Thursday, September 7, 2017

To Horse!

Back in '75 I went riding. On horses. Twice. As both horses and myself survived the experience, and seeing as how RHT447 mentioned riding in his youth and Juvat has offered me the use of a horse when I get down to Texas (someday), it seems high time that I related my horse riding days. (All two of 'em.)

I was stationed in Denver for tech school, learning how to maintain the radar on the mighty F-4D Phantom (the C's radar was similar, I don't recall a C-model radar trainer in Denver, perhaps Russ does...)

That tech school was rather a long one, I arrived in June of '75 and departed in February of '76. The training wasn't exactly burdensome for those with the aptitude (which the Air Force said I had) and the school was at Lowry Air Force Base where the trainees were treated like human beings (for the most part) unlike some other Air Training Command (ATC) bases. Such as Keesler AFB in Mississippi, Chanute AFB in Illinois, and Sheppard AFB in Texas.

I've been to Keesler, as a Staff Sergeant, and yes, they treated the junior airmen like dirt. I never heard anything good about Chanute and heard many, many bad things about Sheppard (it's not the end of the world but you can see it from there, or is that Holloman, don't know, never been to either one.)

But yes, I digress, we're here to talk horses (sort of) not ATC shite-holes (Lowry was NOT on that list).

One fine day, our merry band of future WCS maintainers decided that going horse back riding would be just the thing on the coming weekend. Comprising that merry band were myself, Mike from Connecticut (who was the tallest Irishman I've ever seen), Manuel from Texas (who actually knew a thing or two about horses), and the two roommates, one of whom was from South Carolina and the other from Hawaii. Two different guys I've never seen as roomies but these two got along famously.

And I cannot, for the life of me, remember their names. But I can still see their faces these umpty-some-odd years later. As I need names for them I'll go with Reb (for obvious reasons and no that ain't the fella from Hawaii) and Puka, because he always wore one of these...

Now I don't recall who owned a motor vehicle in those days, it might have been Puka, or maybe it was Reb, but as the two were inseparable it didn't really matter. (Remind me some day to tell the tale of the Iranian Air Force contingent at Lowry back in those days. Their NCOs wore more crap on their uniforms than a Panamanian colonel. Seems that 20 of 'em would all chip in to buy the oldest still operable automobile they could find and then all 20 of 'em would pile in and demonstrate their complete lack of a) driving skills and b) even the most rudimentary rules of the road. Hhmm, okay, that was the whole story. So no need to remind me. And yes, big time digression...)

So the five of us piled into the Reb-Puka mobile and headed on out to one of the local stables where horses could be had by the hour. Unfortunately...

They didn't rent pigs.


We all got a mount, but Mike was fairly nervous about the whole thing, being a city feller and all, so he expressed some concern that he might get a real mellow horse. Which the proprietor of the establishment said was not a problem. So Mike's ride was advertised as a "gentle old fellow, 16 years old and as mild as a day in spring."

The folks at the stable were a bit surprised that we wanted the horses for two hours and not the more standard one.

"Nope, we want 'em for two hours. Is that a problem?" Puka inquired.

"No sir, it's just that most folks rent 'em for an hour. My son'll ride with you but he needs to be back in an hour..."

"Say, you fellers are military right?"

"Yessir." we all echoed.

"Well, shucks, I don't reckon you boys will run off with my horses now will ya?"

"Well, y'all hang horse thieves right?" I queried.

"Heh, I like you boys, now git round to the back over yonder and my son will see ya down the trail."

And yes, I really countrified the proprietor's dialog a bit, he might not have actually talked like that. But yeah, I thought it sounded cool. YMMV.

So off to the stable where we acquired our mounts. Things went to shite damned near out the gate.

My horse didn't really want to go out on a ride that day, stubborn animal, so the proprietor's son kept flicking him with this switch he had. At one point my animal had had quite enough and tried to bite me!

Well, he got the sole of my boot alongside his equine muzzle as I pulled the reins in rather tightly. It was the horse or me, while he was a lot bigger, I was (arguably I suppose) a lot smarter. And I didn't really kick him, just pushed his nose to the front with some gusto.

I addressed myself to the horse thusly: "You dumb sumbitch, I didn't hit you with the effing switch it was the freaking kid!"

I addressed myself to the kid as well: "Hit my horse one more time you little shit and you'll be heading back to the stable with that switch up your..."

I'm sure you can figure out the rest. Bottom line was, the kid left my horse alone and rode off to deal with a real situation. (While my horse decided that it was, after all, a fine day for a turn around the grounds and please don't kick me again.)

Now remember that fine old gentle horse that Mike was issued?

That horse was galloping up and down the trail, totally lathered and snorting at each turn like a wild thing. And Mike was barely hanging on!

Yeah, kinda like that (only without the music), as Mike had never ridden before he was terrified. Yet,somehow he managed to hang on. The next day wasn't much fun, I had no idea a fella could bruise like that. (Inside his legs, his butt, dude was sore!)

Eventually Mike's ride calmed down (poor old guy was probably exhausted) and we approached the half-hour out point. The kid headed back and all of our horses decided to pack it in and head home.

Seems the horses always went out for an hour and they knew the halfway point very well.

We kind of milled around for a bit until I decided that seeing as how my mount wanted to circle back why we'd just cut a tight circle until one of us got tired of it. I had him reined in tight so that his nose was facing towards his tail. All he could do was walk in circles. Yes, he tired of it first. With a snort he consented to head further out.

The other horses had been watching all this (herd animals ya know, kinda like progressives only smarter) and when my ride decided he'd had enough circling, they all fell into line. An interesting five minutes.

Off we went. We crossed a small highway over to this big field, where I decided that it would be interesting to experience a gallop. Off came my kepi, which I waved in the air, and with a whoop we set off. I gave the old boy his head and damn did we have fun.

Kepi? What? Oh, one of these...
From my reenacting days and no, I don't have it anymore (I'm sure The Missus Herself "misplaced" it at some point in the last 38 years. But there's that Amazon link... Hhmm, perhaps I shall buy another? Don't tell her!)

Well, we got across the field in short order, the others came galloping up as well, hooting and hollering, Hell, Reb was so excited you could barely understand a word he was saying, something we'd never noticed before. At any rate, we all decided to dismount and cool our heels for a while. (Yes, Mike's horse galloped across the field as well, seems he'd decided that Mike no longer got a vote regarding the conditions of the ride.)

While relaxing I think it was Mike who asked why we always mounted a horse from the left side. No one really knew the answer. Well, Manuel might have but I don't recall him answering Mike's question because he started laughing right about then.

Seems that Puka had decided to try mounting his horse from the right. He had one foot in the stirrup and was hopping like mad trying to get on his horse who was constantly shifting away from him.

You haven't laughed until you've seen a Texan rolling on the ground laughing while pointing at a Hawaiian trying to get on his horse the wrong way. It was pretty hysterical.

Eventually we headed back and turned the horses in, they seemed glad to bid us farewell.

Damned humans, making them go out for two whole hours!

Let's just say that the second time I went riding (up in the mountains with a tour group) wasn't nearly as eventful as the first. A lot more relaxed and scenic though.

Here's how I pictured myself...

What it actually looked like...

Hey! How about a bugle call?

Can anyone tell me the significance of this one?


Yes Juvat, I promise not to kick your horses as long as they promise not to bite me.


  1. I wrangled horses for a summer camp in Comfort back in 85. We had about 50 horses to saddle up for the kiddies. They didn't mind anything from the kids. I picked a tall appaloosa mare as my mount for the summer. She was so big the kids were afraid of her, and she was a bit salty. They all were just as barn spoiled as the one's you describe. They knew the halfway point. As a wrangler, we needed to be maneuverable, and spurs sure helped out with that.

