Harpole Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ricky Harpole

Life without little sisters and horses could be uneventful

Our Uncle Cliff Armstrong was, among other accomplishments, a “horse man” in the finest sense of the term. There were three examples of the finest horseflesh in the stables on the King and Anderson plantation, where Uncle Cliff was the “cotton ground” manager for the owners. He kept his own stables.

First, there was the Mayflower Mare. She was a Tennessee Walker with a rough gait and about my age which was 13. She had a sure foot in rough country and would stand under gun fire. A gentle disposition, combined with a “let’s do it” attitude made her a good hunter and a “basic trainer” horse. Daddy bought her for Sis and me. It’s a marvel she didn’t kill us both. She taught us how to ride and she had to work pretty hard at it.

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Uncle Cliff bought the Mayflower from Dr. Bobo (a first-class physician in Clarksdale) as well as the Gal Mare. They were full grown and full blown horses but they were child-friendly.

The Gal Mare could have been a house pet if the house was big enough. Children would come from Clarksdale on Sunday afternoon to ride her. Uncle Cliff would prop a kid on the saddle and spank old Gal on the rump and she would amble along to the milk barn and come back with the cargo still intact. She was a wonder.

She was so gentle and slow and careful, we one day underestimated her.

Sis was the catalyst. It seemed to be a job for her to crank up any situation.

The third member of the menagerie was Wild Nick. He was a four-year-old Appaloosa stallion of sound wind and limb. He had also never been ridden, or even saddled on that Sunday afternoon when Sis and I booted up. Nick was already mad and, truthfully, I was as nervous about the situation as he was.

The Gal Mare was gentle, with as sweet a soul as God ever gave a horse, so Sis got a head start. It took a little longer to saddle the stallion, and considerably more manpower was needed in the process.

Just as Daddy and Uncle Cliff managed to get the cinches right on Wild Nick Sis and The Gal Mare had a difference of opinion. The old horse was trained to take small children (city kids mostly) to the old dairy and turn around and haul ‘em back to the stables. Sis had been riding the Mayflower Mare all about the borders of Moccasin Bend for about two years at that point and when she took up the reins, she meant to do the driving. Gal balked. Sis insisted. It was a stalemate at first, but Sis had an ace in the hole in the form of a silver spur and she used it. I still have the spur and it is of a design the cowboys refer to as a “gal leg” on account of its shape. Well old Gal took umbrage to being commanded about by a child she considered to be academically her junior and reacted.

When that mare came past the stables she had the bit in her teeth and looked like she could hold her own at Churchill Downs. I forgot how scared I was for myself about crawling up on Old Nick because Sis didn’t have enough legs for her feet to meet the stirrups and placid old Gal had forgotten how old she was and was making her point.

It took me and that stud hoss about a mile and a half to catch up and I was amazed that the old Mare still had enough steel to maintain the lead as long as she did over the stallion. When Nick and I had closed enough to clear the dust, I understood. Sis was laying that gal-leg spur in at every jump and using “language” at the top of her lungs.

“You think you can run out from under me? You darned (ed. note: not Harpole’s original adjective) old hay wagon chaser, I’ll teach you how to run.”

And she would gig her again. Nick and I caught the runaways and about five minutes later Daddy and Uncle Cliff caught up to us in a V-8 Chevy pickup truck. The horses were both lathered and blown. Sis was still cussing and I was swearing adrenalin. I firmly believe that Daddy would be alive today if not for that mess. It had to have taken at least ten years off his life.

We cooled ‘em down under the shade of a big pecan tree. Sis quit cussing and surrendered the spur to me when we saw Daddy and Uncle Cliff swarming in on us. They never saw it and I have seldom talked about it. Nick was transferred to Argentina several years later to oversee a harem. The Mayflower mare lived out her days in retirement at Moccasin Bend. As for the Gal Mare, her reputation as a kid horse was forever ruined, but she diversified and won second place in a barrel racing competition in Clarksdale in 1964.

Sis continued to commit carnage and social mayhem for the rest of her life.

Well, as you can see, I’m the only one left to tell the tale.

Y’all got to hear it and I’m glad I’m here to tell it and I’m glad again Old Nick had a harem in Argentina, and a horse harem at that.

So even though he is long gone, I’m sure he was happy.

The Mayflower Mare did her job and the Gal Mare carried her weight and Sis’s and changed jobs at an advanced age. And excelled again.

Everybody has been put out to pasture but me.

My advice to y’all is to leave baby sisters and horses alone if you want to live a dull and uneventful life.

Saddled up,