Sunday, September 16, 2012

Getting on his low horse

The ranch owner approached us, towing a reluctant Smart Car of a horse behind her.

“Here's your pony,” she said, handing the lead rope to my wife, Kara.

Kara clenched the rope as if the pony might make a dash for freedom, though as the animal stood there, head down, it appeared that it hadn’t dashed anywhere since Roy Rogers was in training spurs.

“You can go ahead and put him on,” the woman said, motioning toward our son, Evan.

“Doesn't he need a helmet first?” Kara asked.

The ranch lady was old school.  She didn’t realize that parents these days like to put helmets on their kids if they're doing anything more dangerous than consuming McNuggets.

“We’ll get a helmet at the barn.  You’ll have to put him on the pony yourself.  I broke my ribs a few weeks ago,” she said.  She didn’t go into further detail, and I wasn’t going to pry.  Fortunately, the pony didn’t seem to have been involved in the rib mishap.  We would have wanted details if the woman had broken a shin.

I plunked Evan into the saddle and he gripped the horn tightly.  Joy spread across his face as he realized his lifelong (and also relatively recent) dream of riding a horsie.

Nitpickers might point out that a pony is not a horsie.  Horses and ponies are members of the equine family, but they’re not the same thing.  To these people, I say: Give me some credit for understanding that a pony is not just a baby horse.  It took me at least twenty-five years to get that.

“What’s the pony’s name?” Kara asked, hoping to help Evan strengthen his bond with Buttercup or Moonbeam or Elmer.  

“Oh, you would ask me that,” the lady replied, as if Kara had just asked her something totally off-the-wall, like how to calculate the volume of a triangular prism, or why the light bulbs at Outback Steakhouse are pink.

Another moment passed as she stared at the pony and tried to call up a name.  Then she said exactly what you want to hear from the person to whom you’ve just entrusted the safety of your three-year-old: “Honestly, I took so many codeine this morning, I couldn’t tell you my grandkids’ names.”

We didn’t speak again until Evan had his helmet on.

“You can go wherever you want,” the woman said, motioning toward the barn and pastures.  Then she walked away, and we never saw her again.  Wherever she is, I hope she found what she was looking for.  Probably more codeine.

So Evan rode through the pasture on a horse with no name.  Kara and I took turns leading the pony, and Grandma and Grandpa would cheer every time Evan rode past.  His huge smiles more than paid for our afternoon trip to the country.

“Are you having fun, Evan?” I asked.  

“Daddy, you just stepped in it!” he answered.  I’d been trying to steer the conversation away from manure, but Evan wasn’t having any of it.  With so many horses wandering around the farm, Evan never ran out of conversation material.

“Look, we can go ride around those barrels over there,” I said.

“The horsie just stepped in it, too!” he replied.

For its part, the pony seemed rather indifferent to the whole affair -- Evan’s enthusiasm was only contagious to humans.  Every time we circled past the barn without going in, the pony let out a little sigh and trudged on.

After about thirty minutes in the saddle, our little cowpoke got tired.  We unsuccessfully scanned the horizon for our doped-up guide, then returned the pony to the nearest farmhand and headed home.

It was a special day, and we’ll always carry some of that farm with us.  Mostly on the bottom of my shoes.

You can lead Mike Todd to water at  

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