The farmer backed the horse out of the trailer.
I stood beside Mother and Allison as it loomed larger and larger before us, a big reddish-brown rump of a horse. I wondered what we were going to do with it.
We were on our farm at the highway turn-in to the barn standing back from the farmer’s trailer. Mother was holding Jerry. Allison and I were standing beside her and Charley stood off to the side. Our dog George was barking from the house where Charley had leashed him.
Daddy was near the trailer and excited. He kept looking back at us and at Holly next to him. I could see she was really happy, a little scared, but her eyes were sparkling. I knew she must be thrilled. Her own horse!
“Holly, back away now,” Mother said for no reason. Holly wasn’t near the horse as it backed out of the trailer.
The whole idea, the idea of the horse, was Daddy’s idea. “A horse for Holly to train,” he said, “and jump gates!”
We were at the dinner table several nights earlier.
“She’s old enough and she can’t ride cows, pigs, or chickens.”
That’s what Daddy said.
He had met the farmer up the road. They had been sharing pistachio nuts, like Allison and I loved, at the little bar where Daddy stopped once in a while on his way home, and, it turned out, the farmer wanted to sell his horse.
How could anyone give up his horse? I wondered. Would the Lone Ranger give up Silver? Or Roy Rogers sell Trigger?
“Aren’t horses part of the family?” I asked.
“No,” Daddy said, “Sometimes horses are sold to new families.”
“Besides,” Daddy said to Mother, “Didn’t we always say we wanted a horse? A horse for the kids to ride.”
“Yes, but what do we know about horses?” Mother asked. “Cattle and pigs are hard enough, but a horse is another thing altogether.”
“I’ve talked to Harvey.” he said. “He knows how to handle horses and don’t other girls Holly’s age have horses by now?”
“—Just like in ‘National Velvet,’” Allison added from across the table, “like on TV. Holly could be Elizabeth Taylor and Harvey could be Mickey Rooney.”
Even I piped up, “Mickey Rooney was in ‘Our Gang’ as a boy and Holly could ride in the Indianapolis 500 too.”
Daddy said I was confused, but Allison agreed with me. “He was too!” she said.
Charley said I was an idiot.
“You kids, hush,” Mother said as she wiped Jerry’s mouth in his booster seat. She was not so sure about this whole idea.
“But will Holly take care of it?” she asked Daddy, looking at Holly so quiet beside Allison at the table. “Won’t it end up being one more thing for old Harvey to handle? He already complains he’s too busy to run the farm by himself.”
“I’ll take care of the horse,” Holly said, looking at Daddy. “I will, I promise. He won’t be a burden to Harvey.” She turned to Mother, “I’ll feed him and brush him and I’ll ride him every day.”
“Wait a minute,” I asked Charley sitting beside me, “did Daddy say Holly was going to jump gates on a horse? What gates?”
“The gates in the middle of our hayfield,” Charley said.
“We don’t have gates in our hayfield. We have hay.”
“Daddy’s going to get Harvey to build gates in the hayfield so Holly can jump them. I’m going to jump them too.”
Gates in the middle of the hayfield – that seemed stupid, but …
“Me too,” I said to Charley. “I’m going to jump gates too.”
I told Mother, “I want to jump gates if Charley gets to jump gates.”
Allison agreed, “I want to jump gates! How come I can’t jump gates?”
Mother said no one is jumping gates in the middle of our fields or otherwise.
She said the horse would be Holly’s responsibility. No one else would be allowed to ride it. At least not yet, she said. It would be Holly’s horse.
I didn’t think that was fair.
“If Holly gets a horse, why can’t we have a horse?”
I knew all about horses. I could handle horses and often practiced on the arm-of-the-couch while watching TV or on my bike. If anyone knew horses, it was me.
Mother told me to hush, but I told her I knew more about horses than Holly, Charley and Allison put together. I watched ‘Sky King’ on Saturdays. I knew all about horses. At least that’s what I said that night.
But now, now that I was standing at the barn, those horses on TV didn’t seem nearly as tall as this reddish-brown-butt-of-a-monster being led away from the trailer.
