Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Dating, Cowboy Style

Horses can be great conversation starters for a teenage boy. I know. Being shy, sitting on the back of my uncle’s brown mare was the perfect spot to look nonchalant, even though I was usually scared silly trying to talk to girls.

If a group of girls saw me at our barn, they would walk by, stop to ooh and ah over the horses and sit on the corral fence while I tended to my chores. Sometimes I would halter a horse and give rides, leading the horse around the corral with a giggly girl on his back. I didn’t have to talk very much, just look cool while leading a horse. If a girl wanted to ride double behind me, I told her she had to wrap her arms around me and hang on tight. Gotta be safe, you know.

I used to ride south of Harrold, following a country lane to the creek. The bluffs, gravel pits and gullies that skirted the creek provided great places to ride. One summer evening as I was riding back to town, I noticed a girl I had never seen before coming out of a farm yard to meet me. She was cute and not a bit shy, petting the mare, asking questions with a soft Texas drawl, and glancing sideways at me, with a faint smile always present, her face framed with light brown hair that fell across her shoulders. A teenage cowboy’s dream! She was visiting her grandparents for part of the summer, and would return to Texas before school started in the fall. I rode away, glancing back often, only realizing later I hadn’t even asked her name!

The next day I took another saddle horse with me, hoping the girl would be out in the yard. She was. I asked her if she wanted to ride with me. She did. We stayed close to home, so her grandparents didn’t worry about her. We rode almost every day for the few weeks before she had to leave. It’s amazing how much “courting” you can do horseback. We rode the morning she left, promising to write every day until next summer when she returned. I rode away, glancing back one last time. Our letter writing lasted for a month or so, then dwindled to an occasional note by Thanksgiving.

A few years later I dated a girl who lived several miles outside of town. Her folks were pretty strict as to how much time we could spend together, so we found a way to see each other secretly. I would saddle up and ride into the night, following the railroad for a short distance, then pointing my horse towards a faint house light across country. I knew there weren’t any fences to worry about, so I just trusted my horse to make his way across the fields and grass. I would ride to the tree row about fifty yards from her house, whistle softly, and she would slip out her second story bedroom window, climb down unto the porch, and run out to meet me. My horse knew the way when we headed for home, so I just gave him his head. Thinking about this now, it seems pretty romantic. I don’t remember that her folks ever knew of our clandestine meetings. If they did, they never mentioned it.

Horses have always been a big part of my life, including my teenage romantic life. Back in the sixties, fast cars were the dream of most boys my age. I liked them too, but when it comes to a “chick magnet”, give me a gentle saddle horse any day.