Adventures on Horseback: The $200 horse

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My mom grew up as horse crazy as many of us.

She would beg, borrow and muck stalls to get rides at the local rental stable. I’m sure in her mind those horses were champions.

She took riding lessons in college and got various teaching jobs after that, depending on where we were living at the time. When I was almost 8 years old, she was teaching at an “equitation” school in Huntsville, Alabama. My dad was working with NASA on the Saturn Five project, and the town was booming.

My folks didn’t have much money. Dad had put himself through college on the GI Bill, and they had three kids to take care of.

Shadow (Submitted by Catherine Hunter)

Back then, you could buy a good horse for a few thousand, and something sound and rideable for a few hundred. Pasture board was $15 a month, and a set of four shoes was about the same.

Dad promised Mom a horse, and she set out looking. Little did she realize she was looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

“I wanted something that was big enough for me and small enough for the kids to handle,” mom later said to a friend. “It had to be quiet enough for them to be safe and have enough spirit that I wouldn’t get bored.”

She was also looking for a horse that was old enough to have some sense, and young enough to have some years.

During the next year, my sister, Sharalee, and I went with Mom to look at a lot of horses. Mom would have us wear jeans instead of breeches. I think that was because a lot of those were “backyard” horses.

Many we tried with Western saddles and the owner would proudly say, “He saddles too.”

Back then in the rural South, the term “saddle” was used to describe a gait that was either a running walk or a pace. Many old timers liked the gait because it was smooth and easy to sit. They were breeding it into a lot of the Western horses of the time.

One cold morning in January, my folks piled us kids into the station wagon to head out to the barn where Mom taught. There was a bag of feed and some buckets in the back. Mom said those were for a friend of hers at the barn.

When we arrived, there was a strange, one-horse trailer parked in the lot. We jumped out of the car and watched as a man unloaded a black horse.

The horse was medium size, with two hind socks, a star and stripe. He had a white spot on his side and his partially grown out mane stuck up about 2 inches.

With two shoes on one side and no shoes on the other, the horse stood a bit lopsided.

Dad lifted the three of us up on the horse. Somehow, I wound up in front.

“Are we thinking about buying this horse?” my sister asked.

“Do you like that horse?” Mom responded.

Was she kidding? It was a HORSE. It might, just might, become ours. Of course we liked it.

We quickly assured her that this was a fine horse, and we liked him very much.

“Well he’s ours,” she said.

The poor horse. I shrieked and threw my arms around his neck.

I don’t remember what the horse’s response was. It couldn’t have been much, because I don’t remember anything bad happening. In fact, I don’t remember much else that happened that day.

Mom turned that $200, lopsided, part Quarter Horse, part walking horse, part who knows what, into a great field hunter. Shadow taught my sister, myself and even our dad, to hunt — along with several of Mom’s students.

My brother was more into race cars, although he did ride occasionally.

I grew up on Shadow. I spent a lot of hours at the barn racing bareback through the fields, jumping fences and swimming in the pond. Shadow was the best babysitter a parent could ask for.

I remember one night, when I was maybe 10. Mom was late getting off work to pick me up, and it was dark.

The old barn creaked and groaned. I held onto Shadow completely sure that he would protect me from whatever monsters lurked in the ancient corners.

Shadow passed away at 36 years old. Dad had gone out to feed and Shadow didn’t eat that day. Dad said he walked back out into the pasture, laid down and simply went to sleep.