Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday: Truth or Tall-Tale

To recap last week: Truth

And now to our Thursday Truth or Tall-Tale segment. (Sorry, Popcorn may make another appearance next week.)

I grew up on an acre of land. It was divided between a small pasture (@ 1/2 acre) and the land the house set on. There was a slant roofed building we used as a chicken coop, where we housed 150 pullets every January. It was a low building and filled with chicken poop, which we used as a prison for our myriad of games every fall after the Great Chicken Beheading in August. Those were fun times.

At the end of the pasture where the chicken coop was, was a small wood corral. The rest of the pasture shared space with 13 apple trees, in a variety of flavors. In the back, behind the chicken coop, was a wreck of a building, with no roof, where we housed three sows one year, and their 36 suckling pigs. If you think keeping horses in a field is a lot of work, try keeping piglets in their pens.

Our 1942 brick house and one acre of land was part of a 40 acre piece of property owned by one of the local farmers. It had about an acre of for a stockyard, which had two silver grain silos, and a old white building also used as a silo. They made for great mouse hunting games. We didn't eat them, but we did feed them to the barn cats. There was  huge old boxcar with one end off of it, that was used to store hay about a million years before we moved in, but was repurposed as an awesome clubhouse, complete with an old couch. Off one side of the boxcar was a lean-to with a stock corral next to it.

Behind our house and small pasture, was 40 acres backed by a canal. Canals in my childhood were like back alleyways through the countryside, where we could ride for hours and hours, constantly exploring new places. They were great for swimming as well, with or without horses. The only bummer was the occassional dead cow or horse or even pig some farmer upstream decided to dispose of.

Anyway, the land behind us was broken into four parts. There was a five acre pasture, then the rest of the land was divided into three planting fields: alfalfa, wheat and potatoes. There was a ditch that separated the back half from the first half that was used for irrigation. We had a quarter mile dirt road that ran out to the fields and this whole parcel was our playground. Especially after we got horses.

(In case you haven't figured it out yet, I had the soul of a Lakota warrior trapped in a ten-year-old girl's body. Fearless doesn't begin to describe it. The more dangerous the stunt, the more I wanted to try it. And there were always kids around to coerce into trying it with me. Within a two mile radius there were two families with about a dozen kids each, three families with at least five kids, and a couple of families with four kids. Plenty of guinea pigs.)

The second Christmas after I got Queenie, I was given a Western saddle. It was a great gift but the best part about a Western saddle is the horn. You can tie stuff to it. It didn't take long for me to start tying stuff to my saddle and dragging it behind me, usually piled with as many kids as possible. This was especially fun during the winter, when sleds and tractor tire tubes made the challenge of ejecting the riders off them into snowbanks. I perfected the exact trajectory needed to swing Queenie at a hard gallop, out of the wheat field and down the dirt road in such a manner that the tire tube would drift to the right behind us and hit the ditchbank, sending it and anyone still clinging to it about six feet off the ground in a long arch to bounce across the empty potato field. It was especially fun to watch the snow encrusted kids pick themselves up from wherever they had landed, because no one ever managed to stay on. This game was best with truck tire tubes, but unfortunately they are hard to keep inflated and so the game couldn't be played outside of winter.

Then some genius made a red, plastic toboggan with yellow handles and a tow rope in the front. They were long enough that three (count them) kids could sit in it or lay down and pile on top. They were super fast and fairly cheap. We had two of them. They got a lot of use on the sledding hill fifteen minutes from where we lived. They were slick and smooth and traveled over the snow with great ease. They even launched better than the inner tubes over the ditchbank.

The next fall, late October, before the snow had started, I had the brilliant idea of using the toboggans on the wheat field. Wheat fields, when they are cut, are cut very short. The wheat head is harvested for grain (bread) and the wheat shaft, which is about two to three feet tall, depending on the amount of water and heat the wheat is subject to during the growing season, is gathered and baled for straw. This leaves a perfect field. The footing is awesome and it was a favorite to ride in and across after the harvest. One of the things about flood irrigation is that there are small humps built into the field, where the water runs on either side. These humps are about 14 inches high and make both a great jumping obstacle, as well as, an awesome launch point for the toboggan.

We gathered the neighborhood kids, tied the toboggan rope to a lariat, and then secured the lariat to the saddle horn. By this time we had two saddles. Mine and a smaller pony saddle for the younger kids. We used Queenie, of course, with me aboard, and my brother on Sham. (For the complete background on Sham, please read "All the Horses"). I took off across the wheat field with three kids in the toboggan, hitting all of the irrigation humps at a fast trot. The kids thought it was great fun. Queenie thought it was great fun. We started galloping and making circles, watching the kids whip out behind us in a flying arch, the short wheat acting in much the same way as snow would have. My brother, always game, followed behind me on Sham.

We got more and more crazy, going faster and faster. The kids behind us were screaming in delight. And then it happened. My brother took a turn too fast or too sharp, or the kids just got tired of holding on, but the toboggan tipped over and the kids in it sprawled into the wheat (not nearly as much fun as snow) and the squeels of delight turned to groans of pain. The toboggan, freed of the weight holding it to the ground, became a kite.

This was not an improvement.

Sham lost his mind.

He bolted with the toboggan whipping behind him like a kite. My brother dropped the reins and grabbed the lariat end and pulled for all he was worth. This did not slow the horse nor did it release the toboggan. It did manage to wedge the rope tightly around the horn in a manner that made releasing it impossible. In his defense, he hated horses and really didn't like to ride. It was an easy mistake. Sham, who could jump four and a half feet with me on him bareback, raced up to the ditch, slid to a stop, then jumped like a deer over the six foot wide ditch. My brother racked himself on the front of the saddle when Sham slid to a stop, then flipped off the back of the horse as he launched himself, landing on his shoulders with a splash in the ditch. My brother was fine, if covered in muck from the bottom of the ditch, smelling of rotten fish and cow manure and swearing he would never ride another horse (which he stuck to).

Sham kept going, the toboggan flipping and floating in the air behind him. He circled the fields, scaring the crap out of the other horses, while I watched in horror. There was nothing we could do. The rope was tangled around the horn and there was no way to stop Sham. By this time he was running like a scared rabbit, in great leaps forward, more jumps than run. He finally lined out for the house, and I braced for a serious wreck. The big wooden fence at the end of the dirt road was closed. Sham didn't even slow down. He went over that five foot fence like it was child's play. He cleared it with a foot or so to spare. (Sham would have made a great jumper, since he was 13.3hh, if he hadn't been such a psychotic horse and if we had lived somewhere with a hunter/jumper barn. I saw him clear six foot fences from a stand still. He really was part jackrabbit.)

The toboggan floating behind him was not so lucky. As Sham turned to the left toward his pasture, the rope slipped between the gate and the fence post. The toboggan hit the gap sideways and exploded with a sound like a gunshot. It shredded into a thousand parts, but not before it jerked Sham completely off his feet on the other side. He landed on his side with an earth shaking thump. The horn on the smaller saddle broke with a thunderous crack, pulling partway off the saddle and the rope finally slipped free. Sham got to his feet, snorting and frothy, wet with sweat from his ears to his haunches but victorious. He had defeated the Red Dragon trying to eat him. The plastic pieces of the toboggan covered the ground for a good fifty feet in all directions.

That was the last time we did that.

1 comment:

  1. Poor Sham! I hope its a tall tale for his sake.