Monday, June 28, 2010


Dang. I knew this day was coming. I've discovered that the saying "knowledge is power" has no meaning when it comes to matters of the heart and soul. This is a heart that is breaking and a soul that feels wretched. This is my farewell tribute to Misty.

They say that every horse person has one special horse, the animal that becomes the standard by which all others are measured. It's not usually looks or temperament that sets the standard but deeper things. Heart, ability, that thing the old-timers call "sand." I'm not going to try to define it, but Misty has it.

She's 28 years old, the same age as my oldest son. Sometimes I think about them on a similar timeline. Evan at six months, giggling and learning to sit up and interact with his world. Misty, curious and friendly, running around on her sturdy legs. Evan at two, realizing that older humans need to be the boss of his world. Misty discovering the same thing.

She was purchased at age 17 while we were at Long Hollow Ranch, to be my main guide horse. I loved her from the moment she lowered her head into the bridle, mouth open ready for the bit. She excelled at her job, partly because of some fine training, partly because of her unflappable temperament and partly because she was such a snot if she had to go anywhere other than the front of the group.

On a five hour ride around Black Butte, early in our acquaintance, a skilled friend was riding her. They fought a well-mannered but irritating battle for an hour and a half before Misty surrendered and slowed her legs down to keep pace with the other horses.

She's half quarter horse and half Tennessee Walker, with the Walker's single-foot gait that kept her ahead of most other horses. She's done one-day eventing, been trail ridden in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and on the beach and had a stint as a 4-H horse. After the Black Butte ride, we never again asked Misty to be one of the crowd and she happily led the way for many groups of dudes. Riding alone never bothered her either and I spent some therapeutic hours exploring with her. We rarely let beginners ride her - her excellent training made her so sensitive that the slightest movement of legs or hands drew a response. I'd always wanted a push-button horse and certainly got one in Misty!

Misty came to live with me when Long Hollow retired her, about six years ago. The pasture at Camp Sherman welcomed her, as did the fortunate few who learned to ride on her. Her retirement coincided with a mellowing or maybe it was the arthritis beginning its insidious assault on her frame that slowed her down. She became a perfect lesson horse, especially for children. Still responsive, she was content to temper that to the ability of her riders. Many a happy hour was spent viewing the scenery at Camp Sherman while novices gained their equestrian confidence.

When winter proved too tough at the pasture, Misty came to spend that season at the Willows Ranch. She and Judi's old Arabian mare became firm friends. We called them "the Grannies." Misty earned her keep in the spring when the yearling steers arrived. I'd ride her into their midst, where she'd stand unperturbed as they'd alternately skid to a stop inches from her tail then race off en-mass when she'd swish it at them. That quiet and steady demeanor helped as the steers calmed down and learned to stroll from place to place.

She spent the year that my dad was sick living with friends near Bend. Their home was filled with a horse loving family and a progression of small children who whiled away their summer loving on and riding Misty.

But now the arthritis has caught up with her. My vet told me not to ride her any more; she's thin and frail and often stands with her head down. The spark is fading from her eye and she looks resigned. It's time.

Misty's great gifts to me have been in the form of little wishes granted, sweet dreams made reality. A push-button black horse, a good cow pony, calm around, well, anything, and those first rides...
My son's fiancee tamed her fear of horses with Misty's help. My niece Vivi and grandson, Rowan, each were two years old when first lifted onto the saddle in front of me. A sweet young friend came to terms with her diabetes with her arms wrapped around Misty's neck. Andy Misty's final ride, given to two boys visiting the ranch. They had never been near a horse, and the experience was the highlight of his vacation for one of them.

It's been such a sweet ride. Farewell, Misty. You are my wonder pony.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Joys of Getting Sidetracked

I've been working on transferring stuff from my old tiny desk to my new (to me) expansive roll top. As usual, I've gotten sidetracked at each drawer, sifting through old cards, finding a check account register from an address we haven't used in five years, and tossing out notepads with phone numbers of people who needed to be contacted because of ????

The bottom drawer held the notebooks I use for interviews. Among all the working notes, I found a journal I'd used to jot down story ideas and thoughts inspired by the writers magazine I subscribe to. The following is one of those random musings.

The Red Letter Day (a story from a child's point of view)

Today is a, um, what is it Grandpa always says about really good days? Oh, yeah, A Red Letter Day. Today is one of those because we get to see the horses.

Not just any old horses but those big Freezin horses. That's funny, because it's really hot out today. How could they be freezing? Oh, now I remember. We looked on the map to see where they come from - Friesland. I think that's part of Dutchland. Anyway, the horses are Friesians.

Mama said there's a man at the farm who can make them do anything. I wonder what he'll make them do today.

"Daddy, can you make the car go faster? Are we there yet? Ooh, I see one!"

All the people here look so little when they stand next to the horses. The man, his name is Clay, is so funny. He made one horse go while he walked along behind, steering with long ropes. When the horse pranced, so did he. I wonder if he had to do that so the horse would know what to do?

Then he rode another one that had long hair, almost to his knees. I wish my hair was that long. I couldn't even see Clay's hands. He rode it round and round, then it bowed. When it lay down, I thought he'd killed it and I said, "Mama, look!" and she said, "Shh." But then the horse got up, with Clay still on him, so I guess the horse wasn't dead after all.

And then I got to pet them, and they tickled my face with their noses. They smell so good. I wish they made a soap that smelled like that.

It has been one of Grandpa's Red Letter Days. I'm going to remember this day forever, even when I'm as old as Grandpa.

Here's your assignment for today - take a moment to get sidetracked and recall a Red Letter Day of your own. Enjoy the journey.