The Horse and I
By Alan Souter
Yeah, that’s me up there at a full gallop hanging onto my hat so it doesn’t blow off. It needs to be on in the next take in a film I’ve written, produced and directed for a Motorola Sales Conference to be held in Las Vegas. I also did all the stunts in “Motorola Jones.” The pic is here, because it brings together me and a horse in this still image from the film that marks the end of my love affair with horses.
This short story is brought to you by the BVS “Cowboy Desire” Anthology and the gang of 14 great contributing authors who pull and stretch the Cowboy romance genre this way and that to entertain you on every page. Hang around and see how one of those authors was led into the world of horses by a little child.
My middle daughter, Allison, whom I dearly love, has continued her equine adventure from age 12 into adult hood. Even today, in February, she braves the cold to trapse out to some drafty barn in God-knows-what rural suburb to pamper other peoples’ horses, rewarded with a couple of hours of riding for her services. Her story leads into my relationship with the nags. I bought her lessons when they had to really hike up the stirrups to match her short legs. But when I saw the determination on Al’s face as she sat that saddle and steered that huge horse, I should have known that: A. She was in it for the long game and B. I would get sucked into it somehow.
The rodeo world starts youngsters out barrel racing, riding bucking steers and sheep on their way to becoming cowboys and cowgirls. Cowboy Desire’s stories tell about rodeo cowboys, working cowboys and even Space Cowboys and the love lives they inspire.
She graduated with a rush. Soon, came the black helmet, the long boots, hammer-head spurs and gloves. I watched her from the elevated “parents” and spectators’ box above the enclosed arena as she learned to post, move up and down in synchronicity with the horse’s trot. It was like watching an elegant pas de deux, except for the smell. There’s a pervading aroma to every stable and to the clothes worn by people who frequent stables. It’s not a bad smell, it’s just distinctive: horse (of course),hay, old varnished wood, leather, boot polish, human sweat embedded in shotgun chaps worn tight over denims—and courage.
That last entry suffuses every kid or adult who mounts one of the beasts and expects to control those four hooves. Okay, enough about Allison. As I wandered around the barn like the Flying Dutchman, full sail, but no one aboard, a crafty trainer approached me. They all look like the irresistible creations in romance novels, a one-two punch for the ladies and girls who own horses. The horse owners and horse lovers come to the barn to ride and be taught by: Rudolf, or Dirk, or Cash, all slim with picked-out abs as if their shirts, denims, and chaps were sewed onto their sinewy bodies that morning. The effect is stunning, even to a slightly overweight Dad who was losing his daughter to a horse.
There’re all kinds of cowboys. To qualify as a true cowboy, you have to have some horse sense. But there are: Horse-savvy Cowboys, Pickup Truck Cowboys, Motorcycle Cowboys, Urban Cowboys and Cowboys from Beyond the Stars. They all have desires, or are desired. Crack open the “Cowboy Desire Anthology” and see what it takes to be desired, or to desire a cowboy.
Chuck, yeah he was named Chuck,’ what can I tell you. Anyway, Chuck had me up on a school-owned horse in my chinos, loafers and button-down shirt in no time and was ebullient as hell as to my potential. He even left me alone to do a few circuits of the indoor arena. My daughter watched from a corner of one of the stall-lined exits from the arena. I shifted the reins to how movie cowboys John Wayne and Glen Ford held them, sort of a puppy-paws grip. Later, she informed me that was all wrong.
Taking a ride on a horse, working it up to a trot and then a canter is like steering the family car around an empty parking lot for your first lesson and it seems so easy. Pretty soon you are hooked and are haunting cheap used car lots with a Vape stick in your shirt pocket. I bought the helmet. I bought the tall boots. I bought the skinny gloves.
Pretty soon it was me and the buckskin school horse in the outdoor arena under the blue sky, laced into a pair of shotgun chaps—and this was on a little patch of leather called an English Saddle. It didn’t have bucket stirrups, it had skimpy steel irons, and you wore polite, suburban-dull hammerhead spurs and not vicious, star-shaped Mexican Rowels.
I rode and rode and rode for weeks, loving every minute. And one day, the stable boss gave me a different horse named Caesar.
Cowboys tend to be a taciturn lot. Following the rumps of a hundred beeves, dodging cactus and ocotillo spines under a sky that goes on forever doesn’t create a talkative gent. Others, ya’ can’t shut up.
“Cowboy Desire” Anthology stories offer the heat and sweet of the breed.
Caesar had liver spots all over his dirty gray coat and a hump in the middle of his nose. All the pretty girls in their black and white riding habits were aboard groomed stallions and mares with bobbed and braided tails, with bows in their manes and names like Nazi Generals: Siegfried von Cloppen, Casper der Nosinair III, or just a gritty-teeth Rex. Caesar looked like he just rolled off a boxcar goin’ through town. When he clapped that cold eye on me, I knew my easy days were over.
Before we even made it to the arena, I was cleaning paddock muck out of his shoes with this curved steel knife and he….umph…..leaned 1200 pounds on me against the stall wall. Next, as my ribs flexed back into their usual cage configuration, I moved to an outside hoof. Piece of cake. All cleaned out and I let the leg loose. The steel horse shoe came down on my foot, and then he leaned. My eyes immediately watered; my teeth ground together. The girlie scream clogged in my throat. Then he farted.
When I finally rode him out into the white fence-enclosed jump paddock with eight jumps of varying heights, Caesar seemed content. Life was sweet again. We trotted and cantered along at a great rate, stretching and collecting at each barrier and rounding on the final fence—a double oxer—two fences in one jump, taken at a fast clip to clear both. Full head of steam, me rising in the irons, Caesar all shoulders and muscle, ears forward, pounding toward the two fences. And he stopped. Forelegs braced, head down.
I cleared the fences easily without him. “Astride the sky” they call it. My landing would have been only moderately embarrassing, but I smoked a pipe in those days and had stuffed it into my back pocket. The first bounce reminded me of that error in judgement. The tangleleg sprawl only added to my artistry. When I finished carving a swath down the paddock, I looked back and there was Caesar on the other side of the fence smiling at me.
The walnut-size bruise on my leathery buttock put me off the saddle for a couple of weeks allowing me to quit cold-turkey. I returned to the proud parent, watching my girl go on to glory at dressage with her own horse, Erik adding a ribbon to her wall-full.
That picture of me, holding my hat at the full gallop, aboard King was only possible, because Allison was galloping ahead of me aboard a mare. King had only recently been gelded and he remembered what mare horses are all about. So, there’s the sex in my horse romance. The moral of this cautionary tale? Horses are beautiful animals, just don’t trust them.
As a photojournalist, I shot a lot of rodeos, from White Sulphur Springs, Montana to Cody, Wyoming, to Yuma, Arizona and always marveled at the skill it took to ride the hurricane deck of a cayuse with really bad manners, rope a calf and tie him down with a pigging string, or ride down a stampeding herd on their way to the feed lot. I learned great respect for cowboys and the women they loved…and the women who loved cowboys.
Alan Souter Find “Cowboy Desire” on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2LmdUhD