June 12, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)


A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.

Ian Flemming, 1966

Last week, Laytonville had its annual rodeo. A goodly percentage of the population here are horsemen or horsewomen. Laytonville is much more than a one-horse town. It brought back memories of my experience with horses.

As a child, I used to go to the movies almost every Saturday at noon. Most of the movies were about cowboys, with an occasional Indian, or a bunch of howling Indians. Every cowboy had a six-shooter or two on their hip(s) which they used with incredible skill. It never occurred to me to question why the bad guys (who always wore black hats) would fire away and rarely hit anything, while the hero (who always wore a white hat) would shoot from the hip and invariably shot the gun out of the villain's hand. Those were the days of Tom Mix and his white horse Tony. Heroes always had white horses. In those days men were men. They never sang, played the guitar, or kissed a women. Later there was the Lone Ranger and his "Faithful Indian companion" Tonto. In those days it was socially acceptable for a masked Texas Ranger to have an Indian stooge named Tonto, which means "stupid" in Spanish. By the time Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger came along, I no longer went to Saturday matinees.

I remember sending breakfast cereal box tops in to get a "horseshoe nail ring." They sent me a shiny horseshoe nail with instructions on how to bend it into a ring. I learned something about so-called "free offers" from that one.

In New York City, the closest that I came to a real horse were the pony rides. For a small sum a kid could ride a pony around in a circle. It was as thrilling as walking a dog.

My next experience with a horse was when I was a medic with an infantry platoon in Europe during W.W.II. The war was almost over and we had just taken a town that had a stable full of police horses. Naturally, some of my buddies saddled some up and went riding. "Come on, doc, give it a try! There's nothing to it." I was game for almost anything in those days, so I got on a horse and started down the street. I had gotten quite a way from the stable, when the horse must have realized that this rider didn't know a damn thing about horsemanship; or any other kind of ship, for that matter. He wanted to go home, so he took off at full gallop toward the stable. I tried yelling "Whoa!" but this horse only understood German. I pulled on the reins to no avail. The street was shaded by trees with low hanging branches and the only way that I could keep from being knocked off was to put my arms around the horses neck as he galloped down the street. He stopped when he got to the stable. My buddies were very polite, but they must have been laughing inside. "Well, doc, how did you like it?" I didn't answer; I had had all of the wind knocked out of me. I was glad to get back to the war, where the only danger was from bombs, shells and bullets.

My next, and last, experience was when I was living in Berkeley. My oldest daughter was about 3 years old. We were at a park that offered horseback riding. I decided to give my kid an experience that she would never forget. I doubt that she remembers it, but I will never forget it. I put her in the saddle and swung up behind her. Well, that was what I intended to do. Insted of landing on the saddle as I had intended, I landed behind the saddle on the horse's rump. The beast took off at full gallop, with me clutching the saddle horn with both hands and hoping that my child and I would be able to stay on. I don't remember how long the ride lasted, but it seemed like forever. I thought that my manhood might have been compromised. We ended up back where we had started, with the reins in the hands of the person who ran the establishment. I got off and reached for my daughter. She smiled and said , "More, Daddy!" I was speechless.

You now know about my equestrian experiences; and why I rarely go to rodeos.

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