Horses were second nature on our farm. If my Dad couldn’t find what you were looking for, it couldn’t be found. There was somebody there almost daily, looking to buy a horse. My Dad would tell ’em, “Take your pick.” And when they did pick one out, it was always 5 or 6 years old and broke the best.
That was horse trader talk.
“Here, I’ll throw my little boy on ’em.” That sometimes worked, but not always. I’ve still got the scars from a few scratches and bruises. But, along with farming, that’s the way we made a living. Dad was a “horse trader” and proud of it. He knew more about a horse than almost anyone I ever met and could recognize a diamond in the rough quicker than most.
He would often go to a horse sale and buy a horse for slaughter price, take it out behind the barn, trim it up, throw me on – and back into the same sales ring we would go, sometimes fetching an additional $100.00 or more. My job was to “bush ’em out.” That meant riding them until there was no more fight left.
One such incidence was that of our neighbor calling to ask my Dad if he would come down and pick up a horse before somebody got hurt. The horse he had just brought was represented as being professionally trained. However, they failed to tell him that the horse was so snorty that it could blow the windows out of the barn on a good day.
When we opened up the barn door, we found the horse running loose in the barn, acting like a wild mustang. When my Dad threw a rope on him, he began to settle down, so on went the saddle and bridle, with me up next. My orders were to ride him as fast, and as far he would go. As I rode past our farm, I knew that I had a lot of horse left, so I just kept going, ending up at another neighbor’s place.
By the time I arrived at my new destination, the horse was riding like a pro. In fact, come to find out, it was professionally trained by an Indian horse trainer. Being kind of a horseman himself, the neighbor fell in love with the horse, and before long, I had traded him the horse for two calves and three pigs.
I called my Dad to tell him what I had done, and he came with the truck to pick up me and the livestock. On the way home, he said, “You did good.”
A similar situation came up with a more distant neighbor. The same “dog and pony” show; only this time, it was a lot further to ride. This horse actually was kinda tough, but the prettiest thing you ever laid eyes on. Known as the Swenson mare, she went on to be ridden in a parade by my sister, and gained reputable prominence in our community. I could always sense my Dad’s pride in the prowess of my horsemanship. And was incredibly proud when he could show my sister and me off in something as dazzling as that of a parade.
On another occasion, he gave me a two-year-old paint mare that he said was part of the spoils of a fair “horse trade.” The mare wasn’t even halter broke, but one day, when I was working with her out in the barn’s front, the bulk gas man drove in the yard. While he was filling our gas tank, he came over to watch. The longer he watched, the more interested he became, until finally asking, “Is she rideable?” I responded, “No, but she soon will be.”
With that, I jumped on her, bareback, and was thrown higher than a kite. He got a good laugh over that but offered to buy her if she was broke. We made a deal right there and then, with the provision that I would deliver the horse on “Old Settlers Day” in the neighboring town, riding her in the parade. The horse went on to reputable stature in our local community’s horse circles.
These are but a few of the many “horse escapades” of my life, down on the farm. But they represented the spirit of the special relationship that I had with my Dad as he vicariously lived his life through me.
Everything we did together pretty much involved horses, from auctions, horse shows, to horse racing. Even some of the farm operations still involved horses. For such things as putting up hay and threshing time. The “horsepower” on our farm was measured by the number of horses, not tractor power. It wasn’t unusual to have a couple of dozen horses around all the time. Such was the life of a horse traders son – a life lived vicariously through his son.