When I was in my twenties, I lived with my then-hubby and our two small boys, way out in the country in northern California. One day as we were driving home from a trip to Eureka selling our pots, I spotted a really sad looking horse in a pasture by the side of the road.

We pulled over and took a closer look. There were two horses in a tiny pasture – a big bay and a small, almost pony-size Palomino.

The bay was a bossy wench who commandeered all the sunny dry spots, and wouldn’t allow the Palomino to stand for a minute in any of them. We watched as the bay repeatedly pushed her out of the sun and into the wet, soggy shadows, and away from any attempt to get to the feed trough.

The Palomino hung her head, trudging away from the sunny spots, gazing over with longing at the feed. Her ribs stuck out so far you could have played on them like a xylophone, and her entire back was a raw red sore, oozing with infected mange.

A surge of rage and indignation erupted from my belly. I was furious and outraged that anyone would let their horse get into this terrible condition. We drove up to the house. I pounded on the door, probably sounding like an invasion of the FBI to the owners – I didn’t care, I was livid.

After a terse, five minute-flat exchange of no pleasantries at all, we drove away as the new owners of Rosie Pearl, the little Palomino who used to be a ride for kiddies at parties and events. They told me that horses with history like hers can be sweet deep down, but jaded and hard from years of being thrashed on by little kids. I didn’t care if she was jaded, I just wanted her to have a good home with lots of room, plenty of sun, good feed, and loving humans.

They brought her up into the hills to us the very next day, with a wonderful surprise addition of a beautiful western-style saddle and halter in amazingly good shape.

I was still enraged, but I somehow kept myself from spewing, “you could keep the tack in good condition but not the horse?”

We had her teeth floated and her hooves trimmed and shod, made sure she had her shots and any other health stuff she needed. Built her a corral with a homey shed with easily accessible feed and water troughs; bought some top-notch feed and hay. Within what seemed like a very short time, her back healed smooth, shiny and soft. She began to pick her head up, and even developed a little spring in her step. We loved her.

Of course, once she’d healed and gotten used to being treated well, I got it in my head that I’d ride her down the hill to visit some friends.

Now, I knew zip about riding. I was a TV cowgirl – I knew you mounted from the left, that was about it. It took me half an hour to figure out how to put the halter on over her ears, and the bit into her mouth. Yeah, I only need nine fingers, Rosie, thanks for letting me know that you hate that bit . . .

Reins. Where were the reins? Those people neglected to bring them! I looked everywhere for something to substitute. We were sadly short on rope or even string (I know, I know . . . ).

I did find an old inner tube. I cut it into strips and fashioned some very wobbly, stretchy reins, tying them to her
halter with big bulky knots. They stank of old car. Rosie hated them, tossing her head and balking.

I led her out to the flat spot by the shed, threw the saddle up on her back, tightened the cinch around her belly as tight as I could. I’d read that horses did the tricksy, puffing up their bellies so when you get on, the saddle slides down and under. I knew that! You were supposed to give her a little jolt in her belly, making her puff the air out. I did that. She turned to look at me, rolling her eyes like, “really, Human? You’re poking me?” “Yeah, Rosie, really.”

Now for the Big Test. I got up on a sawed off stump and climbed on. So far so good! I picked up the make-shift reins. Another eye-rolling, as she turned to glare at me over her shoulder.

I gave the ‘reins’ a little ‘let’s-go’ flick. Nothing.

Harder. Nothing.

Harder again! Next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, wondering, what the heck?

You know how they say if you fall off your bike, horse/motorcycle/whatever, you’re supposed to get right back in the saddle and go again?

Man, did I really NOT want to do that! But I did, and tried again.

Rosie vigorously shook her head and shivered her neck and refused to budge an inch. She would have nothing to do with those stinky strips of old inner tube rubber hanging off her face.

So I clambered down off her back, led her to her shed, removed all her tack and hung it up, and went inside to put ‘reins’ on the shopping list.

I did eventually succeed in learning how to ride her, and went on little excursions around the mountain. Each and every time I saddled her up, she’d do the look-over-her-shoulder thing to see if wasn’t paying attention. If I wasn’t, she’d nip my shoulder or arm - hard! I got really good at avoiding her!

Rosie never did warm up to anyone, but I was so happy to give her a safe, clean, sunny home for the rest of her days. When we moved back to Hawaii later on, a friend who had a big ranch took her in, where she lived until she passed out of this realm a few years later.



text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023

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