Before I became interested in motorcycles I was a horse enthusiast. From a very young age I loved horses partly because my mom once owned a horse named Ribbon and also because I was brought up on television westerns. I visualized myself tearing across the range on horseback and begged my parents to buy me a pony. By the time I was four or five years old my mother relented and let me take riding lessons. That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with horses.
Let me tell you a little bit about Limey. Some people say that after you stop your horse by gently tugging on the reins your horse should be standing alert waiting for your next command. Not Limey; his first thought was that stopping was an excellent opportunity to put his head down and start grazing. The finer points of proper English dressage were lost on my horse.
Actually the first horse I took care of and could ride anytime I liked was Galen. It all started when a girl I met in high school (Eve) told me that her sister’s husband, Jimmy, had bought a mare named Galen at an auction but when they got home the next day they discovered that the horse had been sedated. When the drugs wore off Galen became aggressive and impossible to handle.
Galen put her ears back and bared her teeth whenever anybody got too close. She bit Jimmy tearing his shirt when he carried a bucket of grain into her stall. When he tried to ride her she threw him off and ran back into the barn. Jimmy said that she had been abused by her previous owner, but he thought that she could be rehabilitated and taught to trust humans again with the right care. He didn’t have the time to do it himself and he was hoping to find someone to ride and look after her for a 4H project.
When Eve told me about Galen, I said that I had been taking riding lessons for years and I could ride any horse no matter how hard to handle. I told her that I couldn’t wait for a chance to show Jimmy that I could ride his horse. We decided to meet on Saturday. She said that her mother would drive us over to where her sister lived on the Cosgrove farm.
On the next Saturday afternoon as I went out the back door I shivered and wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck. A cold breeze stirred the branches of the trees behind my parents’ house. Brown, red and yellow leaves fluttered to the ground in a swirling vortex of Autumn colors. I had noticed during the last few weeks that winter was approaching and the days were getting shorter. I decided to take a short cut through the woods to get to Eve’s parents’ home early so that we could get to her sister’s before dark. I was totally psyched because this was a rare opportunity to have a horse of my own to ride whenever I liked.
When I got to my friend’s house I just wanted her mother to take us to the Cosgrove farm so we could go riding but Eve was in no mood to be rushed. She kept taking different dresses and pant suits out of her closet and trying them on. Then she stood in front of her bedroom mirror and turned around and around to gauge the effect of the outfit on her figure. After a few minutes she discarded the ensemble and rummaged around for something new. She was obsessed with the idea that she was fat (she wasn’t). After an hour or so she still couldn’t find an outfit that made her look good and I started getting very impatient.
“When is your mother going to give us a ride to your sister’s house”, I asked. “It is already getting late.”
She assured me that we had plenty of time to go riding before dark. She said that she had to look her best because her sister usually had friends and relatives over on Saturday afternoons, and that Tom, the cute guy who lives up the street, often came over to see her if he saw her mother’s car parked in the driveway.
When we finally got to her sister’s it didn’t seem that anybody particularly wanted to go horseback riding. They were sitting around the kitchen table sipping hot chocolate and chatting. It was cold outside and the sun was getting close to the horizon streaking the flat, dark, low lying clouds with shades of purple and pink. It was a typical New England late Autumn afternoon.
However, Jimmy quickly got everybody together and we saddled up the horses and led them outside the barn. I mounted Galen while the others were getting ready to leave. She was a large pale palomino with a pronounced Roman nose (convex rather than concave). She had a reputation for having a “hard mouth” and the moment I got on her back I discovered why.
She took the bit between her teeth and rushed towards a big pile of rocks that had been dumped in front of the barn. She then reared over backwards. I jumped off and kept hold of the reins so that she could not escape when she scrambled to her feet.
Jimmy asked me if I was alright and I assured him that I was fine. He warned me to give up on Galen before I got hurt.
“Maybe it would be better if you ride one of the other horses”, he said. I insisted on getting back on Galen and we followed the others up the cart way towards the field where we were going to ride before it got too dark.
As soon as we reached the open pasture she put her head up and trotted towards the nearest tree with branches low enough to get rid of her unwelcome guest (me). At the last minute she ducked her head. When I realized what she was doing I grabbed the tree limb and held onto the reins so she couldn’t get away. I remounted her as soon as I jumped down from the tree.
Let’s just say that I was persistent and Jimmy was impressed by my lack of fear and offered to let me take care of Galen for 4H.
During the following months I spent a lot of time with Galen. I was determined not to get on her back until she trusted me. I spent a lot of time with her grooming her and leading her around. I talked to her and hung out with her and tried not to flinch when she lifted a hind foot in a threatening manner or bared her teeth with her ears flattened against her skull. She was trying to intimidate me and she gradually grew to accept me when I didn’t respond to her aggressive behavior.
Jimmy helped me train her. We put her through her paces around a paddock at the end of a long rope. She quickly learned to obey voice commands and then allowed us to bridle and saddle her. When I finally got on her back she accepted me and didn’t try any of her old tricks. It was a long slow process but we eventually succeeded transforming her into a calm manageable riding horse. I even put my beginner riding students on her back and taught her to canter slowly under a loose rein like a cow pony.
