Ride The Horse, Not The Saddle

When I was living on the farm with my grandfather and aunt, Dad bought a black and white Paint Shetland. Grandpa wanted us to name him Bimbo because that was a popular song then and he loved listening to it on the radio.

Bimbo it was. My other aunt, Violet, had six kids and they bought Bimbo’s sister, Princess. While Bimbo would happily charge through the biggest mud puddle, Princess was, well, she was a princess. She hated being dirty and getting wet. One of my cousins would gallop her toward a puddle and she’d look like she was going to follow Bimbo until the last minute when she put the skids on and stopped right before the puddle. Whoever was riding her normally didn’t. They went flying through the air, and, if they were very lucky, they’d wind up on the other side of the puddle. They usually weren’t.

Dad bought the pony, a halter and lead and a bridle, but he refused to buy a saddle. While my cousins had several horses and ponies, they didn’t have saddles either.

The reason we were given was because they wanted us to ride the horse, or pony, and not the saddle. Truth be known, it was probably much more about spending money on saddles which cost more than our mighty steeds. Bimbo was worth $10.

We all had chores to do, but once we had those done, we were pretty much free to find something to occupy ourselves. At Grandpa’s and Aunt Rose’s place we had two barns that were in an L shape. We often climbed on those and ran down the top of one barn and jumped to the other one. The more skilled you got, the higher on the roof you ran to make a longer leap.

We also climbed haystacks, shuffled the bales around to make forts and jumped from one stack to another. Getting caught jumping haystacks earned a whipping because we might fall and get hurt. Oddly enough, we never got whippings for jumping barns. Once again, looking back, I think it had more to do with us tearing up bales and knocking the alfalfa leaves loose than worry about us getting hurt.

Being the adventurous sort, we came up with lots of games and many of them were horseback. Cops and robbers takes on a whole new level of excitement when horses are involved. There was a wooden box with rope handles on the farm. We’d put rocks in it to represent gold and then the robbers would get on their horses and the others would lift the box up to us. The robbers got a head start to get get away before the posse came after us. Now, keep in mind, some of us had ponies and some of us had horses. Invariably we wound up with a pony and a horse. That meant we had to learn how to pace our mounts so they kept stride and the person riding the pony had to try and hold the box up higher while the person on the horse had to lean down.

We usually got caught before we made it to the hole-in-the-rock robber’s hideout, which was actually a path into some trees. However, if we made it there, the gunfight ensued and we robbers usually outlasted the posse because we had cover and they didn’t. No one minded getting wounded by our imaginary guns because that gave them an excuse to play out a dramatic scene.

Often, the robbers tumbled from their horses and wound up falling on top of the box and spilled rocks, but I have to admit we got pretty good at it considering the numerous obstacles.

Another favorite game was jousting.

We’d go out the the dirt road with our mighty warhorses and our lances, which were usually broken broom or shovel handles or, possible, a broom or mop if we could sneak one out. Thankfully, we were smart enough not to point the sharp end at the opponent…usually.

If someone got in a very good hit, the other rider tumbled off their horse. Frequently, the lances turned into swords and we whacked each other as we went by.

Why, yes, we did have lots of bruises, why do you ask?

Looking back, I’m kind of glad we didn’t have saddles. The lances could have done a lot more damage if either rider weren’t unseated.

Yes, I know you’re wondering where this is all leading. I’ve been hacking words again. I came across one scene yesterday that leads to one of my favorite scenes where Gen has to restore her pure heart. In this scene, some of the women are in a tent, discussing how she’s going to restore her pure heart. Gen once again runs into the prejudice against her father’s people and learns some of the girls think her horsemanship is unnatural.

“If we live long enough.” Gentyl chewed the bit of tart slowly, reluctant to swallow and end her spicy pleasure. “I need to restore my pure heart.”

“I’m not helping you,” one of the girls in the back said.

“I doubt you can,” Gentyl replied, “but why wouldn’t you?”

“My Da told me how you M’Eiryns do your pure heart ceremonies. Find a white dog, and eat their heart. Makes me want to puke thinking about it. I like you, but let’s face it—”

“M’Eiryns are barbarians,” Gentyl finished. “That’s the stupidest story I’ve ever heard. Shouldn’t believe everything your Da tells you. He probably told you we fornicate with horses, too.”

Even in the gloom, Gentyl could see Tam’s face turn redder than it usually was.

“You have to admit there’s something unnatural about the way you all ride.”

“Yes, Tam. I fell in love once, but it didn’t work out. He was a gelding and I needed more.” She licked the fruit off her fingers. “Papa told me Tamarls fornicate with turnips, which is why they’re dumb as a box of them.”

It’s not easy being a barbarian in a civilized world.


  1. Belatedly… been meaning to tell you that where I thought you were going with this was an analogy to writing fiction — something along the lines of “ride the story, not the writing.”

    That said, where you did go with it was entertaining as hell. Tell me that excerpt didn’t fall victim to your word-hacking.

  2. My hat’s off to you for being able to recognize the pure heart scenes — knowing the real ones from the pseudos — and for sticking to ’em. “Character will out.”

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