Like all young boys, I wanted to be a cowboy. There was a time when I would go to the movies and see Buck Jones, Wild Bill Elliot or maybe Roy and Gene round up the bad guys. Each always rode a very smart horse that was the most beautiful thing in the world to a small boy.
But there are things that happen that will spoil the best of dreams. It happened to me in the early ’40s and changed my whole outlook on riding a horse of any kind.
My sister and I would go up to Bartow County and spend time with my half-brother. He had a large family and staying with them for a few days was like having a vacation. He had a boy, Weldon, who was close to my age. When I got there we would head for the woods to play cowboys and Indians. My half-brother had a horse that he used for plowing. We went up to the pasture on this day and decided that we had rode a stick horse long enough. We were going to ride the real thing – “old Tobey” as they called him. We got up on top of the gate and waited for Tobey. He wouldn’t come anywhere around us. “You stay here,” Weldon told me, “and I will go get him and come back for you.”
I sat on the top of the gate and watched as Weldon caught old Tobey and put a rope around his neck. He got on his back and here they came galloping around the pasture to where I was. I remember thinking, “Boy this is going to be just great riding a horse.” Weldon stopped him next to the gate and I got on. “Hold onto me,” Weldon said, and off we went.
Now sitting on the back of a sway-back horse is not the best riding place in the world. We shot everything from crooks to Indians with our stick guns. We would pull them from our pockets and shoot the fence post because they were crooks. I don’t know how long we rode that poor old horse but you could tell he was getting tired of us on his back.
There was one tree in the whole pasture. It was a persimmon tree. If you have eaten a ripe persimmon you know they are good. If they are green, there is nothing more horrible tasting in the world.
Weldon decided that he would ride old Tobey down to the tree and we would get us some persimmons. He got Tobey turned in the right direction and we began to shout and holler. Tobey didn’t seem to like the hollering we were doing so he began trotting.
He got faster and faster all the time Weldon was trying to get him stopped. He came to a sudden stop throwing Weldon onto the ground. He then began to go around the pasture at a trot with me on his back. I will take that back. I wasn’t on his back.
I had my leg around his neck and I was hanging on for dear life.
I grabbed hold of his mane, and with my feet around his neck I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought I wasn’t, but he stopped suddenly. His head went down and I went sliding down his neck and onto the ground.
I landed on my back with the wind knocked out of me. I finally got up the nerve to open my eyes and did I get a surprise. Not six inches above my head was the face of Tobey looking me straight in the eyes. His lips were rolled back and if I didn’t know better I would say he was laughing at me.
I slid along trying to get out from under his horrible breath and ugly mouth. I moved and he moved with me. I kept pushing myself along with my feet. I would think he was gone only to open my eyes and he was there.
He never made any attempt to hurt me in any way. It was as if he were playing with me. I finally had all I could take and, getting to my feet, started to run toward the gate. Old Tobey ran along behind me, not trying to catch up but close enough I could feel his breath.
I made the gate and went over it to the outside as fast as I could. Tobey stood there and rolled back his mouth and let out a whinny that made me stop and look back.
I had forgotten Weldon in my haste to get away from Tobey. I ran along the fence looking for him. I saw him lying on the ground. I thought he was dead, but I could see he was moving. I hollered at him and he stood up very slowly. He started to the gate shaking his head.
Old Tobey saw him get up and started toward him. I yelled for Weldon to watch out for him. Weldon ignored him, coming to the gate and climbing over it. With the both of us on the opposite side of the fence I walked over to Tobey and stuck out my tongue.
I got the surprise of my life for he let out a whinny that sounded like a laugh. I watched as he trotted back across the pasture.
I know that horses don’t laugh at people or play with them either, but that was this old boy’s first and final ride. I had no desire to go chasing bad guys on horseback after that. I felt like there had to be a better way.
I decided that it would be better to give chase to the bad guys behind the wheel of a car.
That wild horse ride stayed with me down though the years. I did my chasing of the bad guys in the luxury of an automobile as a police officer.