A friend shared a story with me about her son falling from his horse during a 4-H competition. It put me in the mood to reminisce about a member of our family back in the ’50s and early ’60s: Daddy’s saddle mare, Dolly.
Dolly was born in 1942 in the Kilgore Hills. One of Grandpa’s mares gave birth to a filly colt; coal-black, except for a single white hind foot. She was of mixed ancestry: sire of Spanish mustang stock, and dam of unremarkable lineage. Her eyes sparkled with a mixture of mischief, malice, and intelligence.
“High-spirited” is often used to describe spunky colts, but the term doesn’t do justice to Dolly’s personality. Grandpa was a stern and demanding, no-nonsense taskmaster – accustomed to imposing his iron will on family and animal, but he met his match in her. She disliked him from the beginning, and steadfastly refused to be broken to his will. She would bite, turn, and lash out with white clad heel. By an unspoken covenant, she and my Dad became owners of each other.
When Dolly turned two, Dad turned eighteen, and received a personal birthday greeting from FDR, inviting him to a party in the South Pacific. The feisty filly absolutely refused to be broken to plow or saddle for Grandpa, and Dad advised via USPS from Camp Shelby, “Turn her in the pasture.”
He came home on leave, walked to the fence and whistled. Dolly came running, neighing in her excitement. But when he came back from Japan nearly two years later, she stood transfixed, listening to his entreaty, without response. He caught her, and she submitted, but kept breaking gait. A keen hickory switch, a sweat-drenched bucking episode across Davidson Bottom, and she was his again.
There is never room for two strong-willed females in any man’s life, Dad soon discovered. Mother disliked Dolly, who reciprocated the emotion in spades.
“Probably the only thing your Maw and my Paw ever agreed upon,” Dad observed. “They knew better than to let Dolly hem them up.”
Dolly tolerated me, as pictures of me as a baby happily perched on the pommel of the saddle, Daddy’s strong arms around me, prove. When I was eight, she was still full of spit and vinegar, and Dad knew of a child falling from a horse, catching his foot in a stirrup, and being drug to his doom, so I was permitted to mount bare-back, only.
That she enjoyed the rides is attested by the fact that she let me catch her. She could sling the trace chain tied around her fore-foot to the side and walk fast enough to stay out of my reach. Tiring of the game, she’d let me catch her, put smooth “mule-bits” between her teeth, and crawl up. Thus began a couple of hours of trying to scrub me off against tree trunks, low-hanging branches, and usually dismounting me by running head-long towards a fence or ditch, and turning at the last moment. I never knew whether she’d jump or turn and the latter option often left me flat of my back between her fore legs, and looking up into brown eyes sparkling with merriment.
Dolly had none of the malice toward me that she harbored for Mom and Grandpa, as evidenced by the fact that she never bit, kicked, or stepped on me when I fell off. She never ceased to toy with me, however, even when I was well into my teens and riding on a saddle. One day, I was bringing the cows in from a distant pasture, and they were drinking from a large, deep pond. Dolly, as was her custom, refused to drink with the stock, and waded into the water until she could drink at neck level, long leisurely draughts, while I fussed. I realized that she was kneeling to roll her saddled body in the water, and it took all my strength, standing in the stirrups and pulling on the reins to prevent the move. I swear: she was laughing as she waded out.
Boy and horse: symbiotic dependency and mutual affection…Hah! Daddy was her master, and first in her affections. I was a presumptuous sibling, to be put in my place at every turn. From her, I learned never to take myself too seriously. I further learned, if you dwell in the light of an alpha male, you had best be a shade-loving species.
To Skylar Neal: Keep getting up and getting back on, Sky.
Community columnist Sonny Scott lives in the Sparta community in Chickasaw County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.