Ain't nuthin like ridin' a fine horse in a new country - Augustus McCrae – Lonesome Dove

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My First Mare~

1964 - Topsy
Was I a horse crazy kid?  Yes!  My parents made the move from IA to CO when I was only about four.  My maternal Grandfather had died & my Dad had a job opportunity in Boulder.  Soon, my brother arrived, to become the bane of my existence:-)  A few more years went by & another brother & my sister were added to our family.  Each summer - we'd make the trek to IA to visit both sets of Grandparents.   Sometime in 63 I think it was, my Grandmother married a man who had a large farm, no kids & was happy at the prospect of having grand-kids, eleven in all - visit!  He'd asked about us & Grandma didn't forget to tell him that I was horse crazy.   Grandpa John headed to the sale barn & came back with a horse!

I can't even describe now how happy I was, when I got the news at the breakfast table!  I had to run right out!  Unprepared for the beautiful, brilliant red, wild-eyed mare!  "Wild as a March hare", as Grandma described her!  I had no real experience with horses, I'd worked cleaning stalls at a barn in Boulder for a few riding lessons - but not many!
A solid looking mare that could single-foot!  My brother is firing his gun behind us!
Of her history we knew just a little.  That she'd been the private mount of a wealthy woman who's hobby was breeding a few horses.  When the lady passed, the mare was sold off & picked up by a young man who tried to cowboy with her.  In other words - she was beaten, over ridden & mistreated.  She had a large scar on her left side where what hair had grown back - was white.  Grandpa didn't know that history when he'd bought her.  It had made her very wild & difficult, but still - not mean.

I think I've mentioned before that the saddle was hung over the top of the high wall of the double box stall.  Grandpa told me that when I could get it down & on the mare, I could ride.  I spent several days gentling her - sitting on the manger, trying to get her to accept a carrot out of my hand - which she finally did.  The saddle thing was a no go - so I found a headstall, too big & far from fitting correctly.  I managed to get on her & next - was on her back!  At the sound of hoof-beats, Grandma came running out the door & took the photo below.
1964 ~
It was the beginning of a partnership that actually defined the horsewoman I would become.  Every minute of every summer I was in the saddle.  (Eventually :-)  I had several tricks for retaining Topsy's devotion :-)  One, was hollowing out the center of a carrot, after cutting off the top, filling it with sugar & replacing the top!  The expression on her face when she first bit into that carrot was priceless!  Then - there was the dried corn out of the corn shed - I'd hold it, turn it & she would happily clean the cob of every kernel!
Grandpa taught me to help round up the cattle.  His instructions were, sit deep, sit back & let the mare do her job!  I did - she did & boy what a blast it was!  Grandpa & Uncle Bud would each be in a pickup - driving up the sides of the herd, while Topsy & I drove them from behind - darting out to push any escapees back into the bunch!   We'd be sent out to look for cows with calves that they'd hide away in the scrub juniper.  I'll never forget the day I'd gotten off to tighten the cinch when a cow charged us out of the trees!  That was my first flying mount!  I went back, told Grandpa & he got a great laugh out of it.

Another time, Grandpa had me go to the far pasture to help him & Uncle Bud round up six head of Angus.  I was pretty accomplished at cattle wrangling by that time & when I started pushing - they didn't move???  Grandpa yelled from the truck - "Keep At Them!"  "Get them moving!"  Topsy barred her teeth - made a run at one & finally got him going!  The rest followed & we chased them into the corral.  I went back to the house for my daily diet Pepsi & told Grandma.  She didn't even finish listening to my story before she was out the door - yelling at poor Grandpa - asking him what on earth he was thinking having a 12-yr. old girl rounding up those young Bulls!  :-)  Bulls! :-)
1966 & my first roll of COLOR film!
My stirrups couldn't be adjusted any higher - so my toe just rested there :-)  I kept a rope halter on - so that when we stopped for picking mulberry's, I could take the headstall off.  Topsy  would let me stand up on her back to pick, as long as she got her share!   We soon became a familiar sight to the farmers of the area, riding all the country roads - as far as Grandma would let me wander.  Topsy had an incredible gait that Grandpa called a "single-foot" - it was oh so smooth, ground covering & fast!  We'd fly along the shoulder of the gravel roads!
Last ride - 1968
The hardest part though - was always at the end of my vacation -  when I had to leave - to return to my real life in Boulder...   That summer, I think we both somehow knew that it would be our last time together...
Saying Goodby~  With Fella aka. "Pooch"
By 1969, I was married & expecting a baby.   Grandma wrote me that Topsy had been sold...  I was heartbroken, asked a thousand questions & received only sketchy answers...  I knew that Grandpa had no use for any animal that didn't earn it's keep & her teeth were very bad.  We never did know exactly how old she was - but by then, probably close to 20.   A year or two later, after I'd harassed her on several occasions, my Aunt - who worked in the auction barn office, told me that she'd gone to slaughter.
Topsy grazing on Grandma's lawn~
 I cut a piece from her mane that last time & have it still, as I do a lock of Fella's black/white fur.   We made several more trips out - bringing Grandma's Great-Granddaughters to the farm.    Grandpa bought another horse to "replace" Topsy - when he'd realized how upset I was.   (That horse picked me up by my shoulder over  the top of the fence & threw me down.)  He was gone the next day & Grandpa didn't try again...  But he did buy a few other horses over the years, so we always had a couple to ride.
Cattle on the Farm 1986
It took just over twenty-years, but the year that Grandpa passed, was the year after we'd moved to the Homestead & for my 40th birthday - the Great guy I share my life with now, bought me my first Arab mare!   Funny how things work out - because, after all the horses in-between - Farah is as close to Topsy in personality as she could possibly be~


  1. Lovely post and pictures! And what wonderful summers it sounds like you had---Just the way I would have wanted to spend every day of summer vacation when growing up.

  2. I love the saddle story -- way to problem-solve! Sounds like she taught you well. :)

  3. Thanks Hannah! She did - that's for sure :-)

  4. The older you get - the more stories you have! :-)

  5. Wonderful and can not wait to meet you. I do have a naughty streak, but always in fun.

  6. Same here Juanita! Meet you, ride w/you & I can be ornery too :-)

  7. What a great story. Thank you for sharing.


Always Welcome~