    As we were coming back in, I thought I saw a spear point on the ground. I threw my hat at it, finished the ride, tied up the horses, then mounted that app. She didn't want any part of leaving the herd. I tickled her a bit, and she bogged her head, so I pulled her up short. They usually can't buck if their head is up. She reared up to try and scrape me off in the trees we were under, so I raked her a bit. She started this crow hopping on her back legs, and finally realized we had business elsewhere.

    All that rodeo, and it was a river rock not a spear point!

    We had a swiss mechanical engineer there that year, and he was plumb hilarious on a short legged horse.... His feet almost touched the ground! Jurg Stahlder.

    Of all the work I've ever done, that was the one place I never wanted to leave.....

  2. At this point in my life the number of horseback rides and the number of camelback rides are equal at one each.
    Both times I enjoyed myself, but I have no desire to increase the numbers.

    And yes, for those that know my height, I did board the horse from the port side using the kiddie steps. The camel was different as they do this weird kneeling down and then getting up thing.

    The camel ride brought out an almost mystical connection with Lawrence of Arabia, and I am picturing myself astride the camel while we cross the trackless desert wasteland. In the real world we were tourists in Cairo and the camels my wife and I were riding were moving a walking pace because that was the speed of the small child that was holding the ropes tied to the camels.

    Subject change.
    Yesterday I stopped to talk to a stranger because he was wearing a WWII veterans ballcap, he was Army and when I said I was Navy his expression changed and he said that he had no interest in being on ships because of what he saw happen at Okinawa. I chatted for a while then wished him well and shoved off. The pollen didn't hit me until a bit later and I am being a little bit hit by the pollen now.

    A good memory provoking post. Thanks!

    1. The kamikazes during the invasion of Okinawa took a heavy toll.

  3. I'll answer the question... Mount up and line up.

  4. That was one fun ride, Sarge!

    When my sisters and I were kids, we loved nothing better than to go to the riding stables with a dollar each for an hour's ride. Our Mom & Dad liked it too, because both worked with a day off together. They would drop us off at the stables near by, and have an hour alone together. TV wasn't our was horses! Being little girls, we were horse crazy!!

    I sure do remember how those animals knew the "half way" point of the hour's ride. We'd get them out in the So. Calif river bed as far as they'd be willing to go before they'd insist upon turning around to head back to the stables. Then we'd let 'em rip! We'd get the ride of our little lives!

    Looking back, it's amazing to think of our parents not having any worries about us doing that...times were different back then.

    1. One of the gal progeny had the opportunity in Junior High School to actually take horseback riding as an elective. She decided against it as she had other things she wanted to pursue. I dodged a bullet there, Lex's youngest was an avid horse person as a youth, Lex mentioned more than once just how expensive that gets. (She was into dressage and jumping and all that fancy stuff!)

      Girl next door to us in Germany rode, a lot. Her horse was at least as tall as myself at the shoulder (I'm 5'8"). That animal was massive but oh such a beautiful beast. The horse, yes, the next door neighbor girl was pretty too, if you like that whole Teutonic blonde and blue eyes kind of thing. ;)

  5. I thought chanute was interesting, and better then Minot. Went thru there for age, and CFR. Both fun classes. Got to sit out about a month of CFR by already having an EMT licence, so I had some extra drill in search and rescue from aircraft. Got to play as test dummy for the others when they got there.

    1. I spent a few days at Minot "helping" them out with their command post software (which reminds me of a story). I could not believe how flat it was!

      Heard many things about Chanute, none of them good (at least compared to Denver). Had a buddy who was from North Dakota and had had one assignment at Minot, he couldn't wait to get back there. He was a big hunting/fishing kind of guy.

      Why not?