I hate to be too literary, but like Marcel Proust my most passionate feelings are evoked by tastes and smells from my past. For Proust the taste of a small pastry dipped in tea (a petite madeleine) brought back a rush of emotions which he later attributed to the sensation of eating the pastries at his aunt’s house on Sunday mornings. For me it is the smell of horses and other associated scents…
I remember the sweet fragrance of straw as I cleaned out the horse stalls and the fresh odor of hay as I watered and fed the horses. They were my passion and I looked forward to every day to go riding or just to hang out with my friends around the barn. Even when it was raining and we went into the abandoned chicken coops behind the barn the pitter patter of rain hitting the tin roof had a soothing affect on our nerves. I still have memories of how it made me feel safe and secure.
I got Limey as a gift from my parents. My mom and dad both wanted to make sure that horses were not just a passing fad and that I was responsible enough to support a horse on my own. My work with Galen for the 4H probably convinced them that I was responsible and motivated. I promised to take care of Limey, pay for his feed and pay for the stall we rented in the Cosgrove’s barn. In those days I earned money babysitting, working in the corn fields, selling produce in the corn stand, as well as feeding and taking care of the horses.
We went to look at a few different horses before we found Limey. He was a breathtakingly beautiful palomino and it was love at first sight (at least on my part). We were told that he had been shipped to the east coast after spending his youth with a herd of horses in the hills of Montana. At four or five years old he was captured, gelded and then taught to accept a saddle and bridle. He was what they call “green broke” and hadn’t had much contact with humans.
I spend most of my time with Limey just as I had done with Galen. I groomed him, rode him and spoiled him in every way. After awhile he whinnied as soon as he caught sight of me. Maybe he was glad to see me because I often brought him his favorite snacks like apples and carrots. The other horses also got treats but seldom welcomed me with the same enthusiastic greeting. Limey was special.
Every day after school around 3:30 I rode my bicycle to the barn and went horseback riding. I taught Limey to respond to my every cue whether by voice, leg pressure or rein. We even rode in the winter when the trails were covered in snow.
His hoofs made a crunching sound as he walked through the crusty ice that formed in the cart-way alongside the barn. Sometimes after a particularly heavy snowstorm I arrived at the barn to find the trees bent over under thick clumps of snow and blocking the trails with their branches. The icicles sparkled hanging from the eves of the barn and everything seemed muffled with the frozen stillness of winter.
Winter gradually turned into spring. The ice melted into little tributaries of water which slowly disappeared into the thawing soil. The pastures and the woodlands all turned different shades of green and purple. Young blades of grass pushed up through the snow while fresh buds sprouted overhead in an overlapping matrix of tree and vine. Meanwhile the sun rose a little higher each day and shone through the trees’ outstretched limbs in tangled shafts of light creating patches of light and dark underneath the budding foliage.
I brushed and curried Limey daily and took pride in his beautiful golden coat. If I put him out in the pasture after a good brushing he often knelt down and rolled around in the dirt. Then he would get up, shake the loose dirt off his coat and then nod his head defiantly as if to say look what I have done.
Mostly I saddled him up and we went riding. I took him everywhere, sometimes with friends who had horses stabled in the barn. Once in a while our ride took us near the railroad tracks. When the train rattled by Limey lifted his head to watch it pass and disappear into the distance. I had taught him not to follow the others who galloped off in a panic startled by the train’s piercing whistle. He was high strung but relaxed and confident under my calming and steady hand.
He was extremely quick and loved a little competition. Jimmy owned a few hundred acres and we operated a corn-stand on the edge of the main road. Most of the fields were planted with corn and other vegetables but some of them were left farrow. We often raced around the perimeter of unused grassy meadows. When I let Limey have his head he quickly gathered himself into a full gallop and wouldn’t slow down until I reined him in. We seldom lost one of those impromptu “friendly” races.
For the riders it was all about having fun but Limey took our races very seriously. He wanted to test his mettle against his stable mates. He quickly shoved his nose ahead of the rest of the pack and he would not slacken his pace until they dropped back behind us. He had never stepped inside the winners circle at a real racetrack, worn a garland of roses around his neck nor had he pricked up his ears to the cheers of an admiring crowd, but he knew he was the best (at least in his corner of the universe).
He was a delight to ride along the winding trails through the woods. He could go at a lope (slow canter) for a long time without getting winded.
There was a small black and white spotted pony named Beauty who shared the paddock with the other horses. They often commandeered her hay and kicked her to to keep her from coming back. They bullied her because she was small and defenseless. Once Limey arrived he appointed himself her guardian and protector. He defended her with flattened ears, and bared teeth. Once he showed the other horses who was boss they left her alone.
