A view of the old barn

By the time I was older, around 10 or so, I was heartily sick of riding the nags we had at Date Creek Ranch. Mom and Dad had good horses. My older sister, Kim, had a good horse, but I was still rotating between Lady (who, as I’ve mentioned before, was completely evil), Misty and Beauty. I’ve already filled you in on how awful Lady was, so let me pause for a moment to tell you about Misty and Beauty and what made them such a joy to ride.

Misty was Lady’s offspring, born back when my family lived on the MF Ranch up near Globe, Arizona. (I was born in Globe. We moved to Date Creek when I was about one.)

The MF was a rough ranch, filled with manzanita, oak brush and brutally steep, rocky hillsides. Misty spent the first couple years of her life there and, as a result, she was incredibly sure-footed in the rocks, which is a real benefit when you’re trying to get a stubborn cow off a mountainside, since rolling wildly downhill underneath a horse isn’t a great way to spend your day. Unless you like hospitals and dying and such.

But Misty was “broken” by a cowboy who used to work for us and he wasn’t just old school, he was downright cruel and he basically ruined her. See, he used what’s known as a spade bit on her. The bit on most bridles is just a round piece of metal that goes through the horse’s mouth. A spade bit has a piece of metal on it shaped roughly like a spade. The problem with this type of bit is that if you’re not careful, you can really cut up a horse’s mouth with it. Which this cowboy apparently did.

As a result, Misty’s mouth was all scarred up inside and she was nearly impossible to turn or stop. She just didn’t have much feeling left in there or maybe she just wasn’t that fond of people anymore and not keen on following their orders. On top of that, one time when she was in the corral overnight (not a common occurrence for our horses) she ran into a wire or something and put out one of her eyes.

Unlike her mother, Misty liked to run and she was fast. Which was all well and good, but once she got up a head of steam she was like a car with no brakes. And no steering wheel. Once she got going, I simply couldn’t turn her. I just wasn’t strong enough. The only way I could turn her was by leaning way down and forward and grabbing the reins right down next to her mouth and pulling. Which, as you might imagine, isn’t the most efficient way to turn a horse, nor the safest.

Nor could I really stop her, since she’d take the bit in her teeth and clamp down on it. Getting her to stop required roughly the same time and distance as a runaway locomotive.

Now, like all our horses, Misty liked nothing better than heading back to the corral and ditching the heavy saddle and that annoying gnat of a rider on her back. I was also rather fond of getting back to the corral.

One time when we were heading home I made the foolish mistake of letting Misty have her head. As it nears the house, the road to Date Creek Ranch leads alongside the orchard for a couple hundred yards, then makes a ninety degree turn and goes down a bit of a hill. A hundred or so yards from there are the barn and shop with the main horse corral between them.

Misty started to pick up speed while running alongside the orchard. She had some quarter horse in her and she truly liked to run. We made it around the turn and started down the final stretch and she really laid it on.

About seventy-five yards from the corral I suddenly realized my error and pulled back on those reins as hard as I could. I mean, both hands, leaning back, giving it everything I got.

Misty completely ignored me. I got desperate, jerking those reins just as hard as I could. The corrals loomed closer. We were going to crash through the gate, I just knew it.

At the last second Misty went to full brakes, tearing up chunks of dirt as she slid to a stop.

At which point poor little Eric, obeying Newton’s first law of motion, continued moving forward. I think I was actually airborne by that point and, with both hands pulling hard on the reins, I had nothing to save myself with.

The result was that a particularly vulnerable part of my anatomy bounced off the saddle horn. Misty completed her stop. And I just kind of collapsed sideways and fell on the ground. Where I remained, while Misty wondered impatiently why I wasn’t opening the gate and removing her saddle yet.

Definitely time to get a new horse.