I remember my first time like it was yesterday. I was nervous, sweaty, bumbling, didn't know what to do and scared to death that I would be discovered for the amateur that I was. Of course I am talking about the first time I ever rode a horse.
We all have life-altering moments in our lives that we'll never forget, such as the first kiss, the first date, the first time you rode a bike without training wheels, the first car, the first job, the first horse you rode and the first time you got throwed. Unfortunately, the first time I ever rode a horse and the first time I ever got sent skyward happened on the same day and on the same horse.
Of all the potentially life-threatening events in my life, and there have been several, none is more clear to me now than when I went sailing from the back of a knucklehead horse and landed on my head in a pile of boulders. It was a lot scarier than the time I woke up in a burning bed caused by a faulty electric blanket, or the time I went straight off a hundred foot cliff in the cab of a truck. I never even told my Mom about being thrown, for as you know, it's not something to brag about or bring up in casual conversation. But it happened and the time has come to admit it and move on.
Oh, I had ridden before, sitting in a saddle on a sawhorse in my Grandpa's bunkhouse I had forked many an imaginary bronc. I could stick to the back of a panther in those days. That same saddle now sits in my bedroom and its scars serve as a reminder of the time I was sent into orbit, as close to heaven as I'll probably ever get. There are spur marks in the saddle seat, fingernail gouges in the leather and the horn is loose because I tried to pull it out by its roots.
The horse's name was Buck, as in buckskin, which was his color. Looking back there were clear signs I should have known better than to climb on his back. His ears and tail were cropped (sure signs of an outlaw), he had one white eye and no saddle marks, indicating no one had been as stupid as I was to climb on him. I really should have suspected something when buzzards from miles around began circling the minute I first started saddling old Buck. My “friends” assured me that he was as gentle as a cottontail and gave me my first riding lesson: “All you do is get on and let your legs hang down.” That's still pretty much describes my style even to this day.
We were instructed to go to Grafe Pasture and bring in the heifers but Buck instead headed for the clouds. As I recall he first warmed up with a few hippity hops before settling down to jackhammer explosions. It didn't help that someone must have oiled the saddle with WD-40 instead of Lexol, nor that I was wearing a pair of spurs that my Grandpa gave me that I used like grappling hooks. They were what were called “airplane spurs,” supposedly because of the light aluminum they were made from, but in retrospect I think it was because they encouraged the horse to throw me so high I should have filed a flight plan. I did not consider it a good sign that I reached an altitude where I could see our town's cemetery over two mountain ranges. That old sawhorse in my grandpa's bunkhouse never treated me this way.
For some silly reason I kept trying to stay on, with encouragement from my friends. “If you're headed for Grafe Pasture,” one said while at the top of my trajectory, “it's a little more over to the right.” I rode backwards for a while, pulled all the hair out of his mane and was technically still on Buck after three jumps, although it was not a legal ride. The fourth time he came down I was no longer part of the package and when I landed it sounded like a ripe persimmon hitting the ground. SPLAT! Only a few cow pies amongst the rocks softened my fall. Afterwards even my hair hurt.
It was there among the rocks, while taking an audit of my body parts, that it occurred to me that maybe Buck hadn't been named for the color of his hide after all.