June 2nd: Mothers
Not Your Horsy Kind of Girl
, by Janett Grady

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I love my family, the whole tribe, clan, or whatever you want to call it.  I’ve been happily married to the same family and man for more years than I care to count, and together Sam and I have produced and raised three children, two sons and one daughter.

Every once in a while, though, my family will ask of me a favor I am utterly ill prepared to accomplish, which sometimes places me on the edge of insanity.

Still, love conquers all, so to speak, and even the most off-the-wall request is more often than not worth my emotional pain or physical discomfort.

As a mature woman who has trouble saying ‘no’ to those she loves, I’ll too often try to be the glue that holds my family together, and I’ll quietly accept the assignment no matter how troubling to me it might be.

I’m really a very nice person.

If you know of a girl who was born and raised in Texas, you might have the idea she’s well versed when it comes to handling horses. Well, that’s not necessarily the way things are. I’m just not a horsy kind of girl. I thought I might be, but I’m not.

When my dad died of old age a few months ago, the funeral ended and the whole affair sort of turned into a family reunion…Mom, brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, and Mom’s great-grandchildren. The reunion started sad, of course, but then when the preacher came by to check on how Mom was doing, things took a turn for the worse. For me. What the preacher did was conspire with my husband Sam, my mom, my brothers and sisters, and my son James, and I was talked into taking my grandson Michael horseback riding. How they all talked me into it doesn’t really matter. Let’s just say if it’s a 10-year-old boy from Boston, you really have no choice. After all, Texas means cowboys and horses, right?

Anyway, the owner of a ranch a few miles south of  Dallas was one of those rough-and-ready types you read about in outdoor magazines, and he sort of looked like my Sam, kind of like an overweight Clint Eastwood, a big man, about 20 pounds past stocky. He wore a well-weathered cowboy hat, denim shirt and jeans, and, of course, cowboy boots.

He sat on a huge black horse. From his posture…a casual slouch…it was quite obvious he’d been there many times before. This was one might impressive man. I had a hunch he wrestled mountain lions in his spare time. For sure, he drank whiskey straight and never went to Le Petite Cafe for lattes and bagels. From a pouch of chewing tobacco, he removed a thick wad and tucked it into his cheek. He worked his chaw for a minute or two, then spit with a neat click. I’ve always admired a man who could spit without dribbling on his chin.

He straightened in his saddle, showed some tobacco stained teeth in a wide, friendly smile, and got our attention with a loud “How ya doin’?” He said he was called Bear (what else?), and welcomed us to what he called “God’s country.”

Michael and I sat on Bear’s horses and listened to instructions for the ride. Bear warned if either of us didn’t  think we could slap a horse with a whip, we shouldn’t come on the ride. Michael could hardly wait to get going. As for me, cream is the only thing I’ve ever whipped, but I couldn’t turn back now, not in front of my grandson. My son James would say I had chickened out, and there was no telling what my husband and the rest of my family might think. It didn’t help when Bear looked my way and said, “Hang on, Little Mom, there’s nothing to it.” It had been quite awhile since any man had called me little anything, and I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking I was an old lady tourist who couldn’t take care of herself in a real man’s world. No, sir, I was in this for the duration. Like they say, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.

A few hours earlier, it seemed like a mildly adventurous thing to do. Of course, back then Michael and I were surrounded by family in a comfortable house. This house was nowhere near the rugged wilds of Texas, at which I was now staring, mouth agape, feeling equal parts of wonder and fear.

Now, as Michael and I followed Bear into the hills, my mind was awash with second thoughts, thoughts about hungry wildcats and poisonous rattlesnakes. Maintaining a stoic exterior, though, I casually patted my horse on the neck. I leaned over to one side and tried to spit like Bear, but I didn’t have any.

As we bumped and swayed our way up the trail, Bear kept cautioning us not to allow more than a foot or two between the “northern end of our horse and the southern end” of the one in front. He sure had a way with words. Apparently, what happens is that a horse that’s not immediately slapped to keep up will suddenly decide, on his own, to run back to the corral. Perched on the back of a four-legged beast that spontaneously decides in his own willful way to run seemed like a tad too much adventure for me. I felt this was especially true since the uphill trail was a narrow, winding course through brush so thick that falling off would mean I wouldn’t be found for years.

So, this man who was a complete stranger to me, this man who probably preferred to sleep under the stars, this tough, two-fisted, hard-drinking namesake of John Wayne was asking me to entrust my life and limbs to the whims of an animal related to the ass. There was nothing in my youth that had even remotely prepared me for this degree of idiocy.

I was determined, though, that my horse would not run home. I’d see to it that the thought of running home would never enter whatever dim consciousness existed in his equine brain. Animal rights notwithstanding, if necessary, I was prepared to wield a wicked whip. My aim was to insure a close, indeed an intimate, relationship between north and south.

As we rounded a bend, my horse got my attention when he decided to snack on some grass. Does one interrupt a snacking horse? I hesitated to use the whip for fear that he’d take it as a signal to run for the ranch. The ever vigilant Bear saw what was happening and yelled something like “Giddy-up” or whatever it is ranchers yell. My horse immediately abandoned his snack and started walking. Wow! this Bear was quite a guy.

Reaching the turn-around point of the ride, a wide flat spot at the end of the trail, we dismounted and stretched our legs. We had a distant view of the ranch, the house, stable, fenced-in cows grazing, a view from right out of an old cowboy movie. Michael took pictures, and, of course, he wanted pictures of me with Bear and the horses. Bear didn’t say so, but I could tell he didn’t feel comfortable about putting his arm around a married woman. Michael insisted. Reluctantly, the big man did as he was told, and the power of his arm across my shoulders sent shivers up my spine. No, not the tantalizing shivers of a young and lonely, unmarried woman. Me, I figured right then and there that if this man ever did wrestle a mountain lion, the lion was doomed.

By the time we were on our way again, my anxiety had vanished. I felt safe. My little grandson was safe. There was no way this big strong man would ever let anything bad happen to us.

Winding our way back down the trail, the scenery was spectacular, splendid, especially now on the way down. The air was crisp and clean, and the most spectacular colors were mixing for sunset. My fears had been replaced with a combination of serenity and awe.

Arriving back at the corral, though, I suddenly realized how sore I was. Blisters? Well, as the pain coursed down my legs, I felt like an old lady tourist who should have stayed home.

After saying and waving our goodbyes to Bear, Michael and I limped over to where we had parked. As we approached the truck (my dad’s pickup), Michael asked me if I was “doin’ all right.” I helped him climb into his seat, lied, telling him I was “doin’ just fine,” and slammed the door.

Like I said, I’m not a horsy kind of girl.


Janett Grady, a talented and well known author from Palmer Alaska, passed away on January 6th, 2013. Her writing has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and on websites all over the States, and in a few magazines based in Canada and the United Kingdom.

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