I never had a horse. My wife, who grew up on an acreage in Iowa, had six of them over the years. I grew up in Chicago. The only horse I ever got close enough to actually touch was hitched to a fruit peddler’s wagon in the old Polish neighborhood. Not exactly a “Hi-Ho-Silver” experience.
Years later, when I was living in Des Moines, I received an adult education brochure in the mail that listed a horseback riding class for only $50. I couldn’t pass that up. It was an early evening class, and I could just make it if I snuck out of the office early.
By the time I arrived, the class was full and the horses were being assigned. Because of my long legs, the instructor assigned me Big Red.
Just then, another student arrived. He apologized for being late. He was an accountant, and his boss wouldn’t let him leave the office early. He explained that he had only recently received the adult education brochure. By the time he tried to apply, all the courses were full except the one for Chinese cooking. He wrinkled his nose as he said those words. He hoped our instructor would show mercy and squeeze in one more student.
By then, all the standard rent-a-plugs had already been assigned— Daisy and Flicka, Smokey and Buttercup. So the instructor had to dip into his private stock. He called out to his teenage daughter to saddle up her horse, Rocket.
As soon as she brought him out, I was jealous. Not because he was a more beautiful horse than mine, but because he had a saddle of padded suede. My saddle was polished leather and as hard as a church pew. It turns out, the owner’s daughter was a champion barrel racer. She needed a suede saddle because polished leather was too slippery. When Rocket would take off, he could shoot right out from under her.
Finally, we were all mounted up and ready to go. As we were leaving the barn yard, we began to file past an empty corral with an open gate. As Rocket came up to that gate, he suddenly broke ranks and shot off into that corral at a dead run. The accountant clutched the saddle with both hands as if his life depended on it. And it did.
It turns out, this was the arena in which the owner’s daughter practiced her barrel racing. It didn’t even matter that the barrels had been removed earlier that day. Rocket knew the circuit by heart—three skidding hairpin turns, and a straight shot to the finish line. The suede saddle kept the accountant from sliding off through the entire performance until the horse came to a skidding halt at the barn. It is unclear whether the accountant dismounted or was ejected. But, he hit the ground running and didn’t stop until he reached the parking lot. He got in his car, and burned rubber all the way down the gravel driveway. Maybe, just maybe, he could still get into that Chinese cookery class.
The rest of us proceeded cautiously past that corral gate, and down the trail. I found out Big Red had his own idiosyncrasies. As we walked along the fence line, he tried to scrape me off on the barbed wire. Fortunately, I was able to keep my balance as I raised my leg out of harm’s way. Then we came to the woods. As he meandered among the tree trunks and brambles, I had to raise one leg, and then the other. When he aimed for low-hanging branches, I had to either lean forward, or lie back.
Eventually, the instructor looked back and spotted me going through my gymnastic pommel horse routine. He yelled, “Don’t let him do that. Let him know who’s boss.” Right. He knew who was boss. I was just thankful he wasn’t into barrel racing.
We finally cleared the woodland obstacle course and began sauntering through the pasture. The wrangler took this opportunity to answer people’s questions. Someone asked how often a horse needs shoeing? Big surprise. I thought you put shoes on them once they were full grown, and they lasted for life. What the heck, they’re made of iron.
Turns out, a horse’s hooves are constantly growing. So even if the old shoes haven’t worn out, they must be removed every 6 weeks so the hooves can be trimmed and the new shoes put on. That can cost as much as $100 a pop. Think about it. That comes to almost $900 per year—just for shoes. That’s almost as much as my wife spends.
Eventually, it was starting to get dark, and the instructor decided we should make the mile and a half return trip at a gallop. My problem was that Big Red was big enough that he could keep up with the others by going at a trot. Trotting is like being dragged by your heels down a flight of stairs—a mile-and-a-half flight of stairs.
When it was all over, I never bothered to go back for any more lessons. I couldn’t afford all the chiropractor appointments. Besides, by then, I was developing quite an interest in Chinese cookery.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com