The only way to see the field trial was going to be from horseback, a prospect the horse didn’t relish any more than I did, but by the end of the afternoon we’d both learned a lot about trials, field and otherwise.
Growing up in the country, I had a number of friends who owned and rode horses, and many who even professed to enjoy it, but the pastime always struck me as being not necessary – not for me, at least.
Built to the dimensions of Hoss Cartwright with the coordination of Elmer Fudd, I’m not the sort of passenger most horses spend their fond, idle moments looking forward to carrying.
At the field trial, the Old Man who was my host that day assigned me a small mare he’d brought along. When it got time to mount up he advised me she was mild tempered, but very lazy.
“You’ll need to cut a switch to make her go,” he said.
Well, I didn’t know what size switch you’d use on a horse but I knew what size had been used on me as a child, and this mare was a good deal bigger than I’d been the last time I’d met the business end of such. With that in mind, I found the nearest sweet gum tree and wrenched off a low limb, one roughly the diameter of my thumb and the length of my arm, then strolled over to where the Old Man was holding the horse for me to mount.
“Is this switch about right?” I asked him.
“Yep, that’ll do,” he said.
The horse must have agreed, because the eye on the side of her head facing me got as big and round as a truck headlight, and no sooner had I swung my right leg over the saddle than she was off at the hardest trot she could manage. I found the right stirrup and held on as the camera hanging around my neck jarred and jostled for all gravity was worth. Not needing it at the moment and preferring to use both hands to hold on, I stuck the switch in my back pocket, from whence it beat a lively rhythm on the back of my head, keeping time with the gait.
Now and then I risked a glance at the bird dogs and saw they were, in fact, hunting, but I couldn’t free up enough cognition to make much more of an analysis than that, so focused was I on keeping my seat.
When the flow of horses ahead of us forced her to slow, I relaxed for the first time, giving her another chance to let her disgust show. The gallery was walking single file through a gap where the course was to cross some water. It wasn’t a creek, really, just a place where runoff from the last night’s rain was trickling downhill. The stream might have been as wide as my hand and half as deep. The horses ahead of us just stepped across or walked through, like people would have, but at the water’s edge my horse paused and I felt her tense up. Concerned about what might be about to happen I grabbed the saddle horn and, in that instant, she sprang forward with the sort of bound one would take if they meant to stand flat footed and leap the Grand Canyon. When this failed to get rid of me, she began to exhibit her laziness, but by then I’d long since lost the switch.
A few minutes later she tried another tack, limping pitifully on her left front foot. I assumed she was injured and was terribly worried I’d damaged the Old Man’s horse. When I dismounted and led her, though, she forgot to limp.
Though she’d been instantly cured of her injury, I was likewise cured of my desire to ride and happily led her back up to the horse trailer and returned her to the Old Man’s care where, as far as I was concerned, she could forever remain. Some things are better imagined than observed, it turns out.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.