I began riding horses when I was six. We had friends who had a dairy farm just north of Salt Lake. When the adults got together the kids went riding. We rode bareback with simple rope halters. In the morning after milking, we herded the cows back to pasture. In the late afternoon we rounded them up and herded them back to the barn. We helped with milking in the days long before milking machines. I would sit on a stool and lean my forehead into the fragrant warmth of a cow who seemed grateful to have her udder emptied. I was proud of my strong hands and the feeling of competence I got knowing that my help was welcome and praised. Barn cats would line up to get a squirt straight from the teat.
I learned to ski when I was six and I got very good at it. There was never a ski season that I didn't sprain a knee or ankle getting in one last run on a dying day.
I played softball at school when I was seven, eight, nine. I was the pitcher on my team and my best friend, Mary Dorsche was the first baseman. We vied for home-run champ honors at bat. She lived on a horse farm down the road and across the highway to town from our house in Redmond, Oregon. After school and on the weekends we took turns riding horses and practiced pitching and batting. I was a grubby little jock. And then hormones flooded my little body making nipples tender and swollen, making pubic hair sprout. And in the space of a couple of months I could no longer slide into home-plate on my belly. Mary and I were now in a race to a freakishly early puberty. But gone was the wild freedom of our fearless athleticism on the playground.
Throughout my long life I have kept riding horses. I had a girlfriend who ran the Equestrian Classes for the University of Utah. She always had at least thirty or so well behaved horses for classes. I taught beginning western riding and took kids out on trail rides up Corner Canyon in Draper, Utah. Now and then we would take a group on an overnight camp-out carrying provisions on pack horses. We crewed in the Park City Ride and Tie. I crewed for Terry on National Endurance Races. We would begin the very early morning with a joint and a beer. Now that's the breakfast of champions!
In my early fifties I was helping a male friend condition his polo ponies during the winter months and very early spring. In exchange for this help he taught me to play polo. There is hardly anything more exhilarating than galloping down a polo field on a great horse, reigns in left hand and polo mallet in the other, leaning far forward and making contact with the ball to out maneuver an opponent.
I wrecked my knees skiing. In my late forties I had to have my anterior cruciate repaired and gave up downhill skiing. But in all my long life of riding horses, I had only one fall, landing on my tailbone in winter on the frozen ground. It was the final insult to my sacrum. I have suffered back pain ever since, but I can't blame it all on that fall. And if I had the chance to ride a great horse on a good trail, I'd fly like the wind grinning from ear to ear. Only one of my friends shared my love of the wild ride, the power of well conditioned horseflesh between my legs, the feel of strength and competence I felt in my skill as a rider.
In the early 1990s they closed Corner Canyon and developed the land my friend's riding stable was located on, forcing her to move to Greenriver. I miss her and her great horses. Now I only dream of riding.