Thursday, April 30, 2009
Pancho Done Left Me
I was amazed to learn recently that my first horse was a part Welsh pony named Pancho. Amazed because he couldn't have been part pony. He was huge. Or maybe I was kinda small. Pancho came to us through a teacher my dad had worked with in Harlem. Sadly, the horse was available due to the death of its previous child. He had a thick, bowed neck, a mass of flaxen mane, a head as long as I was tall, and feet like pie plates with long feathers of hair around his ankles. Pancho came fully equipped with all the kid horse basics. Patience to stand stock still while I wound the extra long saddle laces around my hand, tipped back to wedge my foot into a stirrup that was at eyeball level, braced my other foot against the back of his front leg, and turned nearly upside down in process of reeling myself up into the saddle. Pancho was the equivalent of an equine mini-van. He could carry four kids of varying ages, car seats not required. We once managed five, but when he broke into a trot the last kid slid off over his tail and hit the ground. Pancho also had a full ration of wisdom. He was smart enough to know exactly how fast I could go without bouncing off on my head. I could kick and cluck myself red in the face and we weren't going any faster. Given that my legs were about six inches long and I was kicking the saddle blanket instead of the horse, he didn't have much motivation to exceed his personal speed limit. He would go almost anywhere, though, at that speed. Up hill, down hill, across the creek (as long as he was convinced the crossing was appropriate). He would also go under tree limbs situated at the ideal height for scraping a child off the back of a horse, and we learned pretty fast to close the barn door before mounting up. When it came time to move cattle, we wandered along with the rest of the riders, somewhere in the vicinity of the back of the herd. Once in a long while we accidently got in the right place and were actually helpful. But mostly Pancho was just a mobile daycare provider. I, of course, decided that he needed to be a barrel horse, so we could compete at the local roping club races. In my estimation, Pancho and I went around those barrels nine thousand and thirty-six times. As far as I could tell, it was a whole new experience to him every trip. If I had recognized this early indication of my prowess as a barrel horse trainer, I could have saved myself and a long line of horses much time and frustration. My male cousins had a similar horse that they called Chips. My cousin Charlotte, however, had a real Cadillac, her dad's old roping horse Baldy. Sometimes he would even lope around the barrels, unlike Pancho, who could be urged into a lumbering lope between, but always stopped to walk through the turns. As we got older, our need for speed and thrills grew. Now we rode under the tree branches on purpose, grabbed on, and slid off the horses' butts as they trotted out from under us. We had slow motion races across the pasture. We played Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and wild Indians, chasing each other through the shelterbelt. And then there were the hay bales. In late June and into July, the field adjacent to our house is scattered with small square bales. They just beg to be jumped. Or so we thought. Our horses were of a slightly different opinion. They would trot up and stop dead. We, being kids and therefore invincible, assumed that we just needed to go faster on the approach, so the horse wouldn't be able to stop and would therefore have to jump. I kicked up to a fast trot. Pancho stopped harder, bouncing me out of the saddle and onto his neck. Always helpful, Pancho dropped his head to expedite my slide to the ground. Trotting was not working. We needed to lope. So I scrambled up his leg, into the saddle, and kicked Pancho up into his lumbering lope. We made a wide arc just like the show jumpers on TV, and took dead aim on a bale. We thundered up to the take off point. I braced for the leap. Pancho went left. I went straight. The good news is, I did clear the bale. Unfortunately, my horse didn't come along. My son is four years old. His Pancho is called Doc, a crotchety little sorrel gelding who decided early in life that roping just wasn't his thing. In another year or two, Logan will be big enough to ride Doc without a lead line. He'll be trailing along when we move cattle and getting scraped off on the trees in his grandmother's yard. Maybe they'll even compete in a barrel race or two. Hey, Doc has been known to lope all the way around. You know, I bet he would even jump a hay bale.