Queenie was a true Appaloosa Blue Roan mare, with a small blanket, mottled Roman nose, skimpy mane and tail, and white and black striped hooves. She was Appaloosa before Appaloosas got bred to big butt Halter shown QH's for the color factor alone. She was a lean, mean moving machine who had just turned three the first time I met her. My mom was riding her in the front yard of our house in September the year I turned thirteen. I ran outside to watch and asked what was happening. I mean, here was a real horse, not the scrub ponies we had been riding. I was told that my mom was trying her out to see if we wanted to buy her. She was green broke (about 10 rides on her) and still learning. Her owner took her away and I didn't think about it again.
That was the year my brother discovered my mom's little black book with her list of Christmas gifts. Each kid had a page. My list had pad saddle listed (my Santa item) and several other smaller things. One item on the list said "horse". I really thought it meant Breyer horse, since I was collecting them, and so every time we drove from our town of 700 to Idaho Falls (where you could get a burger and shake) to the Grand Central there, I made a point of studying the Breyer horses, picking my favorites. Sometime late in November, I remember making a point of showing my mom which one I really wanted. I wanted to maximize my stash on Christmas morning. I was so excited the night before Christmas that I could hardly sleep. I heard my father and Grandfather leave the house after we were tucked into bed and it was hours later before they returned. They had walked the mile and a half to get Queenie and lead her home. They had been passed by EVERY car in the town where I grew up, which caused Queenie to balk and rear and be frightened. It had taken them an hour and a half to walk her home to our house. My brother and I woke up about 3 am and were talking loudly enough to wake my mom, who gave us our stockings and told us to be quiet. By six the grandparents were awake and it was time to see what we got.
My crushing disappointment did not last long. Queenie and I greeted each other, her wild eyed and straggly mane in a small shed so I wouldn't see her: Me with a thin coat on over my pajamas, snow packing into my slippers and icing my legs. She came up and sniffed my hand that first moment of meeting. She was rough furred and mostly black, with a blaze down her face. Her muzzle was soft and welcoming against my hand.
I started training her that winter. The snow was very deep and we would ride in the pasture every day after school, with the sun setting behind banks of clouds. I rode bareback, since my mom couldn't find a pad saddle to fit Queenie, with a halter turned into a side pull and we worked on stopping and turning. I don't ever remember her trying to buck or doing any of the other spastic stuff babies can do. It was like we knew we were meant for each other from the very beginning. By spring, I was able to ride her all over the place, bareback, sometimes with my little sister up behind me. My mom got me a plastic pad saddle (It was a pad saddle with plastic cantle and pommel and stirrups) to ride in and we trailered her up to a trail ride with a bunch of other people. My mom rode. I remember sunlight filtered through evergreens and sandwiches for lunch, and the feel of Queenie underneath me.
We showed at county fair in August and came away with four blue ribbons and two rosettes in four classes. I wasn't able to ride at the State Fair, however, because she caught something that needed antibiotics to treat and she wasn't healthy enough to show.
We bred her that summer. First to a strapping, huge TWH our neighbor owned and then to a smaller QH, also black. She gave us a foal on May 5th, 1976, the day Bold Forbes won the Kentucky Derby. I named him Bold Ace. He was black with a white blaze and a nice blanket. He was definitely half QH and I decided we weren't going to do that again. By that summer I was riding all over the county, with Ace attached to the saddle by a long lead rope. Some days we scoured the ditch banks and road sides for 3 cent and 10 cent glass bottles to gather up and sell at the grocery store. Other days we went to the fruit stand. A favorite place to ride was the elementry school grounds, with their huge fields and lush grass. Always, we had the 40 acres behind our land where we played and rode and swam the horses in the canal. Most days there was a group of us on horseback, although my brother traded his horse pretty early for his bicycle.
The second winter I had Queenie, when she was pregnant with Ace, I was riding in March. It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and I rode down to the school. Then, like happens frequently in the West (especially on the plains) a storm blew up out of nowhere and the temps dropped. The wind was blowing pretty hard and Queenie was ready to go home. She got higher and higher the lower the temps dropped. We were both pretty comfortable at that point with riding on the shoulder of the road. I held her to a very high trot until we crossed the bridge a quarter mile from my house and then there was no holding her back. She moved into a very smooth canter. My neighbor's car pulled up next to us and I turned my head, raising a hand to salute (I played calvary soldier a lot as a kid).
At that moment she fell.
To this day I have no idea why she slipped and fell. I can say it was the only time it happened, and that for the rest of our 10+ years together she was as sure footed as a billy goat. I can also say that I am absolutely convinced that if I hadn't turned my head to salute my neighbor, I would have died on the road. This was years before bike helmets were made and decades before I was introduced to a riding helmet. It's also a good thing I wasn't riding in a saddle, because I catapulted off her back, rolled on the road and ended up on my feet.
