I was about ten when I worked at a stable in California. I didn't get paid, I got one better... in exchange for grooming a string of class horses, I got to ride! But I missed the part about rules, arena only, supervision, and something about a controlled environment. A few weeks there, I blended into the goings on and was part of that ecosystem. And lucky for me at the time, those that ran the place never took notice and did their own thing or were gone at horse shows most of the time. Life was good.
One hot day, after knocking the dust off of a horse, I went to the coin-operated pop dispensers in an aisle way, and got myself an Orange Crush. That sugary-caffeine-infused-orange-stuff sure quenched my parched thirst. Holding that icy cold pop bottle wet from the condensation was great too, I rubbed it all over my forehead. My parents never had pop in the fridge, so this was a big deal to me. Surprised when I felt some change in my pocket, I had to get me some ... I remember feeling so grown up putting that change into the dispenser and drinking a pop of my choice ...I was on my own and loving it! Why am I spending so much time on this tangent, because it's better to shift the blame onto anything other than me! Yeah, it was the caffeine. Really.
It just was too hot... Hot air in a cloths-drier hot. The air was stifling and work just didn't sound appealing. Wiping the dirty sweat off my face, and chewing dusty grit and horsehair was the buzzer on my time clock. I had a good friend of mine who stabled there, Katherine, who had a gorgeous black morgan gelding named Tonka. Katherine and I spent a lot of time hanging out together and riding, growing all kinds of riding adventures. So after some caffeine and brainstorming, my 'time-clock' buzzed, and we 'checked out'.
It was eerily quite around there. What's a couple kids to do on caffeine and high fructose corn syrup and no supervision! GO RIDING! That day was a horseshow at the local fairgrounds, and the stable looked more like a ghost town. With a little caffeine rush and a few wild oats, Katherine and I saddled our horses and rode off... off the stable grounds. Have either of these horses ever been ridden off the property or trail experienced? The thought never occurred to us. I remember the exuberant feeling of riding on the dusty path that took us out of the gates.... free of confines.... the kind of free called - kid free.....
We rode up to the top of a nearby 'Californian river' (a concrete riverbed... or aquifer). With it so hot, the faster you rode the cooler you felt, most of the time we had our pedal to the metal. We rode atop this dried up aquifer, not sure where it would take us, just rode... talking and laughing most of the way. Our horses pranced and jogged, side-passing much of the way when we weren't loping, and the boys were blowing and snorting hard. Their ears twisting nervously, necks arched and glossy from sweat. We were kids, we didn't worry about their apparent emotions... heck no, they looked so pretty like that!
We rode for what seemed like hours. I was riding a beautiful bay saddlebred gelding, I didn't even know how well broke he was, or if he'd been out of the stable at all. Katherine, well she had her big black glossy morgan who was a bit head strong and a lot of horse. While prancing and side passing, he always had the look like he wanted to perform a fancy spin and run back. Like a big pigeon, he had a major homing instinct.
Well looking ahead, this big empty aquifer just kept going and going, but to our right a ways down, we spotted some lush green grass on the other side of some wild prickly desert shrubs, but to get there we needed to ride under a highway overpass. Katherine and I looked at each other questioningly, but neither of us led on that our better judgment screamed, “turn back!” So our uncertain legs urged the green horses toward the underpass of the busy - noisy highway above. I gulped (but hoping she didn't notice), and she probably said a silent prayer... but we were cowgirl tough and no way no how was the other going to know about the other's quaking knees.... Our knees shook harder as we got nearer, especially when each horse would take turns stopping, and at times refusing to move forward. It took some constant convincing with our heels and clucks, but with bits and curb chains jingling from chomping their bits and veins pronounced on their slick necks, they moved on.
So what's the big whoop? You ask. Well, to ride under this overpass was a little human footpath, not wider than a coyote trail and with a hundred foot drop to the empty concrete riverbed to our left with no guard rail. We continued squeezing our horses until they'd give... my bay gelding went on up ahead, apparently tired or my clucking and loud kissy noises, and nervous Tonka followed close behind, like a fly on flypaper. The noise of the traffic overhead was loud... cars and trucks whizzed by. It was louder once under there than I anticipated. The noise echoed between the concrete highway above and the riverbed below.
