Award-winning writer: Jackie Papandrew
Airing My Dirty Laundry!
“When one is on horseback, he knows all things.” — George Herbert
I grew up on John Wayne movies. I was fascinated as a child by the westerns, where Wayne rode tall in the saddle, a rugged symbol of America itself. I wanted to be like the girl in True Grit, riding at breakneck speed alongside the hero, impressing him with my equine expertise. The only problem was that in real life, I’d never even been near a horse.
In my dreams, I was the very embodiment of a fine rider, my hair streaming out behind me as I raced across the plains. In reality, as I found out recently, my fantasy fell flat when confronted with actual horse flesh.
I had an opportunity, with my family, to go on a two-hour trail ride. My children were excited, and they managed to convince my mother to come along. Although my mom grew up on a farm, she hadn’t been on a horse in more than 40 years. It’s amazing what people will do for their grandchildren.
We arrived at the stables, and times being what they are, were presented with numerous pages of legalese assuring us that riding a horse is a dangerous activity and that we, as suicidal idiots, were crazy to want to be placed on hooved hazards for the express purpose of inflicting upon ourselves serious injury or, more likely, a slow and painful death. The stables, therefore, could not be held responsible.
I found myself thinking that John Wayne would never have signed such a statement.
“Well, Pilgrim,” he’d have said, “we best just get on outta here.”
We signed on the bottom line, though, and having dispensed with the legalities, prepared to mount our trusty rides.
In deference to her age, the two young wranglers who would accompany us brought my mother a step stool. Unfortunately, they apparently assumed someone of my relatively young years ought to be able to hop right into the saddle. Wrong. After I made several clumsy attempts to pull myself up and over what seemed like the world’s tallest horse, both wranglers had to expend an embarrassing amount of effort shoving me into position.
I was on a horse nicknamed RIP for Rest in Peace. This perfectly described the creature – he was already practicing for the time when he assumed room temperature. As soon as the ride started, RIP refused to move. But as a Duke devotee, I knew exactly what to do.
“Giddyup,” I said to the horse. This appeared to greatly amuse my wrangler friends, but had no discernible effect on RIP.
“Giddyup,” I repeated. RIP stood perfectly still, even the flies on his neck seemingly frozen in place. I was sure I could hear tiny fly laughter.
“You gotta kick him,” said one of the cowboys. So, feeling very brave, I gave him a few timorous kicks, which caused the slightest flicker of an ear on my one-foot-in-the-grave mount. One of the wranglers then gave him a resounding whack on the rear, and RIP ever so slowly started down the trail.
Meanwhile, my mom had been placed on a more lively horse named Navajo, who took great delight in leaving the trail to munch on grass. Back in the day, as my kids say, my five-foot mother was an elementary school teacher who could strike fear into the hearts of recalcitrant schoolboys with just a glance.
Being faced with the equine equivalent of a delinquent, she mustered all her teaching techniques to subdue him. And as sometimes happens when teachers meet a student for the first time, she got his name wrong.
“Now Napoleon,” she said in her strictest schoolmarm tone, “you get yourself back on the trail this minute or you’ll be hearing from me, mister.”
Navajo/Napoleon, of course, completely ignored her until the wrangler approached. Then he ambled along for about a minute before once again heading for the grass.
This is how the whole ride went – RIP kept refusing to move in the face of my most gallant giddyups and Navajo/Napoleon, despite being the beneficiary of expert educational methods, happily noshed on every blade of grass within reach.
Our two-hour ride had stretched to three by the time we returned to the stables. The overworked wranglers were grumpy, but I was proud of both myself and my mother. Maybe we weren’t up to John Wayne’s standards. But we’d managed to stay astride our stubborn steeds. And that, Pilgrim, is true grit.
~ © Jackie Papandrew 2007 ~
Jackie Papandrew is an award-winning writer, syndicated humor columnist, coffee addict and mom to a motley crew of children and pets who provide a steady stream of column ideas and dirt. She's also wife to a very patient man who had no idea, years ago when he still had time to escape, what he was getting himself into. Visit her website at: JackiePapandrew.com
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