Festivities offer chance to gain horse sense

Dad and Mom had a team of horses soon after they bought their farm in 1916. I was too young to remember Steamboat and Jake. I always wanted to be a part of everything, so when Dad left the horses ground-hitched, I’d go and get the lines and pretend to be driving those big horses.

I don’t remember it, but they said that happened often. Mom wrote to her parents — April 11, l917 — that they plowed the garden and left Steamboat standing.

Soon, "Sue was shaking the lines and hollering, Whoa! Boat!" I was only 21 months old! Of course, Steamboat stood his ground. At another time, Mom grabbed her box camera and snapped a photo of the team with the little driver. The horses had stood quite a while because a dozen buff orphingtons and leghorns are in the picture, under and around the horses’ feet, picking out edibles from the accumulated manure. That snapshot is on Page 1 of my book, "My First 84 Years."

I do remember the mule team named Jack and Kate. Jack was a three-gaited mule, and I rode him around on the farm, not going anywhere and not going fast — just riding around.

Our front porch was a flat slab of concrete just above ground level near the driveway and about three feet high at the opposite end. It was just right for me to stand on the high end and get on Jack’s bare back.

Mule riding ended when I was nine and had a brand new Sears & Roebuck bicycle, my first ever. I was liberated! So was Jack because no one else in the family liked riding a mule.

By the time I was a senior in journalism school and teaching swimming at Christian College — now Columbia College — I was introduced to a strange new activity: equitation. Christian and its riding instructor, Caroline Drew, were nationally known for their fine horsemanship training program. Drew owned some of the horses, the college owned some, and a few students brought their own horses and boarded them on the college’s farm, which was located at the present intersection of the outer loop and Old 63.

My involvement with fine riding horses was simply that, as a teacher at Christian, I attended all of the horse shows in the farm’s arena. Many of my students were enrolled in the equitation classes, and I attended the shows to see the girls’ performances and to admire the beautiful horses.

Then came Snip! Our Nancy was a horse fancier. She and Walt saved most of the $65 it took to buy the Beasley boys’ small, beautiful white and brown horse. She liked to be chased and ran like a racehorse, looking back over her shoulder to be sure we were still coming with halter or bridle. This beloved horse lived to be 39 years old! Then we enjoyed Peacock and War Cry, bought cheaply when Christian College ended its horsemanship program. But no one in the family ever had formal training.

Comes now an opportunity to learn more about horses than I’ve known before: Educational demonstrations and Parade of Breeds — and much more — will be held this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, at the Boone County Fairground. Two women bringing horses from the St. Louis area will be my house guests. It is an annual event sponsored by the Equine Council of Missouri; additional information is available by calling (800) 313-3327.

The event will interest all ages, and children younger than 8 years of age are admitted free on Sunday. I’ll be there, of course.

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