I spent the last part of my 18th year and the first part of my 19th in the Pacific Northwest, a tiny town named Colville and a cabin north of Colville in the woods where there was no TV, radio, telephone, newspapers or mail service. I was cut-off from the outside world in the cabin. Alone, except for the farmers. These farmers were rough cut, the type of men that didn’t fit in general society. They were in fact tough physically and although friendly enough to people they knew, who had “proven themselves,” they were mean.
The farms were spread out so that there was no real connection between the men or their families. There was one exception to this rule. Spring time meant time to “spring break” the horses and to “round up” the cattle. These two annual rituals were done together. This year they included me. They had fun with this young city kid at my expense, of course. Two practical jokes in particular stand out.
Before one can round up the cattle, one has to spring break the horses. The horses had been free since autumn and were not taking being bridled and ridden kindly. Well, I didn’t know that. One of the farmers I visited, George, was a tiny fellow who claimed to have been a jockey once. He owned a few thoroughbreds. He told me that I would have the pleasure of riding the first of them. The one I may ride for the round up. This sounded very nice of him to me.
He saddled the horse for me. I had not a single clue how to saddle a horse. The horse seemed a bit skittish to me but he said that was normal when you saddle any horse. The time came for me to mount. He told me to always get into the saddle from the left side and that the horse would know if I had any experience and would behave appropriately. All this I accepted as positive encouragement.
This horse was huge! As I put my left foot into the stirrup, the horse took a couple of steps away from me. That kind of threw me off balance so that all of my attention was diverted to mounting. I forgot to watch George who was assuring me verbally that he had the horse and I wasn’t to worry. “Just get on the damn horse, kid!”
When I finally got on, two things happened nearly simultaneously. One was that I felt the horse tense beneath me. Even as a “rank amateur,” to quote Twain, I could tell the horse was tensing. I got nervous. I then looked forward and saw that tiny George had hold of the bridle and his feet were off the ground nearly crossed over the horse’s neck. The ears of the horse were laid back and its eyes seemed as big as pie plates.
George shouted “OK” and let go. My shoulders shot back and my hips thrust forward. As the horse began to buck, I grabbed hold of the saddle horn. All of this in a matter of just a couple of seconds because it was only just a couple of seconds before I was looking up from the ground as the horse bucked off.
That hurt…and George laughed.