Guest Author - Susan Hopf
There’s an old saying that states, “God watches over fools and little children” and considering all the reckless, fast-paced games my sisters and I played, on horseback, when we were very young and decidedly foolish, I must be thankful of such for now as I am older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I often wonder how I survived those brash and adventurous days of yesteryear.
My first horse was obtained when I turned fifteen. It took several years of participation in 4-H and countless hours of convincing my mother of my responsible intentions with regard to paying for said horse. Once the green light was given and enough babysitting money accrued I diligently researched several available horses. Traipsing across the local rural counties in Western NY and visiting many barns of varying condition and bounty I finally chose a nicely built Appaloosa. His name was Comanche but I called him Gray Ghost – his light gray coat covered in tiny little dots had the remarkable effect of making him invisible, in the right kind of light and in the eyes of an enamored fifteen year old girl.
With no money for a saddle I quickly learned that balance would keep me on top of my horse far better than trying to grip with all my might to a horse that had no patience for my newbie attempts at staying mounted. Once we established a working relationship I discovered, quite by accident, one tempi changes while trying to navigate in and out of a newly planted line of evergreens. Shifting my weight to weave in and out of the prickly little bushes my fabulous horse skipped from one lead to the other with ease and grace. I had no idea what we were accomplishing I just knew it was the neatest thing I had ever done in my young life thus far.
A few months into my new and all-consuming life with horses it was decided that my two sisters, whom I would never see again unless they joined the equestrian world, would share the company of another horse. Amigo, a quiet little mustang with a high tolerance for everything but being tied in any way, was acquired from a family of innumerable children that often rode the horse all at once. The bay gelding with the Roman nose and crooked white blaze seemed very grateful to leave that crazy existence and happily carried my sisters (one at time) for many fun-filled adventures.
Once we – people and horses all – became familiar, comfortable and competent with each other our riding took us far and wide across the nearby fields and forests. Dropped at the barn each morning by our tireless mother we spent all day riding, mucking, brushing and cleaning tack. We packed lunches, tacked up and hit the trails. Sometimes just us and sometimes accompanied by a small band of other barn kids and their horses we would ride and ride and ride. We explored for miles and miles. We forded streams, blazed new trails, we ran here and moseyed there. We rode no matter the weather, hot and humid or frigid, nothing kept us from our horses or the time spent at the barn. If I had but one selfish wish it would be to relive those carefree and reckless days where time had no meaning and the smell of horses, hay and fresh air filled my days.
With our band of merry riders we would play hide and seek or tag. Roaming the fields looking for a bush big enough to hide behind we would wait patiently until the one that was “it” would come close and at the last minute barrel out of hiding to make a mad dash for home. Comanche and Amigo were best of friends and would often call to each other while we, dumb humans, were trying to hide – of course the calling made it very easy to find the other so to spice things up a bit we would run along side of each other trying to pull the other off her horse – yes that’s right at a full bore run, no helmets, sometimes in shorts and sneakers – of course we spent so much time in the saddle that coming off was practically impossible so miraculously no injuries occurred and we all found our way back to the barn ready for pick up from our mother who would never know how we spent each day. Wild riding, wild kids and wild fun was definitely not polite dinner table talk.
After hours of riding and game playing we would stop for lunch – kids eating haphazardly made sandwiches of salami, hot peppers and mayo and lots of cola and with the horses grazing nearby this was truly heaven on earth. Sometimes, in the spring the horses would wind up with pink lips from eating the wild strawberries that mingled among the grass. After lunch we would explore new fields, new trails and new adventures.
One of our favorite activities was trotting down the country road adjacent to the stable, at night, in fog so dense you could barely see your horse in front of you – we would sing at the top of our lungs – often it was “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” or “Country Roads”. We were convinced that the residents of the few houses on this road would be totally freaked out by the clip-clopping of hooves on the road surface as well as the disembodied voices of our raucous choir. Silly juvenile thoughts but so much fun at the time.
Those were the days and those are the memories I keep alive and close to my heart. We were, without question, some of the luckiest kids on earth and I am always grateful that I actually survived, as did my sisters, to occasionally dream of such carefree days and if only for a moment, feel the wind whipping through my hair as my dedicated mount carries me swiftly to home base – ollie-ollie alls in free.