On Being Careful Around Horses
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 by Frank Shortt
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          The Gilroy spring sunshine, always hottest in summer, began its ascent over Pacheco Pass. Birds sang lullabies as I headed for the corral intending to do a little riding before settling in for the inevitable work at hand. Ground squirrels were busy digging their burrows. Whistling a popular tune, I approached the corral with all the bloated confidence of the young.
          I had ridden those two horses all last summer. They seemed as tame as lambs. Not one time did either throw me. I could curry them easily without getting kicked. Neither of them ever shied away when saddled or bridled. I could easily walk all around either without getting a bruise. Both horses neighed a greeting as if they remembered me from last fall. The neigh of a horse can be very deceiving!
          “You be careful, those horses have been up all winter. They’re rarin’ to go, so they’ll be hard to ride, ‘specially Ole Brownie. You’ve got to be a little stern with them for a while,” my father-in-law warned me as I meandered out to the corral.
          “Aw, I ain’t afraid of those two old nags! They know who is boss around here!”
          He smiled as I walked past him. As he smoked his pipe, the smoke drifted my way as a reminder that he knew what he was talking about. He was an expert rider who knew horses, especially his own. He had been riding horses since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He could tell the age by looking at their teeth. He knew every habit, good or bad, that each of his horses had. It was said that he was descended from the Vaqueros of Old Mexico.
          I thought I knew more about riding horses than even the owner of the horses. I could ride anything that I could saddle. I was a little tad macho in those days being in my twenties. It was hard for me to admit that I did not know about something. I went straight to the corral just like a marten to his box. The two steeds whinnied as I approached, eager to be out of the cramped up stable. They both looked quite energetic. ‘Ole Brownie’ seemed to be the less skittish of the two so I chose him that morning.
          I bridled and saddled ‘Ole Brownie’ without any mishap. He seemed a little nervous, but nothing I could not handle! This horse was usually a little more high-strung than the other, but he always rode real easy after settling down, just like sitting in a rocking chair.
          I laughed vainly as I led Ole Brownie out to the yard.
          “I will ride him just like I did at the end of last fall when we stabled him for the cold weather,” I thought.
          This was my mistake!
          As I mounted, Ole Brownie stiffened his legs, began rearing up, fishtailing, lowering his head between his legs, and scampering around like a Billy goat! Before I knew it I was sitting astraddle of some new blackberry vines my mother-in-law had planted. It was too late for caution. Ole Brownie was heading for the gate, and freedom.
          My father-in-law smiled knowingly, once again, as I walked past him on my way to pull the thorns out of my posterior. The smoke from his pipe drifted my way as a reminder to always listen to the one who is the expert.