Saturday, January 22, 2011

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

My work with these old, old slides and turning them into acceptable photographs may be your undoing!
by Charlie Leck

Each day that I spend time with these old photographs, restoring them and cataloging them, brings back a flood of memories. And that leads to a memoir or two. I'll be brief and tomorrow I'll turn to the Sunday newspapers, as I often do.

My wife has been a horsewoman all her life -- well, from the age of 3 or so. How totally comfortable she is around horses and how those big creatures seem to respect her (and her them, indeed). While we were courting, she really wanted me to learn to ride. I'd had very little experience with horses before then. When I was a kid, a buddy, Alan Lum, had a couple of cutting horses at his house and I went riding with him a couple of times -- out through the honeysuckle north of the ball field and then out into the open farm fields. I managed to hang on all right.

Anne wanted more of me. She hoped that I learn to jump and handle a horse at full gallop. She wanted to take up fox hunting again and wanted me as a companion. She hired a trainer to work with me and her big thoroughbred, Dark Bronze (that's he and I in the photo above). The big guy seemed to accept me and like me well enough. We got along handsomely and he took care of me.

My trainer was very patient and took me on as a beginner. I tried diligently to do as he told me and I progressed nicely. Sometime in the Spring of '79 I was ready for my first horse show and Anne entered me in some classes for novice jumpers. I practiced for hours on the couple of days before the show. It never seemed to go very well in practice and it didn't go very well in my first couple of classes either. However, in the third and last class of the day something clicked and Bronze was in great stride and form and seemed, all by himself, to pick the right spots in front of every jump. When I came down to the last line the big fella and I got over the next to the last jump perfectly and headed for the last one. As I approached it, I knew we'd done well and I had visions of our first blue ribbon together -- and I could just about taste it. Somehow I forgot about riding the jump and Bronze got in a bad spot and sensed he couldn't take it. He tried to come to a dead stop, but he couldn't and plowed straight into the rails and I went flying past him and landed right square on top of a bunch of timber. Disqualified!

We went on to better things, but not in the show ring. That year I began to ride to the hounds, as I was told to call it. Anne had earned her colors as a young teacher in our fox hunting club -- younger than anyone else in the club had ever gotten them. Colors! That's ones bonafide, establishing one's self as prima member and they allow you to ride at the front of the pack. I began as a scrub, but worked especially hard. I constantly volunteered to
work on the hunt land -- cutting down weeks and brush, rebuilding jumps and trimming trails. Early in my second season, a hired helper and I built a dozen brand new coops (jumps) and put them in place as the Master of the Hounds (big chief) directed. The two of us also rebuilt a bridge across a small creek and I won some brown-nose points for that, too. At the end of that season I was presented my colors and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

But, alas! A few too many falls and Bronze's retirement brought my hunting career to a quick close after a few years. I tried other horses, but it never worked because one had to ride them. With Bronze, I just climbed aboard and he took care of me. I counted my lucky stars that I'd survived in a dangerous sport and I happily hung up my hunt coat up and retired from the sport.

So, in working on these old 35mm slides, and digitizing them, I came across a few old photos of Dark Bronze and me. I'll admit it: they brought a few tears to my eyes. He was one special horse and a great buddy.


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