I was looking down at the pavement and was still wearing my glasses. I saw something fall from the top of my head and then I looked over to see Queenie rolling to her feet. My left ankle hurt. Queenie seemed fine and I grabbed up her reins and started for our yard. My neighbor had stopped his car and asked if I was alright. I swiped at my nose with the back of my hand and saw a little blood and said that I was fine. I felt fine. Ok, not fine, my ankle hurt really bad. I struggled to lead Queenie over the snowdrift in front of our house (it was almost six feet high) and then across our front yard. It was starting to snow. By the time I reached the front steps I knew I was hurting more than I thought and I let Queenie head for the pasture as I hobbled up our front porch. When I opened the door, my brother looked up at me and turned completely white. My sister screamed and looked like she wanted to faint. I looked down at my jacket. It was bright red with blood and there was a pool of blood on the concrete in front of the door. I looked up and screamed at my sister to get me a towel.
My parents weren't home and I was the oldest. When my sister brought me the towel, I grabbed her hard and told her to go check Queenie and put her away in the pasture. My sister caught the edge of hysteria in my voice and did just that, reporting back a few minutes later that Queenie was fine and put away. I went to the bathroom and applied pressure to the gashes in my face, slowing the bleeding and taking stock. I knew right away I needed to go to the hospital. The gash in my forehead was deep and needed stitched and my cheek and chin needed stitches as well. The left side of my face looked like someone had taken a power sander to it. (I now know that is called road rash.) My ankle was swelling in my boot and my lower back really hurt. I got the bleeding stopped and bandages to hold closed the widest gashes, cut the boot off my foot, and put my coat in the washing machine, although it no longer had a back at all. (My sister says now that I was almost hysterical about washing the coat.) Then I sat down and asked my brother to call our neighbors to see if they would take me to the emergency room. The neighbors had come back to take me when my father showed up and loaded me in the car. They put 37 stitches in my face, took about a thousand xrays of my head, a couple of my foot and completely ignored my complaints of lower back pain.
That was my first really serious fall. Luckily, my horse was just fine. My lower back pain and disc injury occured in that fall, however, as well as damage to the cartiledge around the place where the spinal column goes through the pelvis.
I could ride Queenie everywhere. I rode her inside the elementary school (what was with me wanting to take horses inside of buildings), in the Jr High and in the High School. I rode her down to the Riverbottoms and spent whole days riding wild and free through the underbrush and trees. (Glad I was out of town by the time the two boys were abducted, raped and killed by someone, their bodies dumped in the place where we most frequently rode.)
Some of the things I remember:
There was one day when I had ridden out and on the way back took an unfamiliar route home. I ended up on the far side of the Sagebrush Place (one of our favorite places) with a very steep, deep canal between me and the other side. I was tired and didn't want to back track to get home. The canal was crossed by a train tressle. I got off, walked backwards over the train tressle and Queenie followed me without hesitation. I could see the water flowing below us as she carefully placed each step on the timbers, completely ignoring the gap of space between each tie. Ah, the folly of youth. I was reckless and completely fearless and Queenie was my fearless companion.
One Saturday I was up early to ride to a friend's house to go camping in a ditch in a back field somewhere. I packed up my sleeping bag and a book, (by this time I had a western saddle I had gotten for Christmas) and we took off. We were almost to my friend's house, moving in a loose, smooth canter when I saw a big, huge pile of barbed wire in the middle of the roadside ditch we were cantering down. I pulled back and asked Queenie to stop. She did but not fast enough. We slid right into that pile of wire. I was off her in a flash, grabbing her nose and one ear, talking to her to calm her. She stood stock still. The wire was wound around her legs, over her neck, across the saddle (I have no idea how I got off her that fast without snarling myself.) I was so scared I was shaking, trying to project calm. Wire like that could have killed us both if she had panicked. She stood, shaking like a leaf in the wind. Slowly, I began to untangle us. (This is one of the reasons I never ride without wire cutters now.) First one leg and then another, freeing her neck and clearing the barbs out of my sleeping bag. Slowly, and only when I asked, she moved forward one step at a time, out of the confines of the wire. I had tears running down my face, sobbing with stress, as I praised her for being such a great horse. I didn't touch the reins after she was stopped and no matter how much the wire rustled, Queenie didn't move unless I touched her leg and asked her to. Finally, I cleared the last strand and we walked completely free of the pile. It was almost five feet high and about six feet across. Queenie had one puncture wound just above the coronet band on her LF foot.
Like I said, it's a miracle I made it to adulthood. (It is common practice in the West to ball old wire into huge piles and throw them outside the fence line to sit and rust in the gutters next to the road. We had ridden that route the week before and there hadn't been any wire there. I'm not sure if Queenie tried to jump the ball before we got tangled, but that would be the only explanation for why we weren't tangled worse. And for those who don't know, barbed wire like that could have killed us both if she had panicked.)
Part 2 tomorrow.