Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Black Welsh Colt, or "If You're Going to Be Dumb, You Better Be Tough."

Maggie and I,  near the American River
Carmichael, CA
I contribute to another blog besides this one.  It's a group blog comprised of folks who have graduated from high school in Dunseith, ND, which I did, in 1973.  There are a number of excellent writers on that site, contributing stories from our childhood and further back.  We have some writers in their 90's!

If you want to know more about my hometown, here's a wiki link:,_North_Dakota

Anyhow, lately there has been a rash of submissions on the topic of working farm horses in old times.  They are wonderful stories that capture the imagination and take you back to a time gone by.  After reading several of these I decided to write a story of my own and sent it to the moderator and generator of the blog. I introduced my story with a bit of a heavy topic, so if you want to zoom to the horse story, scroll down to "If you're going to be dumb, you better be tough."  It's the story of my first wild ride on horseback.  I enjoyed the memory, I hope you enjoy the story.

Here's a copy of what I wrote tonight.  I would love to have your feedback on any of the topics:

Hi Gary,

I wrote a personal note to GF about his great horse stories posted on #1064.  I have ended up with a long posting today, so you may choose to "use it on a slow day", as Larry Hackman says.  I suppose you can guess which stories on the blog are my favorites!  I just love the "yarns" of the early farm life and some of the crazy things that happened while living that rough, physical life.  

Of course most especially, I love the stories of working horses! 

It was a good life of hard work, reward, and many great examples of "you reap what you sow".  Working farm kids in those days were not often obese were they!  In fact I remember a lot of pretty good "bods" on those high school farmboys who hauled bales all day long - before the days of big bales and fork lifts, air conditioned cabs, mutant strains, poison sprays, GMO's, organic grown and all that jazz. 

Too bad we didn't take photos and make a calendar like they do these days.  If we had one now, we could sell it for a bunch of money on ebay.  It could be called "The Dakota Farmboy Calendar".  Those guys built up some serious biceps, triceps, and abs while those adolescent hormones were raging.  

Gals reading this blog are probably having some fond memories right about now.  We noticed how good those guys looked slinging those bales, and would even lend a hand to be right out there with you once in a while.  I think the farmer knew he got more hay hauled when the gals went along - c'mon you know you were showing off.  

We sure weren't doing it for the money!  But the cold beer at the end of the days work tasted pretty good, and personally I liked the smell of the hay and the good exercise. I loved bouncing around on the hay wagon, riding the bale stack as it got higher, and higher.  It was a pretty romantic afternoon activity. I had eyes mostly for horses, but at 16 I woke up and smelled the coffee, so to speak.  That was an excellent summer as I recall.....

I bet a bunch of guys reading this blog remember well hauling bale after bale.  You got 5 cents a bale, delivered, if you were lucky. But most got the workout for free because they were family of a farmer who put up his own cattle and horse feed.  The bigger the herd, the more feed had to be put up for those long Dakota winters.  

Feel sorry for the kids that grew up on a big farm and worked their tails off?

I don't, because I bet they grew up to be responsible, helpful citizens with strong bodies and minds and a capable approach to problems of a mechanical, biological, or medical nature.  In short, they learned a lot about nature and developed what is known as "common sense".  

Unless they were in an abusive situation, as many of our friends were.  

We knew firsthand about abuse, from our friends.  We heard the dark secrets of alcohol and child abuse and it was all around us, just as it is today. Those kids still learned, and became adults learning additional lessons of survival along the way.  

Not always good coping strategies, nonetheless, they helped those kids survive.   I don't think they grew up so happy and many of our peers probably struggle with thoughts of home to this day.  Help is available these days to work those things out.  It wasn't back then.  Do yourself and your family a big favor.  

Get help if you're still bothered by memories of childhood trauma.  OR,  



If you're an adult, you can also check out one of the many helpful books to read on the topic for starters.  I think it helps to know you weren't the only one ever to be abused, and that it was not your fault.  Sexual abuse and spousal abuse was quite common in our community, and some pretty terrifying stuff went down back then, and still does.  You all know what I'm talking about.  It is time that people opened the door to discuss these issues, remove the cloak of shame, and save these kids.  

