Growing Up In Waterford, PA


A horse is a horse, of course
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

I consider myself quite an authority on horses. It's all first-hand knowledge, too. None of that book stuff. (Oh, I did read a book about a boy and a horse when I was 11, but I don't remember a thing about it, so it doesn't count!)

My first experience with horses occurred when I was about seven --- nearly 30 years ago.

I was in the process of growing up in Waterford, and there were quite a few horses around town then. I never had anything to do with them, until one spring afternoon near the end of the school year. My mother had come up to school at dismissal time to pick me up. I was always happy when she did that because it meant we'd go for a little ride out through the country.

They were short rides, but they were just what I needed to help unwind from a tough day of coloring, pasting, and those Palmer-method handwriting exercises.

On this particular day, Mom paused to visit a bit with my teacher, Mrs. Brooks. All the other kids had disappeared instantly upon dismissal. So while Mom and Mrs. Brooks talked in front of the school, I played on the swings. It was the only time I ever had all four of them all to myself. I was going from one to the other, trying to decide which was best.

The area from behind the school to Fifth Street was an open field. Paul Bartholme, who lived a couple of houses up the alley from us, had a team of horses. Occasionally he would hitch his team to a mowing machine and mow the field. This day was one of those occasions.

So, there I was happily swinging away when all at once I heard a terrible commotion in the back of the school. Someone was yelling! Horses were making horse noises! Suddenly, from behind the school came the horses at full-gallop!


Now for those of you unfamiliar with "runaways," horses will sometimes spook when they catch a glimpse of something they perceive to be life-threatening --- like a leaf or a butterfly. Then they run! Away! Very fast! And in no particular direction!

On came the horses with the mowing machine and Mr. Bartholme still attached! Mr. Bartholme was yelling at the top of his lungs. He was saying things like, "Whoa!" and "Gee!" and "Haw!" and other things that I, as a second grader, had never heard before.

The horses paid no attention whatsoever. They were on their way somewhere at about 85 miles per hour! How Mr. Bartholme stayed aboard that sulky-like mowing machine is beyond me. It was chattering like a machine gun. It's a wonder they didn't cut down all the trees in the schoolyard!

I had stopped swinging and just sat there in shock and astonishment. The horses turned and came directly toward me! They were very large horses! Elephant-sized I'd say.

Mom came on a run for me.

Still, I sat their, bug-eyed and immobilized! I would have run, but I had momentarily forgotten how!

When the horses got within a few feet of me, they suddenly turned and headed for the street! When they reached the road, they stopped almost as suddenly as they started.

Funny how little incidents like that stuck with you.

Most of all, I remember the crazed look of the horses' eyes --- bulging, rolling, staring, white. Mom had a similar expression as I recall. I can still see her running out there to fight off those two brontosauruses. Talk about family values!

I don't think we went for our ride that day.

My next experience with horses came when I was about 13 --- nearly 30 years ago.

The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales were visiting and stayed overnight at the old bus terminal. We went to see them. Unfortunately, they were facing north in their stalls, so all I got to see were their southern ends. (I've not seen such a sight since!) The part I was looking at is a substantial portion of a horse's anatomy in any case. But these were enormous! Huge! Just plain big.

Even so, I was somewhat disappointed. But then I realized that I was getting approximately the same view of the Clydesdales as the driver of that fancy Budweiser wagon. That made me feel better.

I finally got some real hands on experience with horses when I was 20-something --- nearly 30 years ago.

We were living just outside Albion then, and our neighbor, Roscoe, had a rather large riding horse that he kept in our barn for awhile. He rode the horse quite a bit. Having long been a Gene Autry/Roy Rogers fan, I wanted to ride, too. Roscoe was more than willing and showed me how to mount, dismount, neck-rein, check the oil, test the battery --- no, wait --- that was something else.

He said any time I wanted to ride was okay with him. Go right ahead. Just make sure the horse knows who is boss. This was unnecessary advice. The horse knew who was boss long before I showed up.

One afternoon, I decided it was time for a ride, so Dad and I went up to the barn. Dad knew all about horses, but he wasn't able to do anything because of a heart condition. So with Dad giving directions, I somehow managed to get the blanket and saddle on the old horse, along with the bridle, reins, suspenders, cummerbund --- no, wait --- that was something else.

We led her outside, and I mounted up (just like Gene and Roy). I said something horsy, like "giddy-up." The horse turned and marched back into the barn. Fortunately, I'm a quick ducker or I probably would have fractured my skull on the beam over the door.

I dismounted (just like Gene and Roy). We led her outside again. I mounted up once more and, like an instant replay, she clomped back inside the barn again with me lying on her neck to miss the barn door.

Dad said for me to stay aboard while he led the horse back out. I did, but when he handed me the reins, we went right back inside again. I was getting very proficient at ducking the door.

We decided that we should get the horse a little further from the barn door, so we led her all the way around the barn. I climbed "back in the saddle again," clucked at the horse, neck-reined and all that, and the horse ignored me completely. She stomped rather rapidly all the way back into the barn. I ducked the door successfully again.

I said I guessed I'd had enough riding for one day. Besides I'd seen about all the inside of the barn that I needed to see. I think the horse was tired, too. So we said goodbye.

A few weeks later, Roscoe was riding around and stopped in the yard to talk with Dad. The horse was parked nearby, and when I came along Roscoe invited me to take a ride.

Dimwittedly, I said okay and climbed on board. To my overwhelming surprise, the horse responded to my urging and away we went off through the field.

We went a couple hundred yards or so. Then the horse stopped. No amount of pleading would make her go further. So, having always been quick to compromise, I decided this was far enough anyhow. I turned her, and as soon as she caught sight of Roscoe back in the yard, she took off for him at full-gallop.

Well, I was hardly prepared for this. I hung on to everything I could find to hang on to. Horses do not have handles, you know.

Luckily, I managed to see where we were going. The horse was taking a shortcut. Under the apple tree. The one with the big, low limb.

The barn door experience proved immeasurably valuable. I hugged the horse around the neck and skimmed under the limb, missing it by several --- uh --- millimeters.

The horse skidded to a stop in front of Roscoe.

He laughed and said, "See, I knew you could do it!"

I went immediately to the house, took a handful of aspirin and smoked a pack of cigarettes.

I have not been on a horse since.

My opening sentence may have been misleading. Maybe I'm not exactly an authority on horses as I suggested.

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