It is not often that we get to commemorate a former pet. Or perhaps not often that I care to. There is not much to say about Ruff — a dog my brother and I shared — for example. He didn’t like my dad and during his time with us he would snap at my dad’s hand. I don’t know if I have yet conveyed both my father’s sense of authority — that which I deduce is common among his generation of country farmers — and his short temper. So while we were unsure why Ruff went missing at the time, we were still quite young when we realized that our dad had likely shot him and thrown him off the back forty. What I mean to say is that animals had functions on the farm, and every dog I can remember was first and foremost for rounding up cattle. And secondly our pets. Cats were for eating mice. And were needed at the barn to protect the corn, oats and sweet feed. Once we tried a Jack Russell Terrier in lieu of a cat. We heard they would also kill mice. However, it turns out that all the yelping was not copacetic for one horse — while being shoed, strung up in the cross-ties — who ‘popped’ the little terrier with a back foot … into oblivion. Our notion that Ruff was ‘put down’ simply became the mostly likely narrative for his disappearance, given that he didn’t respect our dad.
I don’t know if it goes without saying. Horsetraining (also called ‘breaking’) — and farm life in general — is pretty violent. Horsetraining is about authority, really. We boarded horses sometimes for friends. This mare, Brownie kicked me four or five times when I was feeding her. I was quite surprised each time at how quickly she could wheel around and pummel me with a single back foot … just like the terrier. I would run crying from barn to house — or perhaps jump on my second and last horse, Shorty bareback by launching up and onto his back from the outdoor feed trough — to show my dad the horseshoe imprinted bruise forming on the front of my upper leg or wherever she’d landed her most recent ‘punch’. I admit that I was overjoyed the day my dad was at the barn and witnessed Brownie kick me. He beat the shit out of her, and maybe she didn’t do it again. Authority has its advantages, I suppose.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Saddle Sam — my first horse — all day. Maybe I dreamt of him. Saddle Sam was technically a ‘spotted saddle horse’ (sometimes called ‘pony’) and sure enough he was quite short and squat … in comparison to my dad and brother’s taller steeds. Sam was maybe 13 hands. They would want a 15 or 16 hand horse. They would typically want to ride a stallion or stud. For sure not the eunuchs I settled for. It says something I guess that my two horses were geldings — castrated male horses — both Sam and again my second one, Shorty.
Shorty deserves his own story. But I started with Saddle Sam. I did not want horses. I wanted I thought to play on a sports team or do something after school…peri-urban. Instead we needed to get back home to the farm work. We needed to rise at 5am to feed those big, hungry animals. There were other animals that could be tended in herds, but horses need special attention.
When I met Saddle Sam, I think my father had already purchased him as an enticement (for me) to become as interested as my brother was. My brother rode Joe at the time, another gelding, but he soon graduated to stallions. Or rather saw himself as a stallion rider.
He was mostly white with brown spots, and either one or two glass eyes. I forget. This just means a foggy-clear eye with blue tinges rather than a brown or black eye … which is more normal for a horse. He had a sunburnt and blistered nose. His pale skin was susceptible to the summer sun. On many occasions I kissed his nose. We became friends over time.
Sam was very strong … I witnessed one of his first tantrums when my father had him in the cross-ties to shoe and sheer him. Something spooked him, probably the clippers. His nostrils flared and eyes widened. He sat back on his haunches with such force that at least one of the chains snapped. Just imagine a short squat ‘wrestler’ of a horse. Not so pretty to look at, but very muscled.
I learned that he’d been used to pull logs before my dad bought him. That in order to pull those logs up and down the mountains or out to a clearing, the men would beat him all over — including the face — to get him to work. He gained muscle mass and I suppose one day they could no longer control him with beatings as he could break unimaginable things.