Just today there was a news article about a 16 year old boy that was sent to jail for stabbing his 57 year old sexual abuser many many times after he killed him.  It had gone on for years and he finally snapped.  The report said he was being held in jail "until an appropriate treatment facility was located."  Hopefully, he'll recover with the proper counseling and therapy.  I think we all applaud him for taking a stand.  He was temporarily released to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show, in order to try to prevent this from happening to others.

His quote on Oprah?  "Everyone who experiences abuse should come out and get help before it's too late".
If something like that happened or is happening to you, or in your family, know that help is only a computer click away......write to me if you can't find resources and I'll see what I can do to help - in confidence of course.  I saw a lot of terrible things working in the ER, but the worst were the cases of sexual abuse of children.  Often associated with meth use, which in my view is the second worst thing we saw in the ER.


Overall however, most of us have some pretty fond memories even though we grew up in the day when it was ok to spank your kids.  "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was the motto of the day.  Even teachers got to whack you up side the head, or worse! In my family, both my parents had been school teachers and we learned to behave and have manners before we went to school.  

But we were also taught to be independent thinkers, which gave us plenty of trouble until we learned when to keep our opinions to ourselves.  I knew the slogan "children are meant to be seen but not heard" - I just didn't believe in it!  

I guess I still have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when it comes to righting a wrong.  

Who will join me in saying "we will not tolerate child abuse anymore!"

Kids today might envy the life of a farm kid growing up in the 60's, but it's a bygone era for the most part.
Us North Dakotans know that old time values are still in place somewhere.  Especially wherever a good North Dakotan is planted.

But I digress.  Now for the story.

I have a horse story from my high school days I would like to share:

                           "If You're Going to Be Dumb, You Better Be Tough."

As many of you know, my Uncle Jake bred a lot of standardbred horses, known as pacers, on his ranch Northwest of Bottineau.  He did a lot of racing in Canada and for a short while in the 60's he had a horse named "Nipper Boy" that won some pretty big purses.  He even sent the big dark pacer to California to compete, but alas didn't do so well so far from home.  A few of the Dunseith folk might remember seeing Jake race at the Bottineau Fair, but mostly he raced in Winnipeg, Brandon, and other Canadian towns.  They were more "into" it on the Canadian side.  I'm sure Mr. Evans (Jeff's and Stephanie's dad) checked them through customs a time or two.  Mostly he crossed at the Souris Port though, where he was close enough to home to not have to worry about crossing the border much.....He knew the guards by first and last name.

My uncle Jake was the first to show me the love of my life -THE HORSE.

What you may not know is that although he had no children of his own with Agnes, his wife, he was always helping out kids who were interested in horses, including me.  My first horse bite was from his prize horse, the beautiful Jady's Joy.  She was a gorgeaus chestnut color with a white mane and tail.  I was about 8 years old I think, just tall enough to reach up and put my arms around her arching neck as she held her head outside the stall looking for grain.  I think I surprised her, but she stood there as I hung from her neck until she suddenly bit me on the shoulder.  I got the message and let go.  It was just a little nip, a warning.  Afterward I looked into her deep dark eyes as she stood there looking at me, rubbing my shoulder blade, near tears.  We had a little communion there in my Uncle's stable under his huge barn.  I began my lifelong love affair right there, staring into those apologetic eyes.  It was as if she were saying,

"I'm sorry, but nobody ever did that before and I had no idea how to get you off me. I didn't mean to hurt you".  

I learned to respect these magnificant beings who could kick you to a pile of breaking bones and a puddle of blood in an instant, but almost never do.  I vowed to learn their language and have spent the rest of my life in the study of "HORSE".  I'm still learning volumes every day I'm with them. I don't think there's an end to what horses can teach us.

