Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Town Cowboy Chores
Living in town and owning horses can be complicated, especially for a boy in high school.
Our home sat on the last block on the east side of town, our horse barn was on the west end of town. That doesn’t sound so bad considering Harrold was only six blocks long.
My chore every morning before school was to walk to the barn, bridle one horse, halter the other two onto one lead rope, mount the bridled horse and ride to the abandoned ballpark which was our summer/fall pasture. Of course, it was on the east end of town, so here I was, early in the morning, riding and leading horses across town, by the elevator and bulk oil tanks, crossing the railroad, finally reaching the ballpark and turning the horses loose. This whole process was repeated every evening. There was no water at the pasture, so the horses were waiting at the gate to get back to the barn for water and feed. I was the only kid carrying bridles and halters to and from school.
Time was a factor. If I was late or had a problem gathering the horses in the morning, it meant sitting on the lead rope to help control the two haltered horses while we galloped across town, beating the school bus at the railroad crossing, and finally getting the cavy stopped inside the gate.
One night I didn’t get the horses until after dark. I was in a hurry and trusted the horses to know the dirt road we were galloping on. Suddenly the mare I was riding spooked and locked up, her front legs sliding to a stop. The lead rope I was sitting on pulled me forward as the other two horses continued towards the barn. I was left straddling the mare’s head with the bridle and reins in my hand. I stepped off her, slipped the bridle back on, chuckling at the sudden turn of events and loped to the barn where the two other horses were waiting to get fed.
Wintertime meant chopping ice every night after school, walking again to the barn. Dad got the idea those horses would benefit from warm water, so he ran a washtub full of water and set it out behind his barbershop which was a couple of blocks from the barn. I again bridled and haltered the horses, crossed the tracks, rode up a couple of alleys to the shop where the horses nuzzled the warm water but rarely drank any amount. That didn’t make any difference to Dad, we kept doing it. I really didn’t mind, I kept warm riding the mare bareback.
I think back on those days and realize they didn’t seem unusual at the time. I loved the horses, and I loved the excitement of riding helter skelter through town early in the morning with people gawking at me and laughing. I never thought I was being mistreated, in fact I felt privileged to be able to do it. I think back on the responsibilities Dad gave me and wish we all had those kinds of chances to grow. Kids today, especially town kids, don’t get those chances, through no fault of their own or of their parents. It’s part of the downside of today’s environment. I’m glad we had a pasture with no water. I would have missed out on the best part of my days.
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