Thursday, October 3, 2013

Queenie: Part 2

So many memories . . .

I think I got my saddle the Christmas after I got Queenie, and although I rode bareback a lot, it did make doing other things a lot easier. The last summer we lived on our farm in Southeastern Idaho, my father and mother were going through a divorce. My father had moved out and all of my siblings were gone. My brother was living with my father and my sister and youngest brother were in Southern California with my grandparents. I stayed with my mom because it was my final year to do 4-H. We were moving away from the country and into the city, where I was going to be boarding my horses, rather than having them right outside my window. (To this day, I have no idea how my mother managed to support three kids and three horses, take care of us and go to school at the same time, but she did. I am in awe of her commitment to allowing me to keep my horses.)

That last summer I spent alone with my horses. My mother was going to school in the city about 45 minutes away and I had few responsibilities. I did however, have a constant companion. Her name escapes me, but she was three-quarters wolf and a quarter husky. Her owners were traveling for the summer so my mom offered to watch her. We bonded immediately. She was my constant companion, trotting next to Queenie when we rode, swimming with me in the canal, sleeping curled in a ball at the side of the bed. I spent a lot of time riding with friends, riding out the ten miles from my house to theirs, my sleeping bag tied on the back of my saddle, and a book tucked into my pants pocket. The ride out to their house was at speed (which is how we hit the huge tangle of wire) and my mare could cover the distance in a couple of hours. The ride back was always more leisurely, with me hooking my ankles over the saddle horn and leaning back on my sleeping bag, letting Queenie stride out in her long, fast walk while I lost myself in whatever book of the day I was reading. Sometimes, the wolf-dog would trot up and whine at me and I would move back and she would leap onto the saddle and sit. Queenie didn't mind and we would ride home that way. (The day before we moved off the farm the wolf-dog's owner drove up and opened their van door. The dog jumped in and they drove off. I didn't even get to say goodbye.)

I spent time riding in the riverbottoms. It was very common for me to get on Queenie and head out by myself for the day. I would range for miles in any direction but riding down by the river was one of my favorites. In 1976, the Teton Dam had collapsed and the Snake River corridor had flooded. The riverbottoms were still full of battered and smashed houses, cars and river craft. It was fun to explore. One day we crossed the Snake river at a bridge and rode for a couple of hours on the other side. When it was time to go home I didn't want to take the time to ride a couple miles downstream to the bridge and instead crossed the river at a fairly low spot. Queenie and I had spent time playing in the canal that ran behind our property and I knew she would swim, but crossing a river is very different. We crossed at a point where the water ran about two feet deep over a bed of small rocks. The middle chanel was fairly fast and deep, but we crossed it together, me on her downstream side, holding to the saddlehorn as she swam straight and strong to the shallow water on the other side of the channel.

That last summer in 4-H I spent riding with a woman (Sue?) who had a huge dun QH that was a marvel. We did gymkhana and had an absolute blast. At one of the events I would wait down at the end of the arena, she would tear down to me and slide to a stop, one arm outreached. I would grab her arm and launch myself as high in the air as I could in a flying mount. She would spin her horse on his haunches and he would slide under me as we turned and I would land on his huge rear end as he bolted back down the arena. There was one time during the gymkhana when I jumped and Sue spun that dun horse and I flew all the way over his rump to land in the sand with Sue on top of me, having yanked her from the saddle. The dun (I wish I could remember his name) hightailed it back down the arena, sliding to a stop after crossing the time line and then looked around like he wondered what in the sam hell we were doing laying in the sand at the far end of the arena. I have never laughed so hard in my entire life.

That was the summer I learned to rope, playing header to Sue's heeler and we even competed a couple of times in local reining contests. Queenie did okay with the cows, and we were using young ones, not the full grown monsters. I think she would have been better fit for heeling, but I couldn't heel a cow to save my life. I also taught her to walk, trot and canter in a circle with me standing in the saddle just for fun.

Then it was time to say goodbye to my stomping grounds. We moved about 45 miles away and my horses went into a stable, where they had a small stall and a run. Queenie, my three year old Ace and her weanling Shadow Dancer. I got a job that fall to help with the board and my time to ride shrank considerably. However, there were hills and wild areas all over the place out by where I kept the horses and I rode every chance I got, sometimes in deep snow, or pouring rain. It never really mattered to me. I wasn't able to ride in 4-H any more, but I did find a posse to ride with and we did horse drill team, which was completely different from anything I had done before. I also rode with another girl I met through her brother, who had been riding in posses for awhile. She also rode a big red dun horse and we would trailer together to rodeos and perform at intermission. There was one rodeo where we were there for a couple of days. The second day, after our performance, every one got together in the huge corral. There were something like 46 riders all girls and all between the ages of 14 and 18. We decided to play tag. One girl was it and she had to touch either the saddle or the saddle blanket of another horse and then they were both it. So on and so on until every one was tagged. Queenie was magnificient. Once she figured out what the game was (and it didn't take her long) she spun and danced and avoided everyone until we were last woman standing. And even then it took the entire group of girls almost 15 minutes to finally wear us down to the point where they could touch us. We were both huffing and covered with lather, but she was still eager to play. I finally stopped her and gave up, afraid she wouldn't quit.

My final ride on her was with a couple of friends. We decided to ride the canal bank but the trail was only wide enough for two abreast. I turned around and sat behind the saddle, with my legs crossed on her rump, facing the women behind me. I looped the reins over the saddle horn and trusted my mare to take care of us. We rode that way for about three hours, talking and chatting and I only needed to turn around a couple of times to negotiate obstacles. It was a perfect day and I didn't realize then that it was the last one.

By this time in my life I was in my early twenties. I was out of my mother's house and trying to survive on my own. I had been blacklisted in the town where I lived (not easy being gay in Idaho in the early 80's) and I couldn't find work any where. I ended up flying to Southern California to live at my grandparent's house and work in their mini-mart. I had thoughts before moving down there of finding a spot to keep Queenie but the reality of living in SoCal quickly disabused me of that. I had no money. Although I was living and working my with my Grandparents, I wasn't making enough to pay for food and gas, often walking the three or four miles from their house to their mini-mart because I had no car. I didn't have the money to send back to pay for Queenie's board and my mom wasn't in a position to help. At that point I was down to one horse and it about killed me to let her go. There was a 13 year old girl at the house where I was boarding her who was a good rider and loved horses. I gave her Queenie, with the condition that if they couldn't keep her, to contact me and I would move her somewhere else. The agreement wasn't in writing, but I really thought they would keep her for their daughter. I heard from a friend about nine months later that one day the girl came home and all of the horses were gone. Her father had sold every bit of livestock on the farm to buy himself a new pair of snowmobiles.

Five or six years later that same friend told me she had been driving to pick up some fruit from somewhere and saw a horse in a field she was sure was Queenie. She would have been 18 or 19 by then. She was fat and happy and trotted to the fence to say hi when my friend stopped and got out of her car. I would like to believe she lived out her life in the pasture, well loved and taken care of.

I have never known an animal like Queenie. I know I have shared some of our stories with you, but words can't describe what she meant to me. From our first day together she would nicker and come to me when she saw me, even if she was out on a 40 acre field. She trusted me in places and doing things that raise the hair on the back of my neck in retrospect. She was the most honest, trustworthy and loyal animal I have ever known. She gave me three wonderful foals. She was everything you would want a horse to be, everything you dream a horse could be, and although I know she passed from my life thirty years ago, writing about her still moves me to tears.

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