“He’s big,” Allison said to Mother. “Really, really big.”
Daddy said he was a Tennessee Walker – sixteen hands tall.
I looked at my hands and imagined sixteen of them of top of each other. That didn’t seem so tall. Maybe they measured with a giant’s hands. Allison and I would need a ladder from the barn to get on him.
I decided right then and there I didn’t want to ride him after all. Allison and I had been arguing over who would ride him first. But now, in seeing how huge he was, I told Allison she could ride him. I would watch. She said, she would watch first. I said, no, I would watch first.
Mother told us to hush.
I didn’t know who would go first, but I knew one thing: all three of us, Mother, Allison and I, wondered what we were getting into.
The horse was skittish, prancing, like he was going to bolt at any second. The farmer walked him over to the corral next to the barn. I could see he was saying soothing things into his ear, calming him down.
“Why is he so nervous?” I asked Mother. “Doesn’t he want to live with us?”
“Of course he wants to live with us,” Mother replied. “He is nervous with being on a new farm, that’s all. But he will like it here, I think.”
“He will calm down, don’t worry,” Daddy added. “Come over and pet him.”
“Maybe not just yet,” Mother said.
The horse didn’t want to settle. Its eyes were open wide and he jerked around, staring at everyone like he was crazy. The farmer held his bridle tightly.
He said the horse’s name was Ginger and, in time, he would be a perfect family horse.
Mother shook her head. Allison and I just stared.
Daddy opened the gate and patted the horse’s flank as it went through. He looked at us and laughed.
“His name is Ginger,” he yelled back at us, as he and Holly followed the farmer into the corral. “Hi Ginger,” he said as he shut the gate, “welcome to your new home.”
Holly reached out to pat him too, but Ginger shied away from her hand.
To me, he looked like he was ready to bite someone, like he could reach over and bite my whole head off if I wasn’t careful. Allison better be careful too!
“Ginger, good boy. Good boy, Ginger,” Daddy soothed, as Holly and he stroked the horse’s side.
We slowly followed them to the corral and stood next to the gate, as Daddy, Holly, and the farmer discussed how to feed the horse. The farmer tied Ginger to the corral fence and rubbed his ears. Daddy was more interested in riding him and wanted the farmer to show them how to saddle it up.
The farmer brought the horse blanket, bridle, and saddle out from the trailer and told Ginger to hold still. Presently he mounted the horse and rode Ginger first, showing Daddy what to do. Daddy rode him next and soon was satisfied after leading him around the corral a few times. Then he had Holly get up on the horse.
The farmer, holding the bit, told Holly how to turn it left and right and how to move forward and back. He let go and, under his watchful eye, Holly walked the horse around the corral.
“Do you think you can handle him, little girl?” the farmer asked.
“Yes, sir,” Holly responded, though she looked out of place on top of the tall horse.
The farmer said Ginger was a gelding, but I didn’t know what that meant. Charley mentioned something about cutting off his balls.
Mother said, “That’s enough of that.”
Charley said he would let me know when I got older, but I was old enough.
I remember the veterinarian cut the balls off of a bull on the farm across the road.
Mr. Walters, who owned the farm, said the vet did it so his bull would calm down and graze like the other cows.
Mr. Walters told Allison and me bull balls were good to eat.
Allison and I thought the idea was disgusting.
When we went back to the house, we told Mother we never wanted to eat bull balls. She agreed. She said she wouldn’t serve them anytime soon.
We were watching Holly ride Ginger.
I said to Mother, “I don’t want to eat horse balls either.”
Over the next week, Holly was diligent in feeding and caring for Ginger. Daddy would ask Holly how things were going every night at the dinner table, after he returned home from Pittsburgh, and she would give him a long update, happy to tell him everything she had done that day with Ginger.
Ginger was really frisky, she said, but she was feeding him every day and brushing him too. With Harvey’s assistance, she even saddled Ginger a couple of times and rode him once around the corral.
“That’s good,” Daddy said, “and did he follow your commands?”
