Karen M. Rice
A DAY AT THE RACES
I was all of thirteen and way too cocky for my own good. Our Girl Scout Troop had sold more cookies than any Girl Scout Troop in the nation that year. We were able to afford a 17 mile trail ride at Roman Nose State Park near Watonga and a trip to Colorado Springs. Most of the year we had worked on our horsemanship badge, and having been put on a horse before I could walk, I found it all a little boring. This was going to be way more exciting!
We arrived about an hour before sunset. The girls set up the sleeping area while the moms cooked supper. It took me all of five minutes to set up my surplus army cot and roll out my cotton quilt. I started the campfire while the mom’s unloaded the food from their car trunks. We had hot dogs roasted on sticks over the campfire and S’mores. Breakfast in the dark was going to be scrambled eggs rolled up in tortillas. We had to get to the stable by dawn.
The goings-on at the corral were a scream. The old man had put his string together by rescuing failed race horses, retired race horses, retired farm nags, and wild mustangs from their destiny with the glue factory. The girls were raring to go and the horses were not. Hatch, our leader, as wild a hellion as I, picked everyone’s horse for the day. She picked two young race horses for herself and me and handed me the reins to hold these docile critters while she picked the rest. She picked a plump, gentle farm horse for my mom who hadn’t ridden in thirty years. The trail boss, a 17 yr old ranch hand dozed in the saddle while all this fooferaw went on. We had short girls, tall girls, skinny girls, fat girls, and Hatch carefully matched each girls size and skill level to the chosen nag. The ranch hand knew the trail and was riding point. Hatch and I came next. Then a string of girls. Then my mom, riding drag to pick up any stragglers or strays.
Finally mounted, we plodded along a winding ranch road until the sun was about at 9 o’clock. Then we went through a little growth of jack oaks and stubby pines. That’s when the horses started feeling their oats. The trail boss’s horse danced and pranced and trotted, eager to go.
Hatch’s horse took off at a dead run through the trees. The only way she could hang on was to side slip and cling to the saddle horn with one foot in the off stirrup. My horse took one look at this insanity and took off at a steady walk. This sassy little sorrel was turning out to be a big disappointment. One oversized girl with coke bottle glasses let her horse walk right under a tree. A branch swept her off the saddle, leaving her sitting on the ground on her ample back side. My five foot tall , 100 lb. mom clambered off her horse, heaved the girl back up in the saddle, remounted and trotted back to shoo the timid girls along.
Then we left the woods for a sage covered plateau. It was a beautiful sight, and we had an easy time getting the string back in its proper line-up. Smooth riding for about two miles. The next challenge was to get our horses over a little three ft. cliff and down the talus slope of the mesa we were on. Mine and the ranch hand’s horses stepped off like champions and two-stepped down the slope like western dancers. We turned to watch the rest of them descend. Suddenly Hatch’s horse started crow hopping wildly at the edge of the mesa. We later found out he had stepped over a rattler sleeping in the sun. Of course the rattler immediately coiled up, rattled and struck wildly. Fortunately for Hatch, his fear of the slashing hooves caused the rattler to slither off and hide under the nearest rock. If her horse had slipped and rolled off the mesa, both of them would have probably wound up with a broken leg or neck. Eventually all the other horses got their burdens down the slope. My mom was last, and her bored bay gelding gingerly stepped over the edge, then sat down on his fat bottom and slid the rest of the way down.
Tired, bored and hungry by now, the ranch hand and I were just looking for a way to get in trouble. He poked me in the arm, winked and grinned. I immediately took the cue. We both kicked our horses hard, yelled “Yee-haw!” and slapped them with the reins. It was a dead heat all the way down the gully bottom. Let them slow pokes eat our dust! It didn’t matter if it was a dead tie or what. We took our paper bag lunches out of our saddle bags and shared delicious pimiento cheese sandwiches and hard boiled eggs wrapped up in wax paper. I gave him one of my mom’s homemade peanut butter cookies, and he gave me one of his mom’s fried apple pies. Then we kicked back in the shade of a couple of salt cedars and waited for the stragglers to show up.
Over bag lunches washed down with stream water, the tales of the day’s adventures were told and retold. The rest of the afternoon was comparatively uneventful. The horses were grateful to be heading home for some good grain and oats, so they didn’t give anyone any trouble.
At the campfire that night pros and neophytes hobbled around like bow-legged old cowboys. I had a “good seat” – you never saw daylight between me and my saddle whether trotting, galloping, or at a dead run. Unfortunately, that day I was also riding “the cotton pony,” so I deserved every saddle sore! We had cold beans, more roasted hot dogs, and some stale doughnuts for supper. We rolled into bed, watched the stars come out as the fire died down, and drifted off to sleep listening to Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” on Hatch’s battery powered record player. We slept until the sun was up, took a camp shower, put on fresh duds, and the wagons headed out, full of happy campers. We stopped at a truck stop and had greasy hamburgers for breakfast. I know for a fact lunch wasn’t missed, and we were all glad to be headed home for a home cooked supper. Mine was going to be fried chicken salad sandwiches.
That’s what mom always made when she was too busy or tired to cook. Cold left-over fried chicken, chopped up with crusty batter-coated skin and all. Chopped onions, cheddar cheese chunks, diced dill pickles, a few sliced green olives, and a generous dollop of mayonnaise to hold it all in the bread. Too bad there was none of her potato salad left to go with it.
Daddy probably finished that up the night after they left. He hated to cook and usually ate out if mom wasn’t home to cook for him. Hopefully he left us a couple of slices of lemon meringue pie.
©Copyright 2010 by Karen M. Rice