Horse Sense

Posted by on Jul 7, 2005 in All things natural, Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

My mother approved of my friend Janice Sue because she thought the seemingly meek and popular girl would be a positive influence on me. She was an only child, the sole target of her mother’s compulsive neatness. She had chin length red hair with a natural curl that seemed to stay in place through anything short of a hurricane. Society dictated that young ladies wear dresses to school, a garment that required a modicum of ladylike behavior. I don’t know what kind of super fabric Janice Sue’s were made from, but they never showed the ravages of playtime. My own mother tried in vain to achieve the same effect with her tomboy daughter. She tortured my straight, plain brown hair into braids and dressed me in a freshly starched and ironed little dress each morning. These antiquated garments generally had an attached sash, tied in the back with a large bow. Janice Sue went home each day with her bow as perfectly tied as it had been when she started. My sash, done up with one of my Mother’s industrial strength knots, occasionally stayed tied, but it was frequently ripped from one side of my dress and hung flapping forlornly in the wind when I headed home. This actually matched nicely with my hair, set free, quite by accident, during recess, and trailing wildly behind me as I ran the 2 blocks home each day. Adding to the effect was the fact that through the whole of the second grade, I wore a short, black, plastic, jacket, fringed with white, purchased for me in a moment of maternal weakness.

As an aspiring cowboy, I kept the jacket on as much as possible, including during my second grade class photo. In my spare hours I dreamed of a life in the rodeo, lassoing steers from the back of a stallion that had steam blowing from his nostrils and fire in his eye. By age 10 I had stored this future goal on the back burner along with my aspiration to become a ballet dancer and pop singer, but I never quite let go of the romance of the idea. Imagine my delight when the friend I considered a bit on the prissy side turned out to have grandparents who kept horses. As incredible as it may seem, Janice Sue was an avid rider and was surprised when I told her of my hitherto unfulfilled yearning. Before I could say gitty up, I was invited for a Saturday visit.

We both showed up in jeans, the de rigueur uniform for cowboys, to which I added a plaid shirt and a bandana. The barn smelled intoxicatingly of hay and large animals, in fact, very large animals. A mild mannered, ancient gelding had been selected for my first ride, one that had not moved faster that a turtle for the last ten years. The first inkling that the romance of the open range might not be everything I had dreamed of was when I stood beside a stirrup, at eye level, and was instructed to put my foot in the hole, hold on to the saddle horn, and pull myself up. I had thought I might leap onto the back of the horse from the ground, like the TV cowboys. We ended up with Janice pushing upward on my rear end and me straining every muscle to pull myself to the back of the enormous beast.

Having failed to get clear instructions about how to drive the creature, I had no time to contemplate my awkward and unfamiliar situation. Free from human restraint, and evidently dreaming of his youth as a wild stallion, he took off like a shot, before Janice Sue could even board her mare. Once she caught up with us, and collected the reins I had dropped to wrap my arms about the neck of the beast, I had a brief lesson on the finer points of convincing a thousand plus pound animal that he wanted to be a conveyance for an aspiring cowgirl. Holding tightly to what passes for controls on a horse, I spent the next 3 hours shouting, “Whoa, Whoa”, while Janice Sue expressed her amazement at the frisky behavior of an animal that had previously been ready for the glue factory.

I tried to detect a smirk on my Mother’s face when I came in dusty and sore that evening, but she always played her cards close to the vest. I volunteered that I had a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for a second chance to further develop my equestrian skills. What I did not mention was that I had acquired a new respect for my “fussy” friend and a backside that needed a heating pad. What I lost that day was my idealistic vision of life in the saddle. In fact, the only time I ever got on a horse again was some years later when I accepted the challenge of a boyfriend. Neither the horse or myself were confident about the contact, but the horse proved his superior good sense by tossing me immediately to the ground, where I have remained firmly since that day.

Janice Sue turned out to be the kind of friend we all aspire to have, and she and I went on to have many adventures. We spent one whole Saturday walking on stilts, we chased boys together at recess and locked them in a “dungeon” of shrubs, and stayed up all night at an after prom party. We have lost touch with each other now, but I know she married and overwhelmed her “in control” mother by having four children. In fact, word is that she kept her last pregnancy a secret from her mother till it was far advanced, knowing the disapproval she would face. I would love to see her again and let her know that she was a good influence on me, but not in the ways my mother hoped. I have never become neat, and I have no passion for housecleaning, especially ironing, but at least my family did not have to endure the heartbreak of a daughter who moved to Texas and worked in the rodeo.

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