Horse of History
After work, I often got home in the dark, changed clothes and would head for the horse and tractor barn to do evening chores. Dozens of winter chickens had roosted for the night in glassed south side during earlier years. Spring mail orders grew the flocks into the hundreds..
The mounts roamed their pasture by day but were inside on their half of the barn to escape the bitterly cold, below zero nights. They always snorted deep and stomped anxiously for my arrival. I walked the frequently shoveled deep snow trail to the back barns, carrying two five gallon buckets of fresh water. Both were needed to replace solid ice cylinders I routinely dumped from their frozen containers. An impressive collection built up like an ice palace and accumulated on the outside waiting for spring.
After forking the wet heavy straw from their stall onto the outside manure pile, I climbed into the loft, tossing down a bale of fresh straw to spread on the thick wooden floor. Tossing down a bale of fresh hay and breaking it into biscuits, filled their wall rack. The excitement of the chores kept them stirring around trying to be first in line, as if the first bite was the tastiest.
Snorting around their feed trough, kept them interested while I tore into chunks a couple of dry bread loaves from the salvage bakery and mixed it into their molases laced sweet feed. I would at times eat a small handfull of 'sweet feed' treat while prepping it for the mounts. They were always sticking their big heads over my shoulder and nuzzling to try and get a preview nibble from my hand.
With a little imagination their warm breath and heavy winter coats turned them into Hungry Bears in the darkness. Their large warm shaggy bodies made the barn, which was now deep in fresh straw, nice and cozy. The straw and hay storage loft, filled in the Fall, acted as insulation to retain their body heat. The rescued vagrants from 'the Killers' really appreciated their home. When found, most had been very neglected.
Folks yearn for a horse, dreaming of the glamour and how They will look astride a beautiful mount. Like a new fad exercise machine, they really pay attention to it....for a while. After time and newness wears off, the intensive daily care and never ending expense becomes a now undesired reality. "The bigger they are, the more they eat". The once generous and fun to dispense feed ration, is cut back drastically to shave costs and time. Neglect soon turns to outright Abuse. All to quickly, the at one time prized animal, is derelect, in ill health and tossed aside.... Discarded like a broken toy.
One in particular was previously owned by a neighbor that never had the time to ride or take care of this, at one time impressive, very big Chestnut Mahogany mount.
After anxiously watching this great animal degrade for months outside with no shelter and seeing the pile of corn stalks (with no corn) laying on the ground under his feet, we finally talked the man into selling this once noble beast. His niece, my school mate, talked him into selling before the big Gelding died and became a total liability. Fortunately his teeth were still intact, with no abcesses. After a regimen of intestinal 'worm' medicine, along with carefully measured, high carb, high protein laden diet with nice fresh hay, gradually plumped out his sagging hide, concealing his ribs, he looked much better.
Getting all of his bones covered in some healthy fat and muscle, while getting his 'sled runner' hooves cut off, trimmed back (with farrier help) and treated daily, he slowly became fit for riding. Some many weeks later, after he regained some of his muscle, I finally slipped a Western style Curb Bit
I neck reigned, he immediately turned the opposite direction. His ride was atrocious and bounced my 'Western' butt all over. After I threw on the doubled saddle blanket and low cantle western plains saddle, it was even worse. Turned out that he had been a registered Five Gaited English Driving Gelding, once used for pulling light, wheeled and sleigh runnered conveyences or riding to the hounds....with an English riding saddle
Out of survival, I 'cross reigned' through my fist wrist action and quickly learned to 'Post' on my low cantle Western Saddle
A neighbor girl friend who also kept a pet Racoon (a little bit wild herself ;>), rode an even larger and more powerful wild eyed stallion, 'Gaylord' that was darker in coloration. He was extremely impressive, a proud and menacing looking mount, obviously of Tennessee
Prince the big Gelding, was of far more civilized aristocracy, he shifted gears like my British motorcycles. Five up and five down. Each light 'spur' took him up, and a short tug on reins took him down... one 'gear' at a time.
He was a mature ride that is for sure. His experience with various riders over his lifetime, taught him to treat everyone 'Up', like they were 'His' students. His ability to instinctively handle every new situation with a steady and calm reaction, became obvious after many uneventful patrols of the surrounding county pastures, swamps, fields and trails.
Then came one windy and frozen, below zero afternoon, normal for the upper midwest. We had uneventfully crossed an irrigation flood control channel that was solidly iced over. After a couple of hours of patrolling the fields and woodlots, we turned and headed back. It was late dusk and winter darkness was fast approaching. The barn was still a substantial distance away, but he was excited about the evening chow and nice fresh hay in the barn with the other mounts.
The big Gelding was having a good 'blow', stepping out lively. We began to re-cross the wide frozen channel at a clip......then the unthinkable happened, the snow covered ice broke through. I found myself up to my waist and sinking into swirling, frozen black water and ice. The big guy 'Prince', immediately without hesitation lurched and leaped forward through the thick ice, breaking it away as he jumped onto each section. My only salvation was to lean far forward over his mane, giving him his head while clenching my legs onto his withers and hang onto the mane engulfed pommel horn.... and Pray.
With each great leap he broke away through the thick ice and battled his way closer to shore. Then like a huge enraged cat, virtually clawed, leapt and surged his way up the near vertical, steep and long bank. With me clinging on for dear life, he stretched like a racing champion on the final straightaway, and galluped all out, the considerable distance back to the barn.
The big Gelding was needing no further encouragement from me. I just hung on like riding a powerful motorcycle. The sub zero icey wind froze the water soaked parts of us into a sheet of ice like a coat of armor. My legs were frozen popsicles from my belt down, and my jeans were frozen stiff to the saddle like unbendable metal fenders. The big Gelding was hot and steaming like a powerful locomotive, but still pounding hooves on the frozen terrain passing rapidly under us.
He and I both were covered in glistening icicles similar to 'chain mail', as we galloped up the roadway, cutting around the barn and in through the open doorway. I had to duck down to stay aboard. I cracked loose from the ice covered saddle and slid off, shivering like a dog passin' razor blades. Shaking so hard that I barely got him unbridled, pulled out his cinch, unsaddled, and dropping his crystalized rigging on the floor.
No strength left in my frozen body to give him a well deserved burlap bag rub down. I tore off a couple of bisquits of hay, and gave him his 'generously overfilled' can of feed. I was too frozen to add in any additional treats. I then clomped down the snow covered trail like a frozen robot. Stumbling back to the house, I collapsed in a frozen heap, laying on top the old floor furnace to thaw.
At the time, I thought for sure we were both gone'rs. Especially as we were sinking into that swirling deep black water. I was sure we were going to be fast frozen, trapped under the ice in that remote hell forsaken channel,.... only to be found in the spring thaw..
Surprisingly, the next day's ride preparation, like all of our others, was again exciting for him. The big mahogany Gelding seemed to have dismissed our previous day's nearly fatal patrol. Slipping the bit into his mouth and during the saddling up, He excitedly danced around in anticipation like always, ears perked, looking forward to some new adventure on our daily patrol. Later years, I try to have learned something from that battle of near death experience, besides Caution and Awareness,... a fantastic positive attitude.....or poor memory :>)
Good old 'Prince' One of my most memorable mounts, Big Prince went on to work with a prominent local horse trainer. She would strap the younger, misbehaving horses to him. He would then literally drag them through his daily workout routine. They eventually got the idea that it was better to obey his rider's commands and not fight the program. He was a fine teacher. :>)
One more small story of rural life in the greatest Freedom loving nation, The United States of America, One Nation Under GOD :>)