nephews rode, but my own circle now included granddaughter Emma. The only peculiarly memorable event occurred when I tried to mount the large horse. My hamstrings weren’t cooperating, and after several John Wayne swing-on-over attempts, I may have had to use a belly pivot, like the one that didn’t work with Willie Boy. Somehow I landed in the rider’s seat.

I wish everyone had been there to witness my one real John Wayne horseback moment, a semi-private ride at a company outing. When the activity list included four horses, I was right in line. At one point, the four of us went into a controlled gallop, but we ran on to a sand pit and my horse stumbled, his legs buckled, and he fell to his right. I preferred to go airborne rather than cushioning his fall, so I dove to the right, performed a nifty rollover, uprighted myself just as the horse did, climbed back in the saddle, and we resumed the ride. Neither one of us had to be shot.

A slight historical and personal perspective: Lewis and Clark Expedition, Blackfoot tribe, and “The Heart of the Appaloosa.”

* The Blackfoot and Nez Perce tribes were enemies at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. After our ride with the Blackfoot guide, we drove by the memorial for the only two Native American casualties of the Expedition, two Blackfeet who were thought to be stealing weapons from the Corps. Reference is in http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/lewisandclark/two.htm .

** The appaloosa were the pride of the Nez Perce tribe. On my first visit with my friend Maureen to Texas, at a folk festival in San Antonio, we heard “The Heart of the Appaloosa,” a dramatic story of the horse and Chief Joseph (“Rolling Thunder”) and his flight across the Bitterroot Mountains, sung by the late Allan Damron. At a family reunion in Hunt, Texas, in the year of my sixtieth birthday, my brother Bob brought Allan to the site for an outdoor concert, and, on request, he opened and closed the performance with “The Heart of the Appaloosa.” A link on YouTube to the song (not Allan’s version), unfortunately sad for the herd and the tribe, is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBo80i3Md-c .

The order for “removal” of the Nez Perce fell upon Civil War Union General Oliver Howard, who had been a major player in the war and Reconstruction, and endowed Howard University to help educate non-native freedmen ( http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/d_h/howard.htm ). His friendship with Chief Joseph before the removal order is depicted in the movie I Will Fight No More Forever. This wrenching conflict gives me great pause. I guess I really had to be there.