Return to Rio


            Author Kit Frazier posts an entertaining blog with a byline that captivated me from the first–An Accidental Cowgirl.

    Horses (if not cows, so much) have been an important part of my life, so when I wound up stealing a horse from pre-K-3 kids, I immediately began searching for a way to stea–honor–her tag.

Disgruntled Cowgirl?  Or leave her title alone and capture the Green craze, while alluding to the much maligned tenderfoots of years past.  Green Again?

Nothing sounded quite right, so if this post lacks a title–blame my lack of decisiveness.

The first Saturday in May has mattered to me for as long a I can remember.  When I was young–not even in my teens–I had an amazing knack for picking me Derby winners by what children’s author Patsy Gray (and others) have called “the look of eagles.”  Derby winners in my youth came from Calumet Stables, which I was going to own by the time I was twelve and never did–or they had the look of a Derby winner.  So when I saw Cannonero II in the post parade I announced that he looked like the winner, but I was standing by Bold Reason because he was a Calumet horse and gorgeous.

Did I never learn any of the cliches about judging on appearance?

Anyway, while I never have had my own personal Derby winner, I enjoyed the company, briefly, of some fascinating horses and ponies.;

The first, Smokey, came into the picture, fittingly, when my father sold his first book, and my mother decided we were too old to ride the great danes down those red clay Georgia roads anymore.

Smokey became something of a celebrity–the fastest pony in our neck of the woods, and he could buck, rear, and salute flags on command–all tricks, I’m proud to say, I taught him with no prior experience.  He was a gifted student and taught me a lot, too.

For example: don’t over train horses at starting gates.  I trained him to take off so fast that I was afraid to ride him anymore, so I tied him to the swings and read Farley’s Black Stallion series.  Again.

My friends and siblings never forgave me for losing the Great Pony Race and being beaten by–some good old boy on a bigger pony named Lightening.  Yeah, I remember the pony’s name, but not the boy’s.  Go figure.  The fish fry disintegrated after all the horses wound up in the pond and everyone started fighting.  In Smokey’s defense, I had to ride him away from the starting line just to keep him from starting first, and if the race had been three yards longer, we’d have had that goat-headed pinto.

Then there was Alibaba–Ali–the white half-Arabian with those blue moon eyes and a penchant for sneezing and bolting.  No one could ride him, really, except my older sister–and she could vault over his rump into the saddle with the best of them.  Only thing was–once, when she startled him, he broke her nose.  He also ran away with a boy who decided to impress her by showing he could too ride her horse.  Took that high school senior a mile and a half, and just avoided being hit as he crossed the only paved road between school and our house.  That kid never bothered Stephanie again, although I’m not sure she thought that was a plus at the time.

My father, unfortunately, was all about appearances.  I had a huge, part Tennessee Walker–17 hands, roan, with a wide, white blaze–and broken wind.  He sounded awful. when I rode him, so while I rode him a lot, we did a lot of slow traveling.  My father also bought a splashy pinto with a torn tongue, who couldn’t be controlled since she couldn’t feel the bit, ponies that couldn’t be ridden, and a friend’s show horse–a gray mare even bigger than Canter that my sisters and I disparagingly called “Elephant.”  We could never get her to jump or do much of anything, and I shudder to think how my father could afford her–or any of the others, to be honest.

Didn’t ask myself that, then, though, just tried to help provide food by giving riding lessons to the one child in the region whose mother thought me qualified to teach riding–or maybe just to babysit on weekends.  And I would hold snakes for donations from the few passersby who stopped at our roadside amusement park.  If I’d had my way

–I’d still have 26 horses and ponies.  And all those thoroughbreds I was going to own and still don’t.

Something I must admit is that while I read more about riding than many sane people ever will–I wasn’t a terrific rider.  I was self-taught, and would lecture my younger sister every time Smokey ran away with her, but both Steve and Vicky were better riders than me.  Doesn’t bother me now, like it did then.

Anyway, life, as it will, had its way.  The year I started working on a dude ranch in the Texas hill country–the year Secretariat won the Triple Crown–was the last year I ever rode a horse.

So I put it on the bucket list.  Talked big talk about getting back to it.

And yesterday, on the final day of our school’s Week of the Young Child celebration–yesterday, I got on a horse again.

Her name was Piggy, and she was 18 years old and probably 42 hands high–at least, it seemed that way.  Her saddle was loose and the stirrups were set for the pre-K-3 kids who beat me out to the parking lot.  She’d been there since about 9, posing with all the K kids and pre-K-4 kids, then the littlest.  And then–I got on.

Everyone was aghast.  Scared to death.  I didn’t think to adjust the stirrups, and wasn’t going to use the chair (hey, I never cheat, and I would go down with the ship), but my colleagues prevailed.  Plus, I couldn’t get my foot up more than about 2 inches, and the stirrup was chest level.

Once I made it up, Piggy decided she preferred little kids.  She flung her head and rolled her eyes.  She shuffled.  I cheated.  I grabbed the saddle horn.  (I also always preferred English saddles–no way to cheat.  And less bulky!)

I felt…afraid.  Dizzy.  And more elated than I’d been in ages.  The horse owner had strict orders not to let the horse move with anyone, due to liability concerns.  Without reins–I’m not sure I would have been comfortable if Piggy had really moved.

And besides–lunch was over, and I had to get back to my real life.  Piggy’s owner lengthened the stirrup, and I dismounted on my own.

Well, sort of.  My colleagues continued to worry.  And hover.  And as I was thinking about how totally wrong my shoes were for riding–no heel, slippery soles–I kicked one of my friends in the chest.  Hard, probably, since I had to kick my leg up high to clear the horse’s rump.

On the ground again, Piggy and I were friends again immediately.  She liked me better as an admirer than a rider, I guess.

My colleagues insisted that I’d done a good thing–and I agree.  Yes, I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t get on a horse without a chair.  I’ll have to lose wait and gain flexibility.  Good things.

I’m a little embarrassed that my grown-up kids wanted pictures to prove I’d actually been on a horse after 39 years.  Surely they should have just taken my word.

But I’m not at all embarrassed that I felt 39 years younger remembering the part horses have played in my life for so long.

Maybe it’s fate that a horse named I’ll Have Another won the Derby.  Maybe I will.  Have another.

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