Last night, I dreamed I was riding my old horse, Ruby, who’s been gone now for at least a decade. She’s a flighty old nag even in my dreams. Ruby had this annoying habit of flopping her head backward constantly, which always left me with the fear of being head-butted as I rode her. Once her son, Stormy, was old enough, I usually chose to ride him instead when I had the option.
In my dream, I was riding Ruby along a country road, and she kept throwing her head back at me as she always did. Up ahead, several other horses milled about on either side of the road. They perked their ears up as we drew closer, and Ruby grew increasingly agitated. Unfamiliar horses always made her nervous. I too grew anxious, clamping my fists around the reins in an effort to maneuver her past the other horses without incident.
Once, on a real-life horse ride with a huge group of family members, I encountered a similar situation with Ruby. A neighbor’s horses ran out to greet us as we approached his pasture. My youngest sister rode behind me on Ruby, and she clung to me as our mount spooked and tried to escape. I tried to keep the horse under control, all the while knowing that my tiny little sister was precariously close to sliding off the saddle and onto the road beneath the horse’s feet.
I was a tiny kid myself, maybe about ten years old if even that. I don’t know how I managed it, but somehow I pulled my sister off the back of the saddle and into my lap in front of me. I don’t remember doing it. One moment she was behind me, and the next moment, she was sitting in front of me, wrapped in my protective arms. We made it past the friendly-yet-scary neighbor horses and continued on our ride, but my poor sister was afraid of horses after that.
This wasn’t the only time Ruby’s flighty nature got us into trouble. On another day, I rode her down a different hilly, country road alongside my dad and my grandfather’s elderly cousin Marie (a favored riding companion who rode her white horse, Sugar down her long driveway to get the mail almost every single day until she passed away in her 90s). My dad and Marie usually did all the talking while I rode along and listened to their stories.
That chilly afternoon, the sun shone through sparse leaves above us, dappling the gravel road beneath. We dropped into single-file, riding down a steep hill as a large truck approached from below. The truck pulled a huge flatbed trailer with a bulldozer loaded on its back. As it passed, Ruby began her nervous dance and flung her hind end out into the road right as the bulldozer’s sharp blade passed us. The blade caught my horse on her hind flank, cutting a deep gash that was approximately six to eight inches in length and sliced clean down into her muscle.
My parents told me later that if Ruby had swung out into the road a few seconds earlier, the bulldozer blade would probably have cut my little leg off. As it was, the horse laid down on top of my other leg for several seconds when she lost her footing and fell into the ditch beside us. I tried to jump clear of the saddle, but my coat caught on the saddle horn. I was still on Ruby’s back when she managed to stand back up.
My dad leapt from his horse at the sound of the horse’s and my screaming and ran to rescue me from her back. I ended up getting a ride home with a neighbor lady while my dad walked Ruby the couple of miles back to the house, all while pressing a gunny sack to her flank to staunch the flow of blood.
It seemed like it took forever for the vet to get to our house. There was mention of putting the horse down. I curled up in a ball in our basement and bawled at the idea of my flighty, yet beloved horse being put to sleep forever. Luckily that didn’t turn out to be necessary. The vet stitched up Ruby’s backside, and she was nibbling grass out in the pasture by morning.
It’s funny how one memory begets another, once you get started. I am now reminded of a pony we had when I was little. I think I was about five when we took her off to the sale barn after she nearly killed my teenaged aunt. That little pony had a mind of its own, and it took a notion one day to take off through the woods with my aunt on her back. I was too young to really remember what happened, but the stories I’ve heard always involved a crazed pony bashing my aunt into trees and then dragging her on the ground by a leg caught in a stirrup.
The pony was deemed too dangerous to keep around for the kids after that. I don’t know if I’d ever even ridden her by myself at that age, but I was sure was attached. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s old Ford truck and watching the tears stream down my face in the side view mirror as the wind from the open window blew them into my ears. “You ruined my life,” I told my parents after the pony had been sold.
I sure did love my horses back then. It’s hard to believe I haven’t ridden in almost two whole decades now. My dad’s old horse pastures are now home to his beef cattle. And man, they sure are tasty. But I miss watching my horses graze in the pasture. I miss running out into the woods in my bare feet and scrambling up onto Ruby’s bare back without the help of a step or a stirrup (I wish I could still jump that high!) I used to sit on Ruby’s back and just be, listening to the sound of the leaves above, rustling in the breeze while she chomped away at the grass beneath us.