Friday, February 20, 2009

Jumping With Legend

Jumping with Legend
© Ken Harris 2008

Joanne was taking English riding lessons from Bobbi Williams in 1957. That’s where you bounce up and down in the saddle like you had springs in your pants. I was not really gifted in this activity.

Bobbi had heard of a splendid scheme to improve indifferent riders by teaching them to jump. The supposition was they would be too busy just trying to stay on their horse to worry about niceties like balance. They would automatically become better riders if they never succeeded in taking a jump. Assuming they survived.

By the end of several weeks of this untender tutelage, I had not fallen off my horse even though I looked as if I stayed stayed in the saddle by duct tape. But I had been riding school horses, not our own true Legend. I made the comment that although I had not been riding long, I had not yet been thrown. What follows is confirmation of my theory that not only is there a God, but she doesn’t like loudmouths.

Most sensible horses will stop in front of a jump if you haul on the reins hard enough and roar “whoa” in their ears. Some horses will ignore you and jump anyway. Legend did both. She came to a complete stop. And then she jumped. She went up and up and I went up and up and up. We came down on the other side of the jump, so I guess you could say we took the jump. We just came down about ten feet apart.

Legend would do that. She would take a jump from a standstill. Just to prove something to somebody, we did a repeat performance, but differently, five minutes later. This time she went up and forwards and I went up and backwards. Gravity exerted its inevitable effect and this time we ended up on opposite sides of the jump.

Joanne reminded me that I still hadn’t been thrown. Falling off doesn’t count.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Singing for my Tevis Cup Supper

Singing for my Tevis Cup Supper
Copyright Ken Harris 2008

The Western States One Hundred Mile endurance ride began in the 1950s when Wendell Robie of Auburn, California, gathered together with some trail riding friends. The topic under discussion: whether modern horses and riders were as tough as the Pony Express horses and riders of the 19th century. They knew roughly where the old mail trail from Tahoe City to Auburn was, over the Sierra Nevada mountains, and they decided to try if they could make it over that trail inside of twenty-four hours. They decided to make a race of it.

It was a wild, wooly, uncurried experience at first, but by the time Joanne made the ride in 1961 and I followed suit in 1963, the ride was much more under control. There were vet examinations on the day before the race, enforced rest stops along the way with entrance and exit vet checks, and a vet check immediately upon finishing. Additionally, a team of vets checked the first ten finishers on the morning after the ride. There were horseshoers at the major stops and each rider brought his own pit crew to nurture the horse during the rest periods. The local radio club monitored the trail in case any riders fell off the trail or got lost.

It should be noted that there were no medical doctors in attendance. Care was taken to be sure horses weren’t hurt, but if humans were stupid enough to try to ride a hundred miles over rugged mountain terrain in 24 hours, they deserved what happened to them.

For a while Joanne and I served on the Board of Directors and she always devoted a weekend to being a vet secretary while I rode the drag from Michigan Bluff to Auburn. This was the last 40 miles, rough ones, through lava flows, river fords, and all done in the dark with terminally tired riders.

Awards ceremonies were held on the evening following the ride. Buckles were handed out and people got very emotional about their horses. Sometimes entertainment was provided. It came to Wendell’s attention that I sang folk songs and accompanied myself on the guitar. He invited me to provide the music for the evening, free of charge, or course. He didn’t give me any guidelines on what he though was suitable entertainment, but in retrospect I realize he had something like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Tumbling Tumbleweeds in mind.

Of course, I sang nothing of the sort. I took a rollicking little tune, a song about an Arab who introduced camels into California named Haji Ali, known to one and all as Hi Jolly, and substituted my own words.

I presented the result on the night of the awards dinner. I’ve lost the words, but I can remember some of them. I touched on how easily you could get lost in the forest.

“Our trails are quite clearly marked,
At least, that’s what they say.
You can’t get lost unless you’ve really tried;
But when our trails you’ve ridden
And you see how well they’re hidden,
You’ll wonder how you ever made the ride.”

The humor of the verse comes from the fact that the trail was marked with yellow ribbon. But so were last year’s trail and the trails before that. Nobody ever took yellow ribbons down. They just put up new ones. I think Wendel had an interest in a yellow ribbon factory, because over the years we put up a lot of yellow ribbons. And we never took any down. So, a Virginia or Massachusetts rider might come along and discover, “Hello, I’m in the Yellow Ribbon Forest. Can the Yellow Brick Road be far away?”

Another verse dealt with all the expert advice old timers gave to new riders.

“There’s Robies and there’s Tellingtons
And Moyles by the score,
And every one has told you how to ride.
They advised you night and day,
But you made it anyway,
So you can be forgiven for your pride.”

The more verses I sang, the louder the laughter, and the grimmer Wendel’s expression grew. The chorus, as I remember, finished with:

“Call me a chicken drover,
But if I ever do this over,
Lock me up and throw the key away.”

The audience laughed, they cried, and finally they gave my song a standing ovation. Judging from Wendel’s granitic look, I wouldn’t be invited back, but if I left immediately, I might make it out of the parking lot alive.

I was right. I was never invited back.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How the Rooster Lost His Spurs

How the Rooster Lost His Spurs
Copyright Ken Harris 2009

From the title you might think this is a children's fable or a Native American myth, but it isn't. Instead, it's a story about two real roosters among our flock in North San Juan in the late '80s.

We had several flocks of chickens during our time in North San Juan. They were Leghorn crosses or Rhode Island Reds. We always tried to have a rooster in the flock to keep order in the hen house.

But once we somehow managed to acquire two male birds at the same time. This situation was not conducive to order because there is room for only one rooster in a small flock. The two males were vicious to each other until one decided that a subservient life without dignity was better than none at all.

Once the two birds decided who would rule the roost, some interesting physical changes occurred in each one. The winner's comb grew larger and redder while the losers shriveled significantly. The dominant bird's spurs grew long and sharp, while the inferior bird's spurs shrank to nubbins.

Life for the dominant male was pretty good – until trouble came up. Trouble arrived to the flock in the form of the neighborhood bobcat, the one who included our henhouse as a part of his territory. One snotty, cold, dark winter's night the bobcat decided it was just too unpleasant to hunt, and so he would visit our henhouse to see if he could discover a breach. And when the Great Bobcat visit, it's time for the Boss Rooster to stand up to be counted.

In this case, the rooster successfully defended his flock and survived to tell the tale, but it cost him his spurs. He tore them off trying to beat the bobcat off through the fence. We could see the disturbed ground and torqued chicken wire where the battle had occurred. It occurred to me that being Cock of the Walk might not necessarily be a good thing.

The bobcat revisited from time to time, and the rooster died, whether from bobcatitis or some other dread disease. Thus came the promotional opportunity for the inferior bird. Everything changed for him and he responded with increased testosterone. His comb grew long and richly red and sharp new spurts quickly appeared on his heels.

Soon he, too, lost his spurs. But he survived and shortly after that we trapped the bobcat in a humane trap. Then we put a bullet in his head. The rooster went on to rule his flock of hens for years. Timing is everything.