Day Writing: A royal Christmas
December 15, 2016
My favorite Christmas present arrived on an unusual Christmas Eve when my dad "had" to drive 30 miles south to Lance Creek, population about 10, for plumbing parts after we had just gone through Newcastle, population big enough to have a parts store.
I was up bright and early Dec. 25, 1997, likely 3:30 a.m. It was dark aside from the tree lights as I did my sneaky gift check. Then there was noise beyond the dining room window. I grabbed a flashlight and ran outside to find a pickup and horse trailer sitting out front. With a horse in the trailer.
Oh, how I hoped that horse was for me! A few hours later it was confirmed that the sorrel colt with Two Eyed Jack and Apache Joe Hancock on his papers, who boasted four white socks and a little star on his forehead was indeed my Christmas present! My dad had carefully selected him over a "pretty little roan," he was worried wouldn't get big enough to last all day, and bought him from Harold Miller.
I fell in love in that way girls do with horses, and after careful, painstaking consideration dubbed him Royal over a short list of names that is quite fascinating to read as an adult.
We were inseparable, and before I could ride him the best idea seemed to be showing him in 4-H. As a yearling, Royal was named the reserve champion quarter horse gelding at the Wyoming State Fair. The year after that we came to the mutual agreement that the show ring was not a big enough circle for us. Upon turning two, he was sent north to Peggy Livingston, who put thirty days on him. The first time I ever really rode him was when Peggy and I took a loop before I brought him home.
Looking back, I realize that Royal wasn't what most would consider a kid's horse, and my dad may have ridden a little closer than I realized during our first couple outings. But, it quickly became apparent that Royal, who grew into a giant of a quarter horse, would watch over me. He had a huge motor and a bone-deep love of hating cows, but he cared for me.
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Shortly after he was broke, Royal and I headed out to check on some cows and put in the regular miles my dad said made a horse. We were jogging down one of those Niobrara County washout draws when he stumbled and rolled. I was thrown off him and landed on the edge of cutbank, where I watched him roll the remainder of the way down the hill and land on his feet. He got up and ran off a few yards, where he stood shaking profusely, but let me catch him. I checked him out, got on and rode him home.
Another time when he was young I found a newborn calf that needed taken to the house. So, I maneuvered him into position in the bottom of a dry creek bed, right next to the edge, where I heaved and strained for several minutes before finally getting that calf balanced over the front of my saddle. He calmly stood there and watched me with my noisy, cumbersome package. A couple weeks later he nearly crawled out of his skin the first time he saw a Charolais – on a foggy morning no less.
To be fair, he also possesses more quirks than three average horses. My brother says he acts more like a dog than a horse. Ironically, he hates dogs. He will break reins every time he's tied, and has a relentless lonely horse whinny that makes nails on a chalkboard seem soothing.
But, as his owner, I defer to something my dad told me after an acquaintance made some snide comment about Royal. He told me he always thought a person could put up with a horse with quirks if he was well mounted when he was on that horse. And, you were always well mounted for however long a day it turned into with Royal. We took countless outside circles, roped bulls, sorted thousands of pairs, dodged dozens of snakes with a snort and half the energy exerted over dodging scary rocks and even chased a few sheep and carried a handful of parade banners. He had an abundance of heart and cow sense wrapped up in an oversized, red-haired package.
These days Royal is in retirement following a serious hoof injury that took him mostly out of commission right in his prime. But, I am starting to think he might make a very nice kids' horse for a second time in a couple more years.
May you look fondly upon on your favorite gifts of Christmas's past this holiday season, and be reminded that we give such tokens in celebration of the ultimate Christmas gift of our Savior's birth.
Author’s Edit: It was my mom, not my dad, who drove to Lance Creek to get my horse, Royal. Also, he was the third place QH gelding at the Wyo. State Fair. My family lined me out at Christmas.