I was 12 years old and my new friend, Jean-Marie, took me with her to her riding lesson. I talked my parents into giving me four lessons, and then I worked out a deal with the riding instructor to work off my lessons by grooming horses. This situation lasted for years and created many fond memories. Here are some of the things that stuck with me from that time - circa 1982-1984.
There used to be a big, grey, male cat at the barn named Blue Eyes because he had very bright blue eyes. He was never neutered because the barn manager (a man) said he could never catch him. Personally I just think he didn't want to emasculate the cat by giving him the snip. Blue Eyes had no problem spreading his seed and there were usually two litters of kittens a year around the barn.
Blue Eyes was a nasty boy, and would fight with any of his sons and drive them away. He also didn't have qualms about beating up his lady friends either. Nobody could get to close to him to pet him, and frankly nobody wanted to. He wasn't cuddly - he was a bruiser.
Then one day, Blue Eyes fathered a male cat that looked just like him. "Junior" turned out to be a chip off the old block, and one he was big enough he stood his ground against his old man. Those two fought fiercely until one day Junior really kicked his papas' butt. Blue Eyes went away to lick his wounds and heal, but eventually he came back. Then I felt sorry for him, because it was clear that he was but a shell of his former self. He never challenged his son again, but kept a safe distance and was easily run off. He still had the authority to chase the females away from the cat food if Junior wasn't around, so he got to eat. He could usually be found sitting far away from the barn, under the eucalyptus trees, all alone. I'm sure he looked at the barn and remembered when it was his to command. Eventually he slunk off somewhere and died.
Whenever I see a big grey cat with blue eyes, I always think about the rise and fall of Blue Eyes.
Murphy's Oil Soap Gel
At the barn we cleaned tack exclusively with Murphy's Oil Soap. Most people know it know as a liquid for cleaning your wood floors, but it used to come in a tub in jelly form. The smell is the same, but it gave a great tactile experience to stick your hand into the goopy jelly and lather up your sponge. I don't use Murphy's anymore on my tack (I use Carr Day and Martin saddle soap and Leather Therapy Leather Conditioner) because I was told that Murphy's will stretch your leather. But I still love the smell and the memory of gooshing the jelly.
Kopertox and Repel-X
Two other products that have smells that remind me of that place and time. The school horses lived outside, with no barn or run-in shed. Remember, this was California! The "pasture", if you can call it that, was really just a big paddock. It was probably 3 acres, with little or no grass, some trees around the edges, and two large hay feeders in the middle. In the summer it was full of flies, so we tried to keep the horses covered in fly spray. The barn used to buy gallons of Repel-X concentrate and we'd mix and fill up 5 or 6 spray bottles of it. Then in the "winter" the paddock would get muddy and all the horses would get thrush, so we'd have to dose their feet with Kopertox. Gotta love those bright green stains on your hands!
Everyone at the barn had these boots. So I had to get a pair. These were Sporto's. I wanted Sporto's. I got something close, but not exactly Sporto's. Looking back it seemed so important. Here's the thing that blows me away - I used to ride in these. Every day. They had no ankle support and were so short I don't know how they stayed on my feet! But I loved those boots.
In addition to riding in those duck boots, I also rode in jeans. I didn't have chaps, or half-chaps, or gaiters, or anything. Just jeans and duck boots. And I rode English. I can't tell you how many times I finished a lesson and looked down to see that the insides of the knees of my jeans had bloody patches on them. Yep, I rode so much that the jeans rubbed a bloody raw spot on the inside of my knees. The worst part? When the water hit it in the shower later. That's "The Sting". Yowieee!! I still have faint scars on the insides on both knees from this.
Fake Side Saddle
This is something I remember both of my first riding instructors doing. On trail rides, in English saddles, they would swing one leg over the front of the saddle (usually the right leg over the left side of the saddle) to make it look like they were riding side saddle. Now I know this isn't the safest thing to do, but I always thought they looked so cool doing it.
When I remembered this the other day I tried to out on Kaswyn. He immediately picked his head up and got nervous, and was about to scoot out from under me. I guess that's why my trainers did it on school horses who didn't really care what you did, as long as they got to stand under the trees at the end of the lesson.
Snowball and The Snart
One of the school horses was a grey pony gelding named Snowball. He was a great kids pony and would just pack those kids around the ring. He could jump a little bit too, and if you got on his case about being lazy he could really pep up and be a fun ride.
The funniest thing about Snowball was that he used to sneeze a lot. He'd do four or five in a row, usually while standing in line waiting his turn to jump. And every time he'd sneeze, he'd crack a really loud, sharp fart. Now, as 12 year old kids, we thought this was hilarious. Then we'd joke about it later, saying "Ahh...ahh ahh..chooPPPHHBBT!". Yes, it was childish, but we were children! Now whenever I hear a horse Snart (a sneeze with a fart), I think of Snowball.
For reasons that don't make any sense, Jean-Marie and I used to have whip fights. It's exactly like it sounds. We would each grab a whip and try to whip each other. Yes, really stupid and painful, but hilariously funny. I haven't done it in years, but next time Jean-Marie and I get together there might have to be whips involved. Oh, and horses too, because without them it would just be weird.
What are your childhood horse memories?