    2. Agreed with the hunting and fishing there.. Rented a car in jet city, went to Yellowstone , and the Bismark areas, and Canada to fish. And the base let us shoot on down days, to keep the birds down. But, the 21 drinking age was still in the future then,

  6. That would be "Pilots man your planes". Really.

  7. Rode a few times in the way-back.
    Three of those were pack trips into the Trinity Alps walking and carrying your own gear, dontcha know.
    The last time was similar to yours, at Camp Richardson up at Lake Tahoe in 1966.

    1. Something rather relaxing about being on a horse riding through the pines. Though they might have been aspens...

  8. Started riding solo before my 4th birthday. Spent part of my youth wrangling dudes. Father, sister, and many relatives were superb riders. I resemble a sack of potatoes tied to the saddle horn. Never cared much for riding horses but am partial to mules and draft horses. My sister says that accurately describes my personality.

    1. Hahaha!

      I think your sister is on to something there!

  9. "...they knew the halfway point very well." Yeah, we used to call that "barn sour".

    Back to my aforementioned days on the ranch, my mother and I ran it as a guest ranch during the summer for a few years. I got plenty of experience matching guests to horses for trail rides and roundups.

    After my army hitch, I returned to my Dad's place in Oakland, CA. (Some fill in---my folks split up when I was is 2nd grade. My mother passed away when I was thirteen). I got a job at a riding stable up in the Oakland hills. Many adventures ensued.

    Now and again, we would get a church bus load of young folks from the Oakland Hood showing up to rent horses. Ye gods and little fishes. The resulting mix of personalities of stubborn stable horses with brothers and sisters of all ages I leave to your imagination. Here is one example---

    One of our horses was name Dusty Grey. Dusty was about 12 years old, and had two speeds--slow, and dead slow. He was a big horse, with obvious draft horse somewhere in his lineage. He was also perfect for first time riders and little kids. We would let them ride inside the arena under supervision to see how things went before sending them out on the trail.

    Dusty didn't much care for other horses and was pretty much a loner. However, he was perfectly content around people. He could also read them like a book. So one fine day said church bus arrives. One of the customers is a 20ish young gal who has obviously never been around live stock of any kind. She is talking a mile a minute to cover her nervousness. Dusty gets the call. The closer he gets, the bigger her eyes get. Off to the arena, where we manage to get her aboard.

    Sometimes a horse will stomp one foot in place to drive off an annoying insect. Yes, these was a stable and there were flies. However, as The Lord is my witness, there wasn't a fly within 20 feet of Dusty when he casually stomped his left rear foot. The young lady's voice went up three octaves and was now just rapid fire unintelligible syllables. Again, as He is my witness, I swear I saw Dusty's eyes narrow slightly, and the trace of a smile on his lips. A good five count passed, and then Dusty shifted his weight his left rear and stomped his right foot. The young lady did a fair impression of ejecting from the saddle without benefit of an aircraft seat. I don't recall that she ever came back.

    1. That's Hilarious! My two Paints must have some of that gene in them also. They pull stunts like that.

  10. Watched the video and thought "Oh, that's why they have cars in East LA that jump."

    Ok, I'll go stand in the corner now.........


  11. What a fun story.

    Lived on 3 acres in Evergreen, Colorado for 15 years, with fenced paddock (or corral) and little shed cover for horses. Had two appaloosas, pretty roan coloring (like the opening pic in your post) but dumber than fence posts. Fun to ride, though. Once the kiddies were in school full time, it was send them off on the yellow bus, have another cup of coffee, and then head out to saddle up & ride for hours in the open space bordering our property.
    'Twas heaven on earth, for sure.

    On the topic of horses, and being as how you spent time on the Continent & are as well a fan of all things military, you might put this one on your book-list. I've not read my copy yet, but it comes highly recommended: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts. About Patton and his crew arranging for the WW II rescue of the famous Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. See here:

    1. There was actually a Disney movie, Miracle of the White Stallions, I saw as a kid. It told that very story, plus you got to see the horses perform in the film! Love the Lipizzaners, a magnificent breed.

      I guess I have another book to read.

    2. Loved that movie. It was based on the book, his autobiography, by Alois Podhajsky, "My Dancing White Horses." See here:

      Not to beat the dead horse (so to speak): Marguerite Henry also wrote of the Lipizzans in her YA novel, "White Stallion of Lipizza." Dunno if you've ever heard of her, but every 15 yo and under little girl who loves horses has read her books: Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Born to Trot, etc.

      PS: YouTube has some nice vids

    3. Sweet! I have a thing for horses, magnificent animals.

    4. Cab and Merlot, both Equine and WineWine, are waiting. All it takes is a little trip.

    5. Temptation thy name is Juvat!


  12. Ok. At first I thought not to post this only because I thought I might be over doing it a bit and did not want to wear out my welcome. But, it has been rattling around in my head all day, and I have decided what the heck, I will post it. I think everyone will understand why.

    I am told that when I was a wee lad learning my first words, I was introduced to my maternal grandfather. Those present tried to encourage me with words like 'granddad' and 'grandpa', but to no avail. Then someone said "Poppa" and I came back with "Boppa". The name stuck, and my grandfather was Boppa from then on. When my third horse foaled on our ranch, I named him after my grandfather. Boppa. We grew up together. He turned four about the time I turned 12.

    His mother was full blooded thoroughbred and 17 hands at the withers. He was right at 16 hands. He was also 1/4 Quarter Horse and 1/4 Morgan, and built like a tank. He was also a one man horse. Even if I was in the saddle, if another guy walked up to give him a friendly pat on the neck, he would shy away. If I was on the ground and we yakked for a minute, then it was ok. Any girl on the planet could walk up and hug him with both arms. Then he was a big teddy bear. What a chick magnet.

    I was fortunate enough to be able to pasture him literally across the street from where I went to junior college. There was another pasture behind the first that I also had access to. In this second one there were a couple of dilapidated out buildings and some old tires laid out flat in a large figure eight. This was used to gallop a horse around to train them to change their hoof lead going into a turn.

    So, one fine weekend Boppa and I arrive in the back pasture, and I spot something low in the sky some distance away. Looks like another hot air balloon. Cool. We go about running some figure eights and some other stuff. Meanwhile the balloon is getting closer. And closer. And lower. By this time we are taking a break and I am standing on the ground. Boppa is giving me glances letting me know his is just not real sure about this thing in the sky. Knowing that I have more control of a nervous horse in the saddle than on the ground, I decide to mount up.

    Just as my right foot leaves the ground, the balloon pilot lights his burner. Three things happen immediately. Boppa crow-hops forward, I land behind the saddle, and I lose my grip on the reins. Boppa crow-hops three or four more times (I lost count) and my frantic attempts to grab the reins are exactly out of sync. Boppa finally bucks, I go up and forward, he goes hard right, and when I return to cruising altitude, there ain't nobody there.

    I sorta remember hitting the ground. I do remember sliding to a stop and feeling the dust settle on the back of my neck, and thinking (to borrow a future movie line) "Gonna be sore in the mornin'.". I hurt some, but nothing was broken and everything worked. I got up and dusted off and looked around.

    Where's my horse? Ah, standing over there about 20 yards away. So I walk over to him and reach for the reins. As I reach out, he begins to tremble, and before I can grasp the reins, he walks away. Doesn't bolt or run, just...walks away. This happens once more. You see, this is the first time he had ever thrown me. In his mind, I was going to walk up an blow his brains out. On the third try, I finally got the reins. I had never seen the whites of his eyes that big, and he was shaking like a leaf. I just patted him and quietly talked to him, telling him it was ok, not his fault. And then he let out the biggest sigh of relief I have ever heard from anyone, two legged or four. A one man horse.

    And here's the thing. That first photo up top is his spittin' image, right down to the white blaze on his face. He also had two white socks on the left side.

    Boppa. See you soon buddy.

    1. Dusty in here this morning, a great story.

      Never feel shy about sharing here RHT447, especially with stories like that.

      What a great horse.


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