“Harvey says, ‘You have to be strong.’” Holly said, “Harvey says Ginger’s testing me.”
Soon she wouldn’t need Harvey’s assistance.
“Soon I will be able to ride him anywhere I want.”
“We want to ride him too!” Allison and I pipped in to Daddy and Mother.
“He’s my horse,” Holly responded. “No one else is allowed to ride him.”
“Why can’t I ride him?” Charley asked. “I’m old enough! Besides I’m tougher than Holly, and that old horse, I bet, will listen to me.”
“Ginger listens to me,” Holly said defensively. “Ginger is my horse. He loves me.”
“Now Holly,” Daddy said, “he’s the family’s horse. You get to ride him everyday, but he has to be shared with everyone.”
That Saturday, after lunch, Daddy decided to prove his point. He suggested Holly ride Ginger up to the house.
“I’ve never taken him out of the corral,” she said.
Daddy reassured her. “We’ll get Ginger together.”
“We’ll go too!” Allison and I added, but Mother said, no, we should stay in the house.
Harvey was gone for the day, she told us, and she didn’t want the horse agitated with so many kids underfoot.
“Harvey said he’s a bit frisky. Maybe we should wait for him to get back.”
Daddy looked at Holly and winked. “I think, Holly knows what she is doing by now and I will be with her.”
He turned to Mother, “Don’t worry, we’ll walk him up here and let Holly get comfortable riding him outside the corral.”
After lunch the two of them went down to the barn and after a while we saw Holly slowly walking Ginger up the lane. Daddy was behind them and seemed to be pleased with how well Holly handled the horse.
When they reached the house, we all went outside to greet them. Holly sat on Ginger and Mother praised Holly, saying she looked good, like she was really comfortable.
Charley, Allison, and I were clustered around Mother and Daddy. George, our dog, was barking from his doghouse. Ginger kept looking over at him along the side of the house, but Holly rubbed his head and said it was alright.
It was a beautiful afternoon and we were thrilled with owning a horse.
Holly rode Ginger around the parking area and into the back yard. She looked great, I decided. Since she was a teenager, Ginger would listen to her. She brought the horse back to the house and Daddy suggested that she let Charley ride him.
Holly didn’t want to get off of the horse, but, when Daddy insisted, she got down.
Seconds later, Charley was on Ginger, and soon he was riding the horse around the back yard too. He looked small on the tall horse, but he seemed to be in command. I believed him too. Charley would soon be a teenager and already was a patrol boy on the bus.
When Charley got off of Ginger, Daddy lifted Allison into the saddle. She looked tiny and her legs couldn’t reach the stirrups, but she was laughing and enjoyed being led around the driveway with Daddy holding the reins.
Ginger kept trying to turn his head and eye everyone, especially our dog, George, but with Daddy holding the reins, he did as he was told.
Soon it was my turn. Daddy lifted me up onto the saddle.
Do you want me to lead you?” Holly asked holding the reins.
“No,” I said, “If Charley can do it, I can too.”
Holly handed me the reins. “Okay, Jon-Jon, just around the yard.” she said.
She reached up to get hold the side of Ginger’s bit to turn him around, but Ginger backed away from her.
“Whoa, Ginger!” she said, but Ginger continued stepping away from her. “Whoa, Ginger, whoa!”
I looked at Holly wide-eyed. “What’s going on?”
“Yank in the reins, Jon, so Ginger will stop,” Daddy said, walking towards us. “Get him to stop,“ he ordered.
I yanked on the reins, but Ginger wasn’t paying attention to me. He half-reared to get away from Daddy and Holly’s hands, then turned suddenly to the right, like I was pulling his reins in that direction, but I wasn’t. He sidestepped away from them, keeping his face from their hands, and soon was fully turned. As Holly tried to hold onto his side, the saddle, he moved away from her and Daddy too and began moving up our lane toward the highway. That’s not the direction I was supposed to go.
I hadn’t kicked him and couldn’t reach the stirrups, and I definitely didn’t tell him to gallop when he started running up the lane.
