I was eight years old when my Dad finally caved and bought me my first horse. He was a bay gelding with four white socks and a blaze on his face that looked remarkably like a bolt of lightning. Hence, Lightning came home to our pasture.
I didn’t have a saddle but we did fine without one. I would lead him over to the old stump in the back yard, climb on and away we would go. We were confined to the back pasture and the paddock area which was enough to have an enjoyable, allbeit short, ride each day.
I’d had him almost six months when Lightning figured me out. I would rein him to the right and he would either stop or go to the left. I was one of those who did the unthinkable and let him graze as we walked along. But let him get into an area full of sweet Bermuda and the ride was all but over. I was small and skinny – oh those were the days! – and sitting on top of this 15 hh horse without a saddle it was all but impossible to pull his head up and away from that sweet green patch of grass.
One day I mentioned this problem to my Dad and he decided he would remind the horse of his training and manners. The next afternoon he came home with a big black saddle in tow. Said he borrowed it from a friend and instructed me to go and get Lightning. I watched patiently while he saddled the horse. As a minister he could read people pretty good but apparently he had no clue as to the body language of a horse. Lightning was not happy.
I asked my dad, “why don’t we wait and see if he is still not minding me tomorrow?” His reply, “Nope. He has to learn.” And with that he led the scowling horse out of the paddock and into the edge of the open field. (Yes, a horse can scowl. They put their ears flat back against their head and humans had better look out.) After a couple of tries, Dad made it into the saddle.
At first there didn’t seem to be a problem. I remember thinking my dad looked funny sitting on a horse. It was not a common sight. They went up the slow rise toward the center of the field and apparently they entered the area of Lightning’s Bermuda patch. And he wanted to graze. And my dad was just as determined that he wouldn’t.
As my mother and I stood at the barn watching, the strong will of the man and beast came to a head. One minute I heard my dad screaming ‘no!’. The next, they had taken off in a dead run across the pasture. As they made the circle and headed back toward the barn Lightning apparently decided this human hadn’t learned his lesson and began to buck. We’re not just talking a couple of crow hops, we’re talking a full, suspended-in-mid-air, rolling, bone-jarring buck at a dead run. Dad’s legs flew out to the side, his hat went sailing and daylight could be seen between the saddle and my father’s behind. It was our own personal rodeo.
My father was yelling “whoa!”. Lightening was screaming a few choice horsey words. Somehow – remarkably – my father held on. They got to the barn. Lightening stopped. Dad dismounted in that he got one foot on the ground and fell the rest of the way. Gotta love gravity. He got up, handed me the reins and kinda limped toward the house.
Now, I should have had the sense to keep my mouth shut. But nooooo. I had to ask the question: did you teach Lightening a lesson? My father, God rest him, never said a word, just kept limping along and muttering.
A few weeks later I came home from school and a new horse was in the back yard. Lightening had found a new home. I knew it was coming. I could tell by the way my father walked for three days after the incident.
I will always remember my first horse. I’m sure Dad did too.