Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Fast Trains, Slow Horses, Short Nights
Blunt was celebrating South Dakota’s 75th anniversary, beginning with a parade. My uncle Willmer was driving his beautiful team and wagon from his ranch southwest of Harrold to Blunt to take part in the parade and his boys were following him horseback.
My cousin Rosemary and I were riding west from Harrold along the railroad right-of- way, planning on meeting Willmer three miles out. Rosemary had always wanted to ride, but this was her first chance to ride her dad’s thoroughbred mare. The mare was fast and loved to run. I was riding my dad’s favorite quarter horse, a good looker but sinfully slow.
Our ride started out uneventfully, with Rosemary enjoying the thrill of riding outside of the corral with me giving her pointers on balance and reining. A train came into view behind us, catching up and giving a short blast on it’s horn as it passed. That was all the encouragement I needed. Without thinking, I put the spurs to “Pokey” and lit out, chasing the locomotive. After a hundred yards I slowed him down to a walk, turning in my saddle just in time to see the mare flying by, with Rosemary pulling on the reins, pleading for her to stop. After a second, I took out after her, knowing in my mind I had no chance whatsoever in catching that thoroughbred mare. Rosemary apparently had been listening to my riding instructions, for besides looking over her shoulder and screaming at me to help, she was staying in the middle of the saddle. Every time I got close to the mare, she would pick up enough speed to stretch out her lead. My horse’s heart wasn’t in the chase, and I ended up far enough back that I wasn’t challenging the mare any longer. Just about the time she slowed to a trot, Rosemary fell off. When I got to her, she was sitting on the ground, crying, while the mare was leisurely grazing next her. I calmed Rosemary down enough to get her mounted again, with the condition I lead the mare the rest of the way.
When we joined up with Willmer and his boys, Rosemary started sobbing again, relieved to be off the horse and onto Willmer’s wagon . Once Willmer was sure she wasn’t seriously hurt, he gave me a real tongue lashing for being so foolish. I was glad I was horseback, I didn’t need to give him a chance to use a harness strap on my butt. Rosemary rode the wagon to the little roadside park, then caught a ride home to Harrold. She definitely had more excitement than she had planned on, on account of my train chase.
The rest of the trip went well, except for that one small incident in the middle of the night. We camped in the roadside park that night, and tied two of the saddle horses to the back of the wagon. One of the horses apparently got a foot across the lead rope and in his struggle, fell over backward onto Willmer’s tent, barely missing one of the younger boys sleeping inside. We chased the horses down a county road to a bridge they wouldn’t cross. By the time we had the runaways back in camp, daylight was showing itself, so we fixed breakfast then headed for Blunt to take in the parade that morning, trailing home that afternoon, tired but happy.
Needless to say, Rosemary never rode again, all because I wanted to race a fast train on a slow horse.
Outtagrass Cattle Co cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Aug. 13, 2022, edition of Tri-State Livestock News
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