As we got to know each other — and as I became at least tolerant of the broader equestrian sport — I went with my father mountain climbing. Let’s call it a sub-sport. An extreme sport. Imagine the ‘tailgating’ activity before a cock fight and you will get the jist of mountain climbing. Even if my dad is a Tee-Totaler, many of his fellow riders drink while riding. Once on the Memorial Day ride from Woodbury to Short Mountain we got separated from my dad and brother. My mom and I were alone with a lot of other riders. I don’t know why the teenager/young twenties guy cussed out my mom. I remember deciding to act like it didn’t happen, but my mom was tearing up. He had embarrassed her I guess. Funny, I’m sure my mom had her Derringer with her … in the flowered pouch. Perhaps I had a gun in my saddlebag too. I forget and moreover my dad keeps guns everywhere. I could have been using his saddle, so it is not to say that my ten year old person was bearing arms. She could have brandished the ‘break in half, shotgun loading’ designer pistol. Named after the detective. She didn’t.
My father perhaps got the idea when he met up with us to teach me a lesson. It was a good one. Conversationally we identified who had cursed my mom. He worked at Estes & Jones Market on Highway 53. On Monday the following week, my dad took me to the market. We shopped there often. Probably rented my first porn there …from the top shelf of VHS cassettes. My dad asked for the boy. Yes he was a boy in this moment. The brazen man who had cursed my mom out would have his reckoning there in the storage room of the market. The owners knew us so my dad did not make a point of asking to enter the back area. My dad has authority. Sometimes over my youth he was a bonded deputy with the Woodbury police department. Once he let me take a training course with him and some other volunteer deputies … big fun.
My dad always introduces himself. His name is Terry Wilder Lester. He has or did have red hair. Now it is gray. I have his red in my beard and sideburns. He introduced himself to the kid and asked him if he remembered cussing out his wife .. my mom? Um, no. Asked him if he remembered me. I was embarrassed but also amazed at the level approach my dad was taking. My dad had a temper afterall. Once it was established that this kid had cussed out my mom in front of me. My dad asked where the phone was … asked the kid to dial a number. Our home. My mom answered. They were not on speaker phone. He listened intently to what the woman — my mother — on the other end of the line was saying. He endured what I imagine to be a lesson orated from the reversal of position. Tables turned. My father thanked him and we left the store. They might have shaken hands. My father might have waited for me to shake his hand. Later in life my dad would get hurt quite severely when out mountain climbing by himself in the hills behind our house.
As memory serves I was riding Sam that day. While the road itself up to Short Mountain was steep, at turns in the windy road mostly men and some women would ‘climb’ up the side of a ravine. I never saw someone die from a fall, but it was not uncommon. I could often out-perform some of the competitors if I wanted to. That was because of Sam. He could climb anything, and I suppose I was quite light for him to carry. A small, short horse like him has to lunge up a hill that steep to gain traction. My only handicap would be if my feet came out of the stirrups and he inadvertently bucked me off in the lunges. Otherwise he would not hurt me.
It became a joke somehow my ability to calm him. That I who didn’t really like horses had a rapport with wild-eyed Sam. There are times when I bear a type of pride by which I know I know how to feed, saddle, sheer, help shoe, bridle, help birth, help castrate, and — importantly — ride a horse. Round up cattle if you need. Liaise with the Border Collie running at our horses’ feet. It was a decade or so back when the kid galloped up to us in the park in St. Petersburg and asked if we wanted to pay for a horseride. My group didn’t … perhaps didn’t know how. I wonder why I didn’t mount the horse from the left side and take a turn?
Some years before that I remember spotting Dennis Hopper — I think — at the dressage grounds of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. And before that Zsa Zsa Gabor in the Tennessee Walking Horse ‘Celebration’ box seats. She refused my request for an autograph. Queen.
There was also when I managed the stables at the Bible camp on Short Mountain. Before I had any idea what The Sanctuary or Radical Faeries were and are…
I messed the beans up something serious last night. I warned George before he tried them that he might ought to stick with rice and chicken. But he took a mouthful and reacted as I thought he would. They were terrible. I did something wrong with salted meat and all my corrections were in vain. Pineapple juice might have been added. Doesn’t acid reduce salt? RsRs.
George was very nice to thank me for dinner a couple times before I fell asleep. However this morning when he saw his lunch dish waiting for him on the table, he immediately wanted confirmation that I’d not included the beans.