I said, “Ohhhhh, Noooo, Ginger, No!”
“Stop him, Jon!” Daddy shouted, coming after us.
At the same time, Mother screamed at Daddy, “Get Ginger! The highway! The highway!”
Holly was faster than Daddy. she ran after us, yelling, “Ginger, stop! Stop! Stop!”
But Ginger wasn’t stopping for Holly or Daddy and certainly not for me. I was heading directly towards the cars and trucks on the busy road at the end of our lane.
“Whoa!” I yelled to Ginger, dropping the reins and grabbing the saddle horn. “Please, Ginger! Please. Whoa!”
At the top of the lane, Ginger suddenly cut right through our small orchard of apple trees and leaped down onto the highway.
His ears were pinned back. I could smell his sweat as I grabbed Ginger’s neck, holding on as best I could. Ginger was racing down the road and cars in the opposite direction were passing by us and honking. I could see families staring at me in horror.
I realized now it was just the two of us: Ginger galloping down the highway, muscles surging forward, moving his head left and right, and me, clutching his neck, watching the ground whiz by, clinging on for dear life.
We reached the highway-turn-in for our barn and suddenly Ginger recognized his surroundings. He swerved to the right and raced directly toward the barn. I thought were going to burst through the doors and collide into our cows and chickens, but when we reached the barn, Ginger abruptly and completely stopped.
I flew forward and swirled around Ginger’s neck, falling hard onto the ground in front of him, landing on my butt and back.
I was crying and heaving for air. Ginger, though, looked down at me, relaxed and seemed to smile.
Right then and there, I knew, I hated that horse.
Holly ran up and grabbed Ginger’s bit.
“Got you,” she said out of breath. “Got you!”
She quickly led him to the corral and tied his reins to the fence.
“Are you all right?” She asked me as I slowly stood up, leaning against the doors. By now I had stopped crying, but I was shaking, rubbing the back of my head, and had peed my pants.
Daddy came running up and pulled me to him. “Are you all right?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
Charley was right behind him. “Charley, “ Daddy said, “Go tell your mom we are at the barn. Tell your mom!’
That night when Mother came to my bed to tuck me in, she said when she saw me disappear down the highway, her heart sank.
She said she thought she had lost me forever, but I told her that would never happen.
Mother looked away, and I could tell, even then, she was still upset.
I said to her, it was all right. I was all right. But it wasn’t for Mother: Allison, Charley, and I never rode Ginger after that.
From that day on he was Holly’s horse.
It wasn’t long, though, before Daddy had another idea, much to Mother’s dismay.
Categories: A Fictionalized Biography, Memoir, My Family Story
Great story! You had me sweatin’!
Great post, Jonathan. I’m surprised you survived you childhood!
This one was intense! I almost peed my pants as well! I loved the part where Jon thought he could ride a horse because he had been practicing on the arm of the couch…exactly what a child of this age would think and say. So cute.
I am so afraid when I think of our childhood…but it made me strong like bull!
I agree. Luckily we had each other! Maybe our mother fed us bovine balls without us knowing it. She said they were “Swedish Meatballs,” but, maybe….
Again I felt as if I was there. The personalities of all of you are so distinct. One minute I’m happy for you living on this farm as it was such a great place to grow up. The next I’m somewhat. troubled inside because something is just a little off. I love Allison seemingly the naive free spirit and Charlie as the pragmatist. Interesting to me how you refer to your parents as Daddy and Mother. Not Daddy and Mommy or Mom or even Father and Mother. They seem so different in personalities and their relationships with all of you, however you all appeat to handle the inconsistencies in their approach. . Is there more to this story or are we just left pondering the outcome? Does Suzie stay? Do you get to ride her? Does Harvey accept his additional responsibilities without more pay? Does Suzie eat tuna for Christmas or become canine food?
I loved it John, in a troubling sort of way. Where’s Paul Harvey when you need him? Thank you for the story.
Thanks for your comments, Cathy. Truly appreciated. More to come, for sure. The story of Ginger (and Suzie) continues…