By: Tonya Stevenson
I was a most blessed little girl. At three days old I was introduced to the best friend a little girl could have. My Grandfather came to meet me, (his first granddaughter) and I was handed up to him on his black horse for my first ride. I loved my Grandfather and would live with my grandparents off and on, but it was that black horse, that became everything to me.
He was given to me for my own at one year old, of course all of these things were told to me, but I have so many good memories of that horse. My Grandfather ranched in a beautiful green valley surrounded by pine covered mountains and divided by two rivers and many creeks. It was a small community of around 300 people at the time and most all were related at least by marriage. In the fall Grandfather ran a hunting camp out in the wilderness area. Summers he’d use those same horses to buck. So my knight in shining armor was an ex-bareback bucking horse. To me he was beautiful, yet I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My Grandpa liked big horses around 16 hands tall, my horse was only 15 hands, thus his undignified name of Shorty. I thought he should have been called something like Midnight, but alas I wasn’t allowed to change it.
In my preschool years Shorty was my babysitter and he carried me all over the valley mostly bareback, because I was too small to saddle him by myself. He would take the bit I held up, in his mouth so that I could get his bridle on and over his ears. I’d pull his head down and climb on it, then bump him in the jaws until he lifted his head, slide down his neck to his broad rump, turn around frontwards, pick up the reins and away we would go. Most everyday we’d ride over to the “joint” where old Mary worked and she would bring me out bacon grease to put on a crack on Shorty’s front foot.
Much of the time I went to my cousin Dixie’s house and we’d hang out or ride our horses together. Dixie had a sorrel horse named Keno. Sometimes we’d jump hay bales, or hang off the side trying to ride like we heard the Indians use to, only to fall to the grass below. Those old horses would halt instantly, never stepping on us.
One of those days my aunt called me over to talk to a couple who were watching us. The man started telling me how much he liked my horse and my buttons were bursting. Then he asked, “I’d sure like to buy him for my kids. Could you tell me where your Mom is?” Suddenly the bottom fell out of my world in fear that I would lose my horse. I don’t know if he found my Mom or not, but I didn’t lose my horse.
When I would get tired I would just lay my head back on his big rump and fall asleep and he would so carefully walk me home. In the fall, my brother Jim and I would go to hunting camp and ride in the mountains and splash down the crystal clear Deadwood River, laughing as we watched the cochnee salmon scatter before our horses’ feet.
Mom tells when I was five that she was washing dishes in the big lodge when she saw an elderly couple pull their car up and jump out with cameras. She went out expecting to see a big elk but instead, Shorty was loping down the dirt road toward the lodge with me standing in the saddle. She says she jerked me off and spanked me much to that couples displeasure.
Sometimes Grandpa took Shorty on the hunting trips. When they came back I remember him jerking the big saddle off Shorty and throwing me on bareback, as he spoke to the hunter who had ridden Shorty.
“Do you think this is a bad horse? Watch this.” Then he told me, “Go ride him.”
I’d lope Shorty off threw the grass, feeling special because he always did whatever I asked him.
One year I rode him several miles down the highway in the Fourth of July parade dressed as an Indian with nothing but a rope around his lower jaw.
When I was six, I saddled him for the first time by myself by dragging my little saddle up on the hay wagon and then leading him over to it. I took him over to town, where I had three distant cousins (girls all older than me) who wanted to ride. They all climbed on with me and we crossed back over the bridge and started to trot when my saddle rolled over and dumped us all under Shorty’s belly. After that, I learned to put the latigo over my shoulder, squat down, then stand and use my legs to tighten the cinch. I got on by walking up his leg, holding on to my long saddle strings. I would put my left foot on the back of his knee, my right foot in his arm pit as I hung upside down putting my left foot in the stirrup, then climb up the saddle strings with my hands. Most of the time, it was a lot less work to ride bareback.
One day as I rode down the road there was a bunch of kids wanting to short cut across the river, so they didn’t have to walk around to the bridge. So with me, we loaded all nine of us on Shorty’s back. I was very high up his neck, he carried us all across the river, but the two biggest kids slid off his rump as we climbed up the opposite bank.
By the time I was seven, Shorty and I headed to the Mountains alone. Those were glorious days and some of my favorite childhood memories. I would get up before the others awoke and slip out to catch my horse. We’d start trotting for the hills and then loping; as we climbed we’d drop back to a trot or walk going deeper and deeper into the mountains. Shorty would be sweating and I would let him rest on the top of a hill. Then continue on until you could no longer see the people or the cars in the valley and the houses were just tiny specks. I’d stop by a creek and we’d drink. I’d let Shorty eat grass for a while. He never left me. I’d play, and drag branches together to make me a shelter. Sometimes I would have a book in my pants and I’d lie in the grass and read. Often we’d lope down old abandoned logging trails, with young trees growing in them, me standing on his back. If I slipped I’d just spread my legs and grab his neck. Sometimes we’d go farther and farther just to see what was over the next hill.
There were black bears and cougars, but I always felt safe with my horse. I never worried about getting lost because Shorty would always take me home. If I got cold I would lay my body down on his warm
back and bury my arms under his thick mane. I was always supposed to be home by dark, but I would wait until the very last moment and sometimes I was late. That meant I would get in trouble. Those times I would stand in the dark before I turned him loose with his hot breath blowing on me. I would hug his big head, which was as long as my body and take courage from my gentle giant.
He was the shoulder I cried on, my friend I told everything, my transportation, my protection, my guide, my love.
I realize now that I loved him so much, because I knew to him I was special and he loved me first.
One of God’s names is Jehovah, which chiefly denotes the God who reveals Himself unceasingly. His ways are greater than our ways and He works mysteriously, but He reveals Himself to each of us individually. He reveals Himself in nature and the Heavens declare His handiwork. Perfectly though, He reveals Himself through His Word and His Son.
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:3
As children God usually first begins to reveal Himself to us through the love of our parents, but for me he chose a horse. And if we truly see God for who He is, we can’t help but love Him, because we see how He first loved us
photo credit – manha nebulosa