I believe it was in the original Dirty Harry movie that Clint Eastwood famously quipped, "A man has got to know his limitations." If I'm wrong on the source, please forgive me. It's easy to get that mixed up with the equally poignant comment he makes after asking his boss permission to speak frankly after said boss had pretty literally gotten in Callahan's face with some harsh rebuke: "Your mouthwash ain't cutting it."
Given the number of immortal lines Clint Eastwood has spoken in his one hundred-and-fifty-seven-year career in Hollywood, I think I deserve a little latitude here. Another area in which I deserve — or at least direly need — a little latitude is in the realm of equine care, management and attempted locomotion. It's not that I was completely lacking in experience over the years; it's more the nature of the limited experiences I had.
I had a rather wonderful start it seems. There are a couple of black-and-white photos of me with horse-like animals when I was quite small. Being quite small explains why those photos were in grayscale: color had barely been invented back then and color photography was decades away from western Kentucky. Heck, we were still using WD-39 up until the late Eighties.
One of the pictures shows me confidently standing on the ground and holding the reins of a black horse (or possibly mule, photographic detail was as fuzzy as my species and breed identification skills). Three-year-old towhead dwarfed by the workhorse but completely void of any fear.
Another picture of similar vintage shows me on the back of said horse. Or at least one of similar traits. I'm so small my legs are splayed out like Jean Claude van Damme in a martial arts exercise routine. Again, void of fear.
The fear angle changed about 10 years later with my next documented equine experience. Paul and I were riding tandem on our pinto pony, Sam. Paul was four years older and several feet taller than me, which explains why he was in the saddle and I was sitting behind him. Paul clucked and snapped his heels against Sam's side. Nothing happened. "Kick him!" Paul urged.
Many moons before this I discovered that when your larger, older sibling gives you a directive, life is simpler and less painful if you comply with said directive. I stretched out my legs as wide as I could, twisted my toes out perpendicular to Sam's sides and kicked him as though salvation itself depended upon the force of those parallel strikes. I caught the pinto pony right where hind legs join the rib cage.
Instantaneously, Paul and Sam together and I separately inhabited separate dimensions. If they had been drag racing a super stock Chevy Nova, they would have won the first few hundred feet! I was still at the starting line and somehow vertical. I watched them disappear into an alfalfa field in an adjoining county.
A few hours later, Paul found me wandering around the pasture, mumbling to myself trying to understand the vague forces of momentum, velocity, acceleration, and metaphysics.
"I didn't mean for you to kick him that hard!" he exclaimed. "Oh," I murmured, “Sorry … it sounded urgent."
Sam and Paul stared at me for a moment, and I swear I could hear one at least one of them snickering under his breath. Might have been both of them.
"You want back up?" Paul asked, gently but with a hint of a grin. Or a smirk.
"Nah, I'm alright. I think I'll walk back up to the house." It was not a very long walk, but it was kind of slow. My next ride was kind of slow in coming, too. But it wasn't very long.
When I was 18, my sister-in-law at the moment, my oldest brother's second wife in a series of six or seven, and a person I previously believed really liked me, persuaded me to try a ride on her pony in eastern Tennessee. It was a large pony, only a quarter-inch shorter than what would have qualified him to be a horse.
"You'll be fine," she reassured me, tilting her head to one side, letting her long, dark hair drift to one shoulder while she softly closed both eyes for only an instant. And smiled.
No way between hell and heaven can an 18-year-old boy withstand that sort of persuasion. I lifted one foot to the near side stirrup and swung up just like I knew what I was doing and was glad to be doing it.
That feeling must have lasted for at least three or eight seconds. That's how long it was before the Demon Horse from Purgatory broke into a gallop and headed straight into the woods. I flattened myself on his back and dodged the first two limbs and immediately figured out this was a deliberate attempt by said steed to shed said rider. Or shred said rider.
I bailed out, rolled only a couple of times and in the process managed to avoid close encounters of the hard kind with any standing timber of significant size. I may have rolled down a couple of saplings.
By the time I'd limped back to the barn, the pony and my sister-in-law were standing there patiently and nickering about my adventure. "Oh, yeah," she acknowledged, "I forgot to tell you he sometimes likes to run into the woods."
The next episode of significance was many years later when I was in my 50s. It wasn't really the horse's fault; I'd put him in a situation where the only reasonable thing for him to do was take off like an intercepting missile from a battleship. I didn't end up vertical that time. As it did not involve standing timber, that one resulted in only two or three cracked ribs. Apparently, I didn't bounce as well as I did in a previous century.
So … all this makes me wonder why in the Sam Hill at age 67 I am currently the co-owner of two horses, with the obvious implication and obligation that I regularly ride at least one of them. Quite unlike me, Randa was born to the saddle, almost literally. She was riding horses before she could walk.
The only positives that I bring to the equine enterprise at Haven Hill Ranch, Resort and Spa Treatment Center are two particular abilities. One is that I am an excellent hay handler and stacker, owing to years of youthful experience on our farm and several other farms in western Kentucky. The other is that I am really good at shoveling horse manure. Owing mostly to my many years of experience in educational administration.
Doc Arnett is a former Cowley College administrator and former pastor at the Community Church of South Haven. He currently resides in northeast Kansas.