Homeland Farm

Homeland Farm

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Great Steeplechase

      Back when I was "in my prime", I used to think of myself as a pretty good rider. Western, anyway. I could never quite get the hang of posting a trot, or master the art of jumping. Not that I didn't try, however.
     One evening after supper, I went over to Zenya's house to try jumping our horses with her. At this point, she had tired of riding my old nags, and had bought her own horse, a part Arabian that loved to jump.
     As Angel and I headed over the road, I hummed to myself in anticipation of the evenings events. Angel, my Quarter Horse type mare, had jumped over fallen logs and streams without hesitation on the trail, so I thought a few small jumps in an open field would seem like a piece of cake to the old girl.
    We trotted around the corner of Zenya's house, and I saw Teke and Zenya out in the field, heading for the next jump. As graceful as any horse I had seen on television or at a horse show, they sailed over the jump, horse and rider in complete unison.
    Wow, I thought, that looks great. I could hardly wait to try it. I set Angel into a canter and off we went to the jumps, where Teke and Zenya were now standing, waiting for us.
     "Hi Zen," I said as Angel and I pulled up beside her. It was then that I saw that there might be something wrong. It was like a scene in a children's magazine, where they show you a drawing and ask you what's wrong with it. There was Zenya, sitting on Teke, who's shiny coat glistened in the evening sunlight. I saw the highly polished leather of her new english saddle, and the glint of the snaffle bit as the sun caught it just so. Zenya had on her riding breeches and proper english helmet, and looked positively professional. I glanced down at myself and shuddered.
      I had worn my faded Wranglers, and an old pair of cowboy boots that featured a dried layer of manure around the edges. I had a ripped "I love Donny O." tee shirt on that bore the smelly stains of the fly repellant I had applied before my ride.
       Next I looked at my gallant steed. While Teke was the height of jumper class, Angel looked ready to go rope a doggie. I didn't own an english saddle at the time, but figured my western saddle would be fine. Looking at it after I saw Zenya's shiny new saddle, I wasn't so sure.
       In its heyday, my saddle was a lovely deep brown color, but now the rain, sun and a lot if use had faded it to a reddish hue. What fancy silver there once was on it, was now tarnished or had fallen off, as the leather tassels had rotten away. One stirrup was cracked, and was being held together by crazy glue. No shiny bit in my horse's mouth, Angel tended to like a hackamore better.
     And to top it all off, Angel was in a lousy mood that night, and was dancing around, snorting, and just acting out in general. Oh well, I thought, she does like to jump, even if she doesn't look so spiffy.
      "I'm ready, " I called as we followed Zenya and Teke to the jumps. She said she would go first, and proceeded to set  her horse up for the first jump. She signaled Teke with a soft clucking noise that I thought I would have to remember to try on Angel, and they headed toward the first jump in a slow, easy canter. Up and over they went, Teke's mane and tail streaming out behind them.
     "YAY!" I hollered, as they headed toward the second jump, Teke anxiously looking at it. Together they sailed over it, and then jumped the third with equal ease.
      "That was great!" I called as they came trotting back over to where Angel and I stood waiting our turn.
      "Thanks, "said Zenya, as she patted her horse on it's shoulder. "Now it's your turn."
       "Any last minute instructions?" I asked, as I gathered up the reins.
       "Nope, just stay in the center of the jump." she said.
        "Okay, I'm off!" I said. I made the same clucking sound Zenya had made when she urged Teke into a canter, but nothing happened. I clucked again, and accompanied it with a slight nudge of my heels.
        The next sequence of events are not entirely of my own recollection, but are a rather detailed account I received later that evening from my cousin.
       Angel, it seems, misunderstood the gentle nudge of my heels, which I had meant to be a slight urge forward. It seems she thought it meant tear across the field full tilt, ignoring any efforts her hapless rider was making to slow down. She was off like a rocket, and the only thing I can remember in the first few seconds of the ride is the look on Zenya's face as we went careening across the field toward the woods.
         As Angel was galloping out of control, I quickly began to grasp the gravity of the situation. I was on a stubborn horse, heading straight toward the woods, one foot out of the stirrup, and to top it all off, the saddle had started it's inevitable slide to the right.
         By some miracle, just short of an act of God, I managed to get not only my foot back in the stirrup, but also the saddle
back up on top of the horse. We were now just a few yards from the trees, so I reined Angel hard to the left. For a few more feet, we continued running toward the woods, with Angel and I almost eye to eye, I had reined her so hard to the left. Finally, she got it through her head that she couldn't continue running when she couldn't see where she was going, only where she had been.
       Reluctantly, she turned to the left, and I saw clumps of dirt fly as she skidded around, and then we headed back toward the jumps where I could see Zenya and her horse still standing in awe.
       We picked up speed again, and headed toward the jumps. Fool that I was, I figured if I could slow her down a bit, we might be able to take a couple of them. I came over to Zenya's house to jump, and by God, I was going to do it. I leaned back with all my might, and hollered WHOA, WHOA!! Now, whether Angel finally decided to listen, or was just sick of running, I'll never know, but to my amazement, she slowed from her mad gallop, to a pretty darn fast canter.
       By this time, we were approaching the first jump, and I thought for sure she would do it. She saw the first bars approaching, and managed a wonderful jump to the hard right, missing the jump entirely. I yanked her around, and we headed toward the second jump., which consisted of stacked bales of hay. Before I knew it, she was over the hay, but tripped when she landed and went down on one knee. She continued on about 15 feet or so, still cantering with three legs, but coasting on her front knee. In sheer terror and concern for her poor knee, I leaned back and yanked up hard on her head.
     Well, somehow, it worked, and she was back up and cantering again on all four legs again. Then there it was. The final jump. It was the biggest jump of all, and I thought there was no way we were going to make it. I closed my eyes and Angel was up and over as easy as you please. As she touched down on the other side, the old saddle pitched to the right, and off I went, doing a complete somersault. To my surprise, I landed right on my feet and was holding onto one of Angel's stirrups, as she stood shaking beside me.
      I managed a "Well, how was that?" before I dropped to the ground, as my weak knees gave out.
      "My God," said Zenya, "Are you alright??''
        "Oh yeah, " I said, as I lay on the ground, trying to catch my breath. "Never been better..Think ole Angel and I are ready for the Olympics?"

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