Mary Lou, a horse story.

I was born wishing for a horse of my own. My mom has told me about times before I was a year old, when I stood in the front seat of the car between my parents with outstretched arms, crying and reaching toward horses that were along side the road in pastures. I know horses were part of me from my very beginning, there’s never been a time when I didn’t long to have one of my own.

When I was 6 years old, my grandfather bought a Shetland pony named Scout. He was black and white and shaggy maned, ornery as he could be. I finally figured out what to do with him, instead of riding him in the normal fashion with a bridle and possibly a saddle, I jumped on his back when he was loose in the corral and let him buck to his heart’s content.

It was a good thing in this respect, I learned to remain on the back of a horse.

When I was 8 years old, my grandfather bought me a cowpony, a real horse! His name was Lucky and I loved him with all my heart. He was fast as a bolt of lightning and none of the kids in our neighborhood would challenge me to race with them, for Lucky and I always won! If cattle needed to be moved, Lucky was the horse to help me, he was cowpony from the word go.

I was 8 and he was 8 when he became mine, I had him with me until he was 32.

I owned a horse I loved for all those years. When Lucky passed away, I was almost crazy with longing for another. I’m not sure how many years I went without a horse, but at a certain point, I decided no matter what my ex husband thought, I was going to get another horse. I traded our Jersey milk cow for Mary Lou.

An old man owned Mary Lou. He told me how gentle she was, and that she had a half Belgian colt at her side, the colt went with the deal. I went to the old man’s farm and rode Mary Lou. She appeared to be well trained and well mannered and how could I go wrong? Two horses for the price of one little cow?

I had some wonderful rides on Mary Lou, with her colt trotting along at her side. I chased some cows on her back, but she didn’t seem to know much about them. We did OK, until I needed her to cross the canal. She refused to step into the water and finally tried to throw herself over backward.

About that time, we got a hired man. He happened to know Mary Lou, in fact he’d ridden her. The old man I bought Mary Lou from, had been so scared of her, he stopped using her and bred her to the Belgian, hoping it would “settle her down.” He kept trying to ride her and she got progressively worse. The hired man took over her care and trained her out of her problems. He was good with horses and knew what to do for her.

As I kept riding Mary Lou, I noticed some really funny things about her. She had a large lump on her side, right where the edge of the cinch was. The front of her tongue wasn’t lined up with the back of her tongue. You could tell, someone had put a harsh bit in her mouth and cut her tongue almost in half. She was real defensive about certain things, but would willingly do most other things.

Our hired man finally told me her story. When Mary Lou was a two year old, a girl got hold of her and decided to “train” her. This girl didn’t train, she tortured. The information I learned about Mary Lou made me cry for her. It also helped me to understand her.

I took Mary Lou and went to a snaffle bit clinic, hoping gentle methods and education would help both of us. The very first clinic I attended, I put the snaffle bit in her mouth, we were both totally new at this! The instructor had me lope circles. Mary Lou started out ok, but by the time we’d gone around about three times she decided she wasn’t going to lope any more circles. She took off bucking and chased the instructor around the arena and up the wall. I was a little embarrassed but thanks to my early training on the Shetland pony, I remained on her back.

Before the clinic was through, I grasped the concept of the snaffle bit. I wasn’t good at it, but I had the concept. I practiced constantly and rode every day, my friends who were horse trainers helped me. Mary Lou and I were doing OK.

About this time, the community where we lived began to run relay races where a team would row down the Flathