No Hour of Life is Lost That is Spent in The Saddle
“No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle” — Winston Churchill
Some of my earliest memories include horses. I can remember burying my nose deep into them and not wanting to wash my hands for fear of losing that unique and intoxicating signature horse smell. I have pictures from the age of two where I am sitting on my older sisters’ large, beautiful, bay mare. She was named Brownie for her deep brown coat and soulful brown eyes that were as magnetic as her gentle spirit. My mother and sister were both equestrians and eagerly passed their passion for horses on to me.
My father, a career military officer, had been given orders to report to Seoul, South Korea when I was six years old. As we prepared to move, I remember telling my sister (who was 13 years older and not coming with us) that I intended to learn how to ride the Mongolian ponies I had heard such fantastical stories about. Obviously, I didn’t have a real grasp of what life on an Army base in that faraway land would entail-- and that we were not exactly moving to Mongolia. While I didn’t ride any Mongolian ponies when we lived in Asia, I saw beautiful paintings of them depicted in great battles. The images of those fierce little horses enhanced my admiration for them and their role as companions to world’s oldest nomadic tribes.
When we moved back to the States and to the ranch in Arizona, I was in heaven. I was given Filly, one of the ranch horses, after quickly outgrowing our very nasty Shetland pony, Archibald. He did his best to run us into anything stationary: tree limbs, fence rails, or the side of a barn, just to name some of his favorite targets. His mission was to get you off his back as quickly as possible, and he was incredibly agile despite his portly shape. He would run at a dead gallop towards his desired object, and then at the very last minute, veer off to the side or put on the brakes so you would go tumbling off. After his mission was accomplished and you were firmly planted on the ground, he would trot back to the barn looking for more hay. I could imagine him feeling quite proud, thinking he had finally convinced us to leave him alone. He helped underscore my belief that ponies aren’t always the best choice for young children, or at least the types of ponies we had.
Filly was a different story and she became my angel. This Quarter Horse-Arabian mare never really aged in our minds thanks to her name. In retrospect, she was the embodiment of a good workhorse and her bombproof demeanor gave my parents the confidence that I would be safe on my own. She carried me all over our ranch and allowed me to be gone for hours on end. It was a level of freedom that must seem foreign to today’s parents, but things were different growing up in the country. With a Boy Scout canteen I had pilfered from one of my brothers filled with water, some chips off a salt block and beef jerky stuffed into my pockets, off we would go exploring. She was my escape and helped cement my love of horses in ways that are difficult to explain even today. Whenever the cattle were being gathered I was there. If our neighbors were gathering, I begged to help because being horseback was about as good as it got.
After my sister was married and moved to a large ranch in Nevada, my summers were spent there, also on horseback. A huge working cattle ranch that stretched across the Toyabi Mountain range in the high desert of Central Nevada. A place so big that you literally could ride for miles and miles across sagebrush ranges, and crested wheat pastures of which seemingly never ended. The serious nature of the operation and abundance of work meant that the full-time cowboys had very little interest in me tagging along if I couldn’t keep up and pull my own weight. I loved spending the day working cattle so I learned very quickly how to be seen as an asset for fear of being left behind. Some of the lessons I learned on those long, hot, dry and alkali dust-covered summer days have served me well in a number of situations that have little to do with moving cattle from one range to the next.
Years later, I sent my son Ryan to spend his summers there too. As a single mother raising my two children alone, I decided that time on that ranch would teach him, in particular, things I never could. I also knew that my stories were just that, and he needed his own stories. The reality of a way of life about as far from Scottsdale, Arizona as you could get had to be experienced first-hand. I am thankful that he got a glimpse of it because I know it helped him understand me just a little better. While he doesn’t love horses in the same way I do, I am fairly certain that the image of watching a herd of 30+ horses galloping toward the corrals to be sorted and saddled up for the day’s work is one he will never forget.
Over the years I have thought a lot about why horses are so special to me, and just exactly why they have held such a profound place in my heart. In some ways, I attribute the confidence that I have from being around a 1000 pound animal who willingly allows you to ride them and partner with them in a way no other animal does. They have lifted me up in some of my darkest hours and given me the ability to see the world from a different vantage point. They allowed me to escape the challenges of growing up in a family affected by the disease of alcoholism without turning to self-destructive behavior myself. Perhaps it is that reason alone that my love of horses runs so deep.