Smokey, a Significant Horse
Memories of Childhood Joy
The most freedom I've ever known was riding Smokey. We were both just kids when we met. But he was probably more mature than me. He was just a plain ol' grade horse, and coming 2. There was nothing fancy or flashy about him. I was going on 12 and horse crazy! Daddy bought him for me as a surprise. I didn't even know I was getting a horse. I just knew I wanted one. I wanted a black horse. And Smokey was almost black.
The first time I saw him, Mother woke me up and told me to go look in the front yard. There he was, snubbed up to a Chinaberry tree. I knew he was mine! Boy hidi, I was out that screen door in my gown tail, and down those porch steps as fast as my bare feet would fly! I threw my arms around his neck and started telling him how beautiful he was, and how good I would be to him. I told him how much fun we were going to have. And I promised to love him forever. I think he was happy too. I guess he picked up on my joy right away. And I believe he fell in love with me right then and there, just like I loved him. Love at first sight.
I didn't know at first that Smokey was already tired that morning. But Daddy had just broke him, and rode him home. After Smokey had bucked out, they took off for the house. On the way in, they rode past a slaughter house. Well, Daddy said Smokey smelled all that fresh blood and threw a fit! He rolled his eyes and laid his ears back, and just went crazy! He was terrified. But Daddy got him under control, and they made it home just the same.
Daddy told me to rub down Smokey's legs, and to put some elbow grease into the job. I wasn't as big as a bar of soap after a hard day's washing, but I got busy. I rubbed his legs and talked to him the whole time. I don't remember what all I said. But he listened. In between legs, I would go up to his head and love on him. When I was finished, I brushed him down, and combed his mane and tail. We were bonded.
Smokey was my best friend, and he loved to run! So me and him would sail across pastures full speed ahead! We both loved it. He would streach out and I would kind of hunker down, and then all there was in the whole wide world was the sound of his hoofbeats, the ground whistling by under us, the wind in our faces, and the far fence. Where we would either come to an abrupt stop, or make a hard turn and keep pouring it on!
I would chat to Smokey when we were just walking along. I think he liked the sound of my voice. But sooner or later I would say "Come on", and give him a little nudge with my knees. The next thing I would know, we would be topping out! He was young, sure footed, and full of pep. It was glorious. Sometimes we wore ourselves out. Other times Daddy would come driving through the field honking the horn to get my attention. He would tell me to come home. "Your mother thinks that horse is going to kill you", he would say. But the truth is, that horse saved my life.
I wasn't suppose to saddle Smokey by myself. If Daddy or my big brother James weren't there to saddle him, I was suppose to ride bareback. Well, one day I decided to break that rule, and saddle him up anyway. Naturally I thought I had done the job just fine and dandy. But I was skinny and puny, and the girth strap wasn't cinched up tight enough.
My friend Geneva was with me, and we were going to ride double. So we were walking along, and I asked Geneva if she wanted to run. She said she did, and I gave Smokey his head. Boy we started grabbing some ground! I made a sharp left turn, and that ol' saddle swung left and directly under Smokey's belly! It happened in a split second. Well, that could have been the end of me, or Geneva, or both of us. But Smokey was a hero!
I believe he knew exactly what the situation was as soon as it happened. Maybe even before it happened. Because he probably knew the saddle felt different than it usually did. And when it happened, he knew what to do. He put on the brakes! I mean, all four of his feet were on the ground, dug in, right then and there! He didn't lift a hoof, front or back, until we were out from under him. And a horse's hoof, going full blast or in a stumble, slammed into a kid's head can mean dead meat. And Smokey knew it. He knew his feet had better not hit me or Geneva. But especially me. So he slid to a stop with all four feet planted.
I remember it just like daylight. The dust flying and the soft crunching sound. I looked over my shouldar just as I hit the ground and got the wind knocked out of me, and saw Geneva land farther to the side than me. I watched Smokey's back left hoof slide toward me. I saw that hoof plowing the ground. He was one devoted horse. Smart too! And he had control of himself.
We were both scared at first. But I got up and started loving on him, and talking to him, telling him thank you. So we both calmed down. Geneva was pretty shook up. I got the saddle back up on Smokey's back, and lead him home. I didn't tell anyone what had happened. But I sure never broke that rule anymore!
Mother used to tell me, "that horse" was going to bite me when she saw me heading out the kitchen door with an apple or a carrot. But I knew he wouldn't. And he never did. I would hide the stuff for him in my pockets, or under my jacket. He would nudge around on me until he found his treat. Then I would let him have it. He would munch on it while I rubbed his neck and talked to him.
Alot of afternoons I would crawl up on his back, lay down , drape my arms around his neck and fall asleep. It was the most peaceful sleep I have ever known. The sun on my back, and Smokey's warm hide under me. His good ol' horse smell in my nose, and his gentle movement as he grazed around. What a beautiful thing.
I didn't get to be with Smokey very long. Only a couple of years. I wish I had marked every day. But I didn't. It never dawned on me that he wouldn't always be my horse, and me his person. But one day Daddy said we had to sell Smokey, and I would have to show him at the sale. So I did. But I didn't just show him, I showed him off!
I wanted everyone to realized what a special horse Smokey was. He might have known what was going on, because he had been through it before. Daddy had bought him out of the same sale barn. But he came through like a champ. He never missed a beat. He turned on a dime. Whipping left, then right, and back to the left. He backed up slow and easy, then quick and steady, without balking. He stood with his head up, and quite while I slid off his butt, and crawled under his belly. He picked up his feet with just a light tap for prompting. He sure did me proud!
As soon as the last bid was made, and he was sold, I knew he was no longer mine. I threw my arms around his neck and cried like a baby. The auctioneer said, "The little girl sold her horse". Daddy slid the saddle off Smokey's back and told me to turn him loose and come on.
The last time I looked back at Smokey, a tear was falling from his eye. Daddy said it was because of the wind. But I knew Smokey was crying too. Both of our hearts were broken.
I've thought about Smokey a million times in my life. I used to often wonder where he was, and how he was doing. I hoped he had a good place to live, and plenty to eat. And somebody to love him as much as I did. I imagine he thought of me too. I'm sure he didn't understand why we had to be seperated. I know he missed me like I missed him. Because he loved me. Smokey was my pet. He was my companion, my friend, even my protector. And he made me feel like I was flying!
I've had other horses since Smokey, and I've loved them all. But not like I loved him. They say you never forget your first love. Well, that's just how I am about Smokey. I'm sure he's dead by now. If he was alive he would be 40 or alittle better. So it's likely he passed away some time ago. The thought makes me sad even now.
I'm no longer that young girl, riding to the wind, with nothing to hold me back except fences. I doubt I will ever ride as fast on horseback as I did on Smokey. I probably will never feel so free, and comfortable as I did on him. But I'm glad I got to. I'm glad Smokey was my horse. Because he gave me something I've never had before or since. The carefree joy of a horse that made me feel, everytime I got on him, that where he stopped and I started was to close to measure. He gave me the opportunity to truely be one with nature. The nature of Smokey.