My sister has always been considered the "horse crazy" girl in our family. We lived in the small town of Dundas, Ontario for a short while, and oddly enough directly behind our house in town was a horse farm owned by Mr. Folks. My dad made inquiries of Mr. Folks regarding riding lessons, and soon after my sister began her journey into the world of horses. Here she is riding "Judy" a lovely red quarter horse.
I would follow my sister and share her love of horses, but no one considered my interest "genuine", so I was only allowed to be her shadow.
My family uprooted and moved to the country when I was 9, and it was there that my dad finally agreed to get a horse for my sister. This is Scamp, half Quarter Horse, half Appaloosa, a strawberry roan, with a lovely temperament. Appaloosas have a few special traits. You can always see the whites of their eyes, so you can see exactly where they are looking (rather human), they usually have spots on their coat and they also have spotted skin under their fur . Scamp had one brown spot on each hip and black skin with pink spots all over ... very noticeable on her nose. They're also noted for being able to "turn on a dime" and are quite agile. But mostly they are known for being as stubborn as a mule. Although she was my sister's horse, she was loved by us all.
Scamp was so gentle and she longed for company. When we first got her we didn't have any fences, and she would wander up from the field and stand on the shady side of the house on a hot summer day where she would catch the cool breeze coming up the hill from the woods. It was a special treat to have her standing in the side doorway while I played the piano ... I swear she enjoyed listening to the music. She was so very gentle that we even put my grandfather on her when he came to visit. My grandfather lived in Sheffield, England and worked for the railroads tearing up old disused railway lines. He told me he once was a blacksmith too. He quite liked Scamp.
When my sister was busy and needed Scamp exercised, she knew she could count on me to take good care of her. Here I am with our friend and her horse Lightening, we'd been on a trail ride and my mom caught us along the roadway and asked to take our picture.
One day my dad received a call from a colleague at work who said he had an antique horse buggy that he would sell to my dad for $100. Sold! My dad decided he would not hire anyone to pick up the buggy from his friend's place (about 5 miles from us), and enlisted the help of my two sisters to come with him to pull the buggy back home. I flat-out refused to help as I would not embarrass myself by pulling the wagon past every farm that housed a kid in my school. I knew I would never live it down if I was seen pulling a wagon along the road! So very early one morning about 6:00 a.m., my dad and two sisters carried out the work and brought home this wagon ... two of them were in the shafts, and one pushed from behind. I was thankful that no one saw them!
The grand old lady in the wagon is my dad's good friend's mother, Pearl. She told us a wonderful story of when she used to drive a horse and buggy when she was young. She was approached by a young man in another horse and buggy and he suggested they run a race. He thought she was beat before they even started. But! Pearl was a real horse woman and knew how to drive her horse, and I imagine her horse knew what was up, and they took off and beat the young man even though the road was rough. Pearl was a very elegant, straight-backed woman, and I will always remember her telling that story.
Anyway, this was our wagon. A lovely antique specimen which had been somewhat restored with a coat of dark green paint. All in proper working order ... all we needed was to hook it up to a horse!
Scamp had never been used for driving, just pleasure riding, but we thought her a perfect candidate since she was so gentle. Dad found a cheap harness for her (which turned out to be somewhat too small for her big head ... first mistake).
Second mistake was putting blinders on her. With the bridle being too small, it pulled her mouth back uncomfortably. With the blinders on, she couldn't see what the heck we were doing behind her. It suddenly put that gentle horse terribly on edge! You can see by the ears laid back (above) that she was not impressed with this. As anyone who knows horses will tell you, once you cut off part of their peripheral vision, the horse becomes "shy" of any sound that they can't identify. She looked angry and nervous whenever we harnessed her up.
Dad investigated for us how to train a horse to pull a buggy. He had no previous horse experience, and this was long before computers, so my sister and I relied on his good word. My sister enlisted my help to train Scamp during the summer. Dad built a travoise as you can see in the photo (below), it's just two long poles with a board holding them together. This was to be the introduction to the wagon. Here we are introducing it to Scamp. She was a bit curious and didn't like the sound of it scraping on the ground. My sister and I dragged that thing around the field to get her used to the sound. We figured she was accepting of it when she wandered off and started to eat grass again. Little did she know what was in store.
My parents were leaving for three weeks to visit Dad's parents in England. We were left home alone, and my sister and I agreed that we would use those three weeks to train Scamp fully to pull the wagon by the time our parents returned. To assume we could train her to calmly pull the wagon in three short weeks was our third mistake. We were only at the travois stage when my parents left.
Here we are hooking the travois to the harness and Scamp looking anything but calm. Those ears tell volumes, and when we led her around, the head snapped up and the tail swished and she tried to sashay sideways which caused the poles to buck and jump behind her. But for some reason, my sister and I were undaunted. We even sat together on that little bar to hold the poles firmly down and Scamp nervously dragged us around the field. How happy we were with our progress!
Now I'll give you a little bit of the lay o' the land. This is the field where we were training Scamp (and there's Scamp munching grass). We had the horse trotting around in circles in this field. All the trees along the field were willows ... affectionately known as "The Willow Woods". The drive ran up the left side of this photo (just out of view). And that's Britannia Rd at the end of the field.
Here we are looking up the drive from the road (log barn halfway up, and house at the top). Now the fence is rather crappy (I know ... huge cringe factor when dropped off on the bus and every farmer's kid scorned our fence, barn, etc.), but there was a fence similar to this one at the back of the field with heavy poles, but also with heavy gauge grid wire fencing nailed all along the poles.
Looking at the field from the road in this snowy photo, you might be able to make out the fence line way back in the distance. The willow woods are to the left, hill to the right. It must be noted as well that on the other side of the fence lay Mr. Harshman's property. Could there be a better name for a mean scary neighbour?! Mr. Harshman forbade us to walk or ride on his property ... EVER! But since we were such rebels we walked through his property to get to Lowville Park all the time, and we even rode the horse on his land on occasion. Mr. Harshman carefully looked at the tracks in the ground and the "ruined ecology of the land" and sent my parents a registered letter through his lawyers to never again trespass on his land. It terrified us as kids. He would even patrol his property line along Lowville Creek with a shotgun and chase off anyone fishing from his shoreline. (Then my dad would sneak down to the creek and pick up abandoned fishing poles and store them in his basement rafters ... he didn't even fish! Everyone was nutty!) Harshman's property completely surrounded ours, so we were constantly tempted to walk through his property to visit the creek and the park.
And looking down our drive, you can see our neighbour's barn down the road (this was taken quite a few years later, but it's just to show the area required for this story).
Well, three weeks came and went. My sister and I proclaimed Scamp was "fully" trained to pull the wagon, and we decided to hook her all up on the day Mom and Dad were expected home. How surprised they were going to be!! How thrilled with our progress!! We didn't consider the fact that they'd be weary from the nine-hour plane ride and would care less about seeing us driving the horse!!
Unfortunately, there are no more photos of the rest of this day. You'll just have to picture it in your mind. Everything started off fine. We had trained Scamp down in the field, so we pulled the wagon carefully down the hill to hook her up there. It was a sunny day, but with a strong hot breeze that told of storms most likely to come later in the day. When the wind blew, it caused the willows to creak and groan as their heavy limbs rubbed against each other. Have you ever heard that sound? It's a lovely melancholy sound and I miss it sorely. Now Scamp spent all hours of every day down in that field. That was her home, so she was quite familiar with the groaning willows. But storms made her uneasy. The first time my parents ever left us for three weeks we'd had a terrible thunder storm and Scamp had actually run away frantic with fear and we'd had to search for her through this vicious storm with lightening coming down all around us. We finally found her about 3 miles from home and thankfully someone had grabbed her and put her into their barn. Ever after we had to lock her in the barn during thunderstorms.
My sister and I harnessed Scamp, hooked her up to the wagon, and hopped up into the seat just big enough for the two of us. As we bounced around on the seat of the wagon through the field, we were aware of the groaning trees, and personally I hoped that Scamp would remain calm. But the instant we put the harness and blinders on Scamp, every sound was a death threat to her and she jumped and skittered whenever the willows produced a moan or if one of their branches snapped! Scamp was definitely on high alert, with her head held high, tail high and swishing in our faces, ears completely flat and mouth pulled back in a hideous grin while we chuckled behind her very smugly.
We got her up into a trot, and made a couple of full circles of the field before things quickly began to unravel. Once she was in a trot, Scamp became even more apprehensive of all the noises around her. She tried to skitter around in the shafts, she tried a couple of bucks to get things off of her. Nothing was working, and she was still trapped and becoming more and more terrified. Suddenly she snapped, and Scamp gave into her fear of the wagon, the groaning trees and the threat of a storm, and decided she'd had enough of this terror, and she spun around the last corner too quickly and burst into a full canter trying to outrun the noise of the wagon behind her. The wagon was unable to take the tight corner at that high speed and it started tipping up on two wheels! The shift in weight only made Scamp run faster! It was that last high-speed turn that we realized we were heading for trouble and grabbed onto the wagon for dear life, but the wagon kept rising up and up and finally first I was tossed out and my sister followed me, and the wagon fell right over on it's side with a large cracking thump! Scamp was completely undone with now a sideways buggy scraping and bouncing along the ground behind her, and she couldn't see anything of what was going on because of the blinders, so she accelerated into a high-speed gallop straight towards the crappy wire fence bordering shot-gun-Harshman's place. Scamp knew how to jump, and she didn't miss a beat as she thundered towards the fence. Up and over she went, and she tried her best to take that buggy with her. It was probably a good thing that the buggy finally separated from her at that point, the shafts splintered in half and the wagon collapsed in a broken heap on our side of the fence. Scamp still had on all her harness and the broken shafts from the wagon and tore down a line of trees ruining "ecology of the land" behind her! She thankfully tore back towards our house and jumped the fence a second time. We were amazed she didn't kill herself or break her legs with all the pieces she was dragging behind her. But still she didn't stop! She raced all the way down the driveway to the road, left on the road, across the most dangerous intersection around (luckily no cars were racing up the blind hill), and on to our neighbour's who just happened to be crossing his courtyard when he came face to face with one completely strung out horse draped with broken harness! My neighbour was a dairy farmer and didn't know about horses, but since he was in front of her Scamp could finally see her salvation in him and came to a terrified, shaking, skidding stop snorting hot steamy breath in his face and he was able to grab her and hold her while my sister ran panting up after her.
So all my parents got to witness that day was some seriously damaged horse buggy and one snorting, terrified horse that couldn't be left outside until the next day. Since that time, I have twice been in a bad horse and wagon situation. Once was a horse and wagon ride in our local park where some brilliant planner thought it would be a good idea to have hot air balloon rides right beside where the horse and wagon trail started. I could see the horses that day were getting ready to bolt by backing up into the wagon and I didn't wait around for the chaos, and I was first to jump off the wagon. Everyone quickly followed suit and the horses did take off into a back field where they eventually calmed down. Another time was when we took a ride in an enclosed old fashioned taxi in a pioneer village. It was the end of the day and we were told the horses knew it was the last ride of the day and they ended up cantering along the paved roads of the village back to the barn! I was terrified because I was trapped inside the wagon (I'm also slightly claustrophobic). It was the sound of the "click!" when the driver shut the back door of that wagon that I could feel my terror mount. We were safe in the end, but it wasn't a pleasant ride. I should point out that the rest of the passengers were all laughing and thinking it was great fun ... they just didn't know how it could end like I did.
Hope you enjoyed the tale!