By this time the horses ears were anxiously flicking back and forth full of uncertainty ... we couldn't turn back, Katherine tried backing Tonka out, but that didn't fly... we had no choice but to carefully trudge ahead. My horse began prancing in place and when I urged him forward he began prancing a sidepass... a gorgeous dressage move! But I wasn't thinking dressage at that moment, especially when I felt a stumble. But that stumble was this bay trying to regain his footing after his left hind hoof slipped down the steep angled concrete side of this hundred-foot death drop. By instinct I remember shoving my heels in his sides and he lunged forward. The rest was a blur.
Katherine and I once safely on firm footing, looked at each other briefly and rode on in silence. Of course, both horses’ knees were also shaking. But even though my own legs felt jello-fied, I didn't say a word and we cowgirl'd on.
To our dismay, that cool large and lush grassy oasis beckoning us on the other side.... was not a little garden of Eden... nope, it was a golf course! So we weighed our odds. We were certainly not going to tempt fate a second time, so the next reasonable thing was to ride through the golf course! What's the harm in that anyway? So happy with our justifications we rode our sweaty horses to the golf course. Luckily there were no fences to cut through on this ride. It was too easy to get in. Gentleman's club.... paahhhh!
Okay, so the men in their clean and pressed white shirts and beanie hats didn't look so happy we were there. Thinking they were waving and enjoying the eye candy of our gorgeous sweaty prancing horses, I realized to my dismay that they were waving their fists, and at us! So Katherine and I looked at each other stunned, but with a cowgirl smirk spurred our horses into a full heart-throbbing gallop. Looking back over my shoulder through watering eyes from the shear speed of our race horses, I could see the men getting smaller fast, but still shaking fists. Geez, but why did they look so angry and shouting? We galloped on at mock speed, with dirt clods flying behind....
But alright, so we were in this middle of this lush green golf course galloping faster than I've ever ridden in my life, actually watching each horse move themselves into faster and faster gears. Tonka was blowing like a warrior horse, or locomotive full steam ahead... the big black pigeon was headed home! I could see him next to my horse and they each tried to out-pace each other… each wanted to be the one ahead as they knew they were headed back to their barn! This was a rad ride, that I'd forgotten about the little bald men, and the one with the beanie cap with the shaking fist, I was feeling too exhilarated to have them a second thought! What a rush to be galloping in this great green expanse with all kinds of topography.... hills, sand, little valleys and knolls, back up steeper hills, and water! We galloped so fast that other golf parties ahead of us didn't see or notice us until we were upon them, and then galloped like the wind past them! I think it happened so fast they didn't have time to throw up any hand signals. The horses’ manes, tails, and everything not sewn down was all flying. This was the most fun I'd had as a jubilant free-spirited kid. That is until I heard Katherine yelling something about not being able to stop Tonka... he grabbed his bit and was on a dead-headed run!
So yeah, I had visions of galloping my horse next to hers and jumping on and reining ol' Tonka in. T'ya, right.... the thought quickly dissipated. What seemed like a time-warp, and Katherine pulling hard and constant on the reins, Tonka like a freight train finally showed some give... with mouth open and shaking his head, she finally got him to a working hard trot. Both horses were lathered and blowing hard.
Okay, so our adventure was nearly over, and we were all in one piece. Sitting atop our still worked up horses, we were all beginning to relax, except for Tonka who with his arched neck was chomping his bit. I still hear the bit chains jingling. Settling deeper and more relaxed in our seats, but with parched throats we spotted a water fountain. We picked up the reins, and trotted on over to it, and decided to get us and the horses a drink. We hopped off and drank some water... the horses each looked sideways at this contraption with the moving parts. Somehow, still don't know how, Tonka got away from Katherine and galloped himself back to the stable. Before I could finish my question, "Katherine! How did that ha....?" MY horse got his reins out of my hands too, and together he and Tonka busted out, and ran back towards home. They sure looked pretty galloping together. So with our cowgirl prides, we walked our little selves on back to the stable. Did we do it again? Yup, but through a game of friendly football. Stay tuned.
Time and caffeine when mixed well together can create some good hair-raising tales, so drink responsibly!
It was good being a kid.
Your local cowgirl bandit