Horses are gregarious creatures and like to stay together. Limey was no exception. If he was in the pasture with the other horses and I wanted to catch him to take him for a ride I never let him see me carrying his bridle. He wouldn’t let me near him if he thought I was going to take him away from “his herd”. However, he was a sucker for sweet morsels like carrots and apples. His sweet tooth always overcame his desire to stay with the other horses.
I made jumps by gathering brush and tree limbs and placing it them across the trails and around the paddock. I often rode him bareback with just a rope tied to his halter. He took all the jumps without shying away or balking. He enjoyed jumping and we consistently won the jumping competition at local 4H horse shows.
The neighbors told me that they had seen him leaping over the five foot electric fence encircling his pasture. They said that he did it for the sheer thrill of jumping. I didn’t believe them and surmised that maybe the grass looked greener on the other side. He was not going to let a few strand of wire stop him from tasting the “forbidden fruit”. Maybe the neighbors did not approve of horses trampling around on their lawns and chased him back over the fence where he belonged. I never actually saw him jumping that fence and so I have to take the neighbors word for it.
He also liked to swim. If we were riding him on a hot summer day and we passed near a pond he cantered sideways towards the open water. This was his way of letting me know that he wanted to go swimming. We were regulars in Walden Pond before it was fenced off for the tourists. He seldom thought or cared about the consequence of just jumping into the water and so I had to stop him to take off his saddle and riding blanket before we plunged in. I didn’t want it to get wet and rub against his coat on the way home. He was quite a good swimmer but it was difficult to stay on his back once he started lunging through the deep water. My only hope was to hang onto his mane.
Some of our longer rides took us past Buttricks Ice Cream parlor in Concord Massachusetts (long since gone out of business) where on a hot summer day I stopped for an ice cream cone. He liked ice cream and after the staff saw me feeding him some of my ice cream cone, they offered to give him the leftovers from of a slightly stale bucket stored in the back of the freezer. He loved ice cream but I was careful not to let him have too much.
He also liked beer and drank it all up when my friends poured it into my cupped hands. I did not drink and so he did not get a chance to taste it very often. Beer is made out of grain (a dietary staple for horses) and although he never got tipsy he especially liked Budweiser.
He was an incurable show off and put on an real performance for potential groupies. His “groupies” included riding students (local kids) as well as family members and friends who hung out around the barn. He generally held his head and tail high moving with arced neck and a prancing step, but when he thought he was being watched he showed off with a vengeance practically dancing in circles for his imaginary fans.
Innocent bystanders might be forgiven for thinking that he was a highly trained Lippizan stallion performing piaffes and pirouettes for their amusement. The fact of the matter is that he had never been trained to perform these intricate maneuvers. In effect, his act was nothing more than a complicated improvisation he invented to inspire his fans.
I took him to ride in the 4th of July parade in Lexington Massachusetts, but the parade marshal refused to let me enter because he said that Limey was too spirited. I insisted that he was not a threat to onlookers.
“He just likes to show off” I argued. The marshal didn’t believe me and said I could only ride in the parade if Limey was given a shot of tranquilizers by the veterinarian on standby.
I finally relented and let them put a needle into Limey’s shoulder. Instead of calming him down it made him jittery and he broke out into a lather. He pranced about uncontrollably and I had to take him home on a lead because he was too agitated to ride. Let me just say that I never allowed anybody to inject him with anything ever again.
After I want to college he was sold to a wealthy landowner who kept a whole barn full of fancy parade horses on a large country estate. Limey was quickly adopted by a loving family and he was spoiled with treats whenever they passed by his paddock.
Limey’s owner was a Shriner and his horses were all beautiful palomino parade horses with shimmering golden coats and white manes and tails. They were admired by crowds of screaming onlookers as they marched in formation behind the Shriner’s banner on the Veterans Day and the Fourth of July parades. Limey quickly became the lead parade horse and enjoyed his new life in the spotlight (at last for real).
His owner even had a provision put into his will specifically allowing Limey to live out his life in a horse retirement home on another country estate when he passed away.
My mom and I often took a drive out to the country to visit Limey before his owner died and the beautiful estate with its lavish horse barns and sumptuous pastures was sold to the highest bidder. Limey seemed to recognize us. Whenever we approached his enclosure he came over to the fence to nuzzle us for treats. Maybe he only recognized us as people who visited him from time to time with his favorite snacks, but I like to think that he remembered who we were from the past and was glad to see us.
Although he was no longer the same sleek, spirited horse that he was in his prime, he was still a beautiful palomino. He would put his head over the fence and nudge me with his nose almost pushing me over in his enthusiasm. I hugged and petted him just like I did in the past. He hadn’t changed much over the years. I will never forget him and I still treasure the memories of the good times we had. He was a truly noble animal with a huge passionate heart and an unbroken spirit.
During the ensuing years the horse barn was torn down and condominiums were built over the former corn fields. High Tech companies with their immaculate lawns sprouted up where we used to ride our horses and the railroad tracks were torn up and replaced by a paved trail for bicyclists, skaters, runners and strollers. Limey has long since passed away but the past still lives on in my memories which I celebrate here in my post.