When I was about sixteen there was a man my parents knew very well, a wealthy man (we were not). The man’s wife decided one year she wanted to ride horsies.
I thought she was nuts.
But, nuts or not, he bought her twenty-five acres of prime real estate outside the city limits of Denver, near the foothills of the mountains. The previous owner must have boarded or raised horses because there was a nice tack room, enclosed stables for…I dunno’, ten horses, I think, and a ranch-style home. A barn, too, with a gambrel roof. Really a nice place. Oh, and a creek running through one end of the property bordered on either side by cottonwoods and poison oak. Infested with rattlesnakes from early spring until late fall, I should add.
The man and his wife lived in a very exclusive part of Denver…near the neighborhood where Marvin's tale is set. No cottonwoods or poison oak, only many poisoned personalities obsessed with money and status. Mr. Osgood—that was his name. “Mac” to all his friends. I was very fond of him, and so were my folks, even though he was rich--which was some kind of mortal sin in Mom and Pops' eyes. He was a Catholic, though, and attended Mass every single morning. I suppose that made him at least half-good in their eyes.
Scarlett was his wife’s name. I think she was a Methodist.
Scarlett went out just before they closed on the “ranch” and bought a couple of ponies. Really big ones…like, quarterhorse ponies. There were three or four others that stayed on with the purchase…one extremely mean one. I think his name was Thunder, or Thor, or something like that. His name, I remember, suited his disposition perfectly. I say this because Mac asked my dad if I’d like a summer job working at the ranch the week when escrow closed. I would get to meet that friggin’ horse.
I was very athletic back then; had dark, curly hair, and a winning personality. I mean, I thought I did. Well…Thunder didn’t think so, it quickly became apparent. He could have cared less about how cute I thought I was or my fabulous personality. But my dad answered his friend, “Sure thing, Mac. This kid was MEANT to break horses.”
There were no horses there that needed breaking, of course, except maybe Thunder. Or his neck. That horse…well…
I went out to the ranch that first day with Mac. It was early summer my sophomore year of high school, and Mac showed me around the place, all smiles and filled with pride. He introduced me to the horses, finally. He had no more idea what a horse was supposed to do than I did, but that’s neither here nor there, I guess. The ranch was his new hobby. Scarlett quickly got bored with falling off Lucinda, the gentlest mare ever born, so she went back to her country club existence in the city, leaving Mac to figure out what to do with half a dozen horses and twenty-five acres.
He wound up hiring two women, one with a short crew cut, and muscles; the other who was quite beautiful, and whom I lusted over (to no avail). Anyway, that’s what sixteen year-old boys do; fall in love with gay women. How was I to know?
Beside the point.
Sharon was the gal sporting the crew cut, and she knew horses as well as Eddie what’s-his-name…the jockey…did. She was good. Treated them with care; without the help of a two-by-four, which is the way Mac said you dealt with a stubborn, single-minded mule. Or horse, he added after buying the ranch and discovering Thunder.
As the ranch was something like twenty miles from my house, it was decided I would have to become a resident with the two women and the horses. The job chosen for me by Sharon was to begin every morning at 6:00 a.m. sharp. Get up, go out to the barn and get the wheelbarrow, rake, shovel and a bandana, then go into the stable and clean out the stalls. Okay, pick up horse poop. Little piles here and there in the stalls. No sweat.
Fortunately outside each stall was a fenced-in area—can't recall its technical name—so I could open the door and shoo them out while I cleaned up after them. Out there they could run around a little and whinny like crazy because they were hungry. That was part of my job, too. To fill their eating things with some oats and alfalfa (I think that’s what I was supposed to feed them—anyway, that’s what they got), and to make sure they had fresh water. Artesian well water, which tastes delicious, and in Colorado, the water was always ice-cold. I loved it, and every one of the horses did, too. Except that friggin’ Thunder. That horse hated everything, especially me. I think a lot of this was due to the fear he saw in me whenever I had to get near him. That was every morning, of course, because I had to open his stall door very quietly, hoping he was still asleep (he never was), ease past him…past the hindquarters with hoofs that could send a locomotive into orbit if he kicked…and open that goddam’ back door to let him out. He most always left without kicking me, but not without using his ten-ton rear end to pin me like a bug to the stall wall as he backed out. When he was just a head sticking in the door opening, he would bite me, or try to. I learned quickly enough to get as far away from him toward the opposite door as possible once I’d unlatched his escape hatch.
Lucinda, on the other hand, always whinnied and neighed kind of joyfully when I let her out. Lucinda had the most beautiful, huge, black eyes, and instead of biting me as she left, she would nudge me affectionately with her nose. I fed and watered her first, always throwing an apple from the trees growing near the barn into her trough-thing. She got extra oats, too.
Now. Let's back up.
I arrived and got up that first morning. The two ladies had just arrived the day before, I think, and they were in no mood to do the grunt work. They were busy inventorying supplies, cleaning the house, arranging the tack room, drinking whiskey sours, and who knows what else.
“Go clean out the stalls…”
For whatever reason they hadn’t been cleaned in what looked to be centuries because there must have been a foot of horse dung packed on the floor. It took me the entire day to pick and scrape all that horse manure saturated urine out. The smell of ammonia (that’s what I remember) was so strong I had to pitch the bandana away and get a mask. Even then I had to go outside and take a breath every five minutes or so. But, I got those stalls spotless. I was so proud of myself, and I took two showers that night after dinner. Lucinda loved me for it. Cleaning her home, not my showers. Thunder could have cared less. I think, even, he relished the thought of tromping over his own crap and pee. That’s males for you.
I learned to walk them (except you-know-who), curry them, and eventually to saddle them and exercise them out in the rolling hills.
To be continued next week…
(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010