It’s been more than 50 years ago, but I still remember that Tennessee Walking Horse.
We were at my Aunt Mackie’s house on West 24th, back when that was wayyyyyy out of Norman. I was maybe four or five, and probably about three feet tall.
That Tennessee Walker was the biggest thing I had ever seen. He must have stood 16 hands tall. I remember having to look straight up to see my cousins in the saddle. I was awestruck.
And then, it got even better. Somehow, I found myself in the saddle. Like John Wayne or something.
How I got there, I will never know. Maybe a helicopter was involved.
But there I was, looking wayyyyyy down, maybe 10,000 feet, to the ground, where my cousins looked like ants. It was one of those moments to cherish. And then it got even better. Someone took the reins and started walking us around the pasture.
I became a cowboy that day and probably grew about a foot.
In truth, I never could ride a horse properly, despite being part Potawatomi. On the rare occasions when we were around horses, I would just marvel at my older sister, Cathy.
She could ride like the wind. Effortlessly. Fearlessly. Beautifully. It was awesome to watch.
I don’t think she ever got to ride my Uncle’s quarterhorse, Go Man Go Jr., who was worth more money than I could ever imagine. But if she’d been given the opportunity, I bet she would have picked them up and laid them down. Go Cat Go.
Every now and again, we’d go to Thunderbird Stables, out by the lake. Cathy would break all the rules and make whatever horse she was on literally fly across the red dirt and dead grass.
I’d get stuck on some old nag with a name like “Shindig”, who’d been trained to plod along the trail, nose-to-tail of the horse in front. It was soooo boring. But it was probably for the best, given my limited horsemanship.
The last time I rode fast on a horse, I was in high school, and it did not turn out well.
A bunch of us spent the night drinking beer at at Joe’s place out east, and the next day somebody had the bright idea that we’d catch one of the horses and go riding.
When it was my turn, I made a big mistake. I got into the saddle without taking the time to raise the stirrups, which is an important thing when your legs are barely long enough to reach the ground on any given day.
This horse was not happy about being ridden by a bunch of rowdy teenage hooligans on a hot, humid Oklahoma summer day.
But when I kicked him in the flanks, we were off like a shot, which was great. It was not so great when my feet came free of the stirrups as we shot hell-bent across Joe’s wild pasture.
Somehow, I stayed in the saddle, which gave me a bit of confidence, at least until I saw a ravine coming up fast.
Because my feet were flapping, I couldn’t get enough leverage to rein in the horse. He’d decided to jump the ravine, toss me off and break my neck, so he could mosey on back to the shade.
I just know that was his plan, because I am part Potawatomi. And we know horses. Ahem.
At the time, I was not a particularly religious fellow. But on that “morning-after-the-night before”, with my head aching and my vision blurred, I’m pretty sure that I said a prayer when that horse leaped over the gully.
I also squeezed my legs as tight as I could, leaned down against the saddle horn, and prepared to meet my maker. But then a miracle happened — that or maybe a few recessive Potawatomi horse genes kicked in.
Because we both landed safely on the other side, and, eventually, the horse tired out, and I was able to get my tip-toes back into the stirrups and rein him in.
On the long, slow wide back to the trailer house, I had that bastard’s nose pulled right back into his chest. And I spoke at length about how I would turn him into sausage if he went anywhere near another creek bed.
Despite this trauma, I kept riding a bit over the years until one day it dawned on me. I didn’t actually like riding horses, and I was no good at it.
At that point I sort of hung up my boots, and started watching my niece ride, because, like her Aunt Cathy, that girl could sit horse.
For more Oklahoma stories, click here.