Uncle Jake once gave me a beautiful Black Welsh Cob to train, so that his niece Darcy, who lived with them, could then ride it.  He was unbroken and young, but gentle and intelligient.  Darcy was a bit younger and not so horse crazy as me, so she was unwilling or unable to ride him I guess. So one day in the summer of my 14th year, Jake delivered this half wild, prancing black colt to the Metcalfe corral close to the Dunseith Port of Entry.  You know the place? Just south of  the Peace Gardens entry. In fact, it was the old corral where they had unloaded livestock for inspection crossing the Canadian Border.  Does anyone know if that corral still stands?  It would be on the corner of the intersection of the highway to the Port and the gravel approach to the Metcalfe place just to the south.

The corral was a short walk from my home at the Port, and I could go several times a day to work with the horses. I had boarded my palomino filly, Shawnee, there for awhile, and we put the Black in with her.   It was a dream come true for me.  The Black was a beauty and I couldn't wait to get him started.  I could picture myself galloping on his back across the fields of the Peace Garden, the wind in my hair.

The Black colt learned quickly who was in charge as soon as he set foot inside the pen.  Shawnee made this evident by a series of feigned "punches" with her pointed right foot.  Then she swung around and gave him her business end - narrowly missing a plant to his shoulder.  He moved away and put his head down in submission.  He clacked and chattered his teeth in the "I suck I suck" signal that baby horses make to dominant horses, and she forgave him almost instantly and came back to nuzzle his neck and breathe her breath into his nostril.  

I think she was glad he was a fast learner.  They were the same age and became inseparable friends from that moment forward.  Even though she had to put him in his place the way a good mare does, she was as hungry for company as he was, and happy to have him close to her, once he admitted her dominance.  That's the way the herd's a pecking order thing. Once established, it never had to be worked out again. 

Horses have a lot of good lessons to offer us mere mortals.

Anyhow, to continue...

It was great fun having a second horse so I didn't have to ride alone, but I always ended up riding "the wild one" by myself.  I started working him in the corral (these days they call it a round pen), and gradually got a saddle on.  He never did buck, but he sure had a lot of spirit, and eventually would rear up when I asked him for it.  This was a bad habit he had that I encouraged until he did it only on command, and luckily, never to the point of rolling backwards on top of me.

I spent a few weeks riding, riding, riding that gorgeous, affectionate creature with the satin shiny coat.  He had a white star and a snip on his face, and he was a quick learner.  He had a soft eye and wanted nothing but to please me.  I fed him a lot of carrots and apples as rewards.  Some people would say he was spoiled.  I say he was loved. 

Finally, I was ready to take somebody with me and get down the road a piece, to see how he would do a little further away from home.  I at least had enough horse sense to know that I shouldn't take off into the woods on a green broke 2 year old colt without someone along to pick up the pieces!  I talked my brother Larry into riding along, although he hadn't ridden much before that, and I doubt if he's ever ridden since....

He mounted my well trained parade horse, Shawnee.   I rode the Black.  We set off down my favorite route at the time - to the south end of the Peace Garden fence along the highway running to the Port.  It wasn't long before we turned right and headed down the fence line, heading west.  At first, we took it easy, and the Black, although he liked to rear up occasionally with the right cues, was under good control that day.  He walked next to Shawnee, and trotted next to Shawnee, and even cantered next to her without a problem.  He would halt on command, and stood when asked.  He was just learning to back up, but he preferred to rear. 

 I was feeling pretty good about our progress and my brother and I planned to take a long ride.  It was a sunny day in high summer - late July.  The grass was green and knee high.  We took our lunch and drinks in the saddle bags, and rode all the way past the end of the Peace Garden fence, into "No Mans Land" as it was called back then.  

You know that timber and brush free swath of land that runs down the entire Canadian Border?  Back in our day it was a favorite route for snowmobilers because they could go like crazy without any fence lines for miles.  There was no one out there but us on this fateful day. I imagine nowadays it's probably heavily patrolled by "Homeland Security", but in those days, you could ride forever without seeing a soul it seemed.

Well Larry and I rode along quite a ways, until we decided to stop for a bit of a rest.  We got off the horses and let them graze. Larry to stretch his legs (and probably rest his butt!) We ate and drank and chatted for a while, and I bragged about how well behaved the Black was after our few weeks together.  He really had improved a lot!  I was very proud of my work, and totally in love with the horse, who I was convinced was as fast as the wind, although I hadn't really "opened him up" yet.

So Larry said, with a North Dakota accent, "Well, do you want to race then?"

I replied "Well ok, but take it easy...."

The words hadn't finished crossing my lips before he had jumped into the saddle and took off at a gallop on Shawnee.  The Black colt of course was immediately upset that he was being left alone by his first love and started to dance around on the end of my reins as Larry got further and further away. It was all I could do to get the reins over his head.  I put a foot in the stirrup, jumping up and down on the right leg to keep up with his movements, but before I could get the other leg over the saddle he reared up high and took off like a shot!

I was still trying to get my right leg over at a gallop when Shawnee disappeared around a bend.  Straight ahead was forest and brush and low hanging limbs.  The Black plunged straight into this mess not realizing that Shawnee had made the  "S" turn to the right and left.  He was practically snorting fire as I got myself into the saddle (but not the stirrups) and started fending off branches that were about to knock me out of my seat.  One of the limbs was as big as a leg and I hit it with my thumb trying to protect my head, bending the nail completely backwards, ripping it from the nailbed.

It sounds painful, and eventually it was.  But at first my adrenaline was rushing and I didn't hardly feel it - all I wanted to do was stop the mad gallop through the thick brush and save my life!  I finally got control of his head with the flying reins (all of this took maybe 2 minutes), and stopped him.  We sat there, catching our breath.  I think he was as scared as I was.  I turned and got him back on the trail, making him go slow at first, but eventually I had to let him run to catch up.  

In that straightaway trying to catch Shawnee, he ran like Secretariat!  I eventually caught up to my brother who was still at a gallop, and held up my bleeding thumb to get him to slow down!  By the time I caught up, the blood was running down my arm to my elbow, the thumbnail dangling by a piece of skin.  He was totally grossed out, which as I recall, was a comfort to me.  I wished he had listened to me, but he wanted to win the race.  Badly.  Now I wanted him to suffer my pain vicariously!

We rode the 5 or 6 miles home at a slighly slower pace, put the horses away, and then he drove me to the Botno Hospital (where I would later work for a short time both as a Nurse assistant and then as a nurse). I remember flying down the highway to Dunseith through "the rez" at over a hundred miles an hour in my Dad's Cadillac, thinking "he's going to kill us or somebody else over my thumb", but enjoying the speed at the same time.  No wonder I ended up a risk taker!  Look out world - here we come!  I didn't try to slow him down, even though I wasn't bleeding anymore.  I watched the speedometer crack 100... 105...110.....and then he "buried the needle".

It was starting to hurt like crazy after all. By the time we got to Botno, I was crying without a sound in the burning, throbbing, bleeding pain of it all and my brother was feeling good and guilty. 

 The Doctor in the tiny Bottineau Hospital ER  was not able to get the spray anesthetic to work, and I endured the removal of my thumbnail without anything to numb the area.  Ouch.  Not the best bedside manner on his part either as I recall.  I  remember him yelling at the nurse and me thinking he was way out of line.  The nurse however, was very kind to me.  Later, it was a memory I carried to nursing school and always tried to be fully present for the patient before me.

My thumbnail eventually grew back over a few months, but was a long lasting, painful injury that taught me these two childhood lessons:

Pride comes before a fall, and

If you're going to be dumb, you better be tough.

Thanks Gary!

Trish (Larson) Wild '73
The Equine Nomad
Also - I'm posting a fair amount on facebook these days. Any of you are welcome to "friend" me on there. 

P.S.   I still do dumb things, and I believe it is entertaining in a funniest home video kind of way at times.  I share my mistakes and lessons learned here so that others can learn from my failures as well as my successes.

By the way?  Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know you were here.  The more visitors to my site, the more likely I can win corporate sponsorships for my ride and the more likely I can continue to ride and write.

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!