I woke up the other morning to this photographic gem from my brother: a sweat-stained, slightly crusty horse blanket nearly 30 years old. For it to be 1986, that meant that I was riding Angie, a dappled palomino mare, and this blanket was probably earned for being the high-point 13-and-under youth for the Montana Quarter Horse Association year-end awards. When I asked Matt where he unearthed this old fossil, he said that he now had it on his son’s horse down here in Texas. He must have snagged it when he was up in Montana on one trip or another and needed a blanket for a horse he was hauling.
In 1986, Angie (or Two Fox Angilee, her registered name on her papers) and I were second in the Trail class at the American Junior Quarter Horse Association World Show. After making the finals for three years, we finally put a good run together. To this day, I remember sitting at the end of the arena, waiting as the placings were called out, starting with tenth place. After they announced the third-place winner, I remember thinking, “I’m going to get a buckle.” And I did. That buckle hangs in my closet to this day. (Just please don’t ask me to put the belt itself on. If I do, I’ll lose circulation to one-half of my body to the other even if I somehow manage to close the buckle.)
Those Two Fox horses were the easiest horses in the world to break. They would do most anything, were great with kids, and had very easy-going temperaments. Lots of people in Montana rode them over the years, and even now there are still several in the area. Doug and Nancy Dear had a big sale every year at their Birdtail Ranch. Several kids ganged up as a production line, getting halters on the babies, brushing the shavings and dirt of of them, applying a bit of baby oil and spray to make them shine just before they went into the sale ring. We didn’t know this was work but instead thought it fun. Nancy paid us all in McDonald’s gift certificates, which to us seemed fantastic good fortune for something we’d have all likely done for free.
I rode Angie once more about three years later, when she was a schooling horse in Rocky Mountain College’s equine program. She seemed smaller than when I had last ridden her, but she knew who I was. I still remembered where she liked to be scratched when she’d done a good job. I know we sold Angie and her sister, Bubbles, but for the life of me I cannot remember who had them after us. I hope they knew the spots she liked to be brushed and that she liked to have her tummy scratched. I’m also hopeful that after having put up with me for three years, she went to a nice, quiet family where she helped small children learn to ride and received copious amounts of carrots and animal crackers and kisses in return.
To this day, I can remember all of the horses in my life. Piggy Joe. Queenie. Red. Tommy. Angie. Puff. Smeech. Casey. I likely spent more time with them than I did people. Each had his or her own personality, quirks that made him or her unique, something different to teach. Piggy Joe had no go, Tommy loved to eat donuts, and Smeech’s ears would flop when she was finally tired enough to be ridden. Horses teach responsibility, hard work, patience, the importance of using your leg instead of your hand, delayed gratification, and how to care for someone or something. Each made me a better rider, and, I hope, a better person.
I know that I should go back home and help my mother gut out that old tack room as not everything in there can be attributed to her. I’m quite positive that she has several more vintage blankets stuffed up on those high shelves along with old circuit-award jackets, directors’ chairs, bridle bags, sheets, coolers, and random other horse paraphernalia. The barn office alone contained several photographic gems. Besides, if I help, I might get to lay claim to that old Billy Cook saddle, perhaps my favorite saddle ever before Matt reappropriates it south to his own tack room. I might also find some memories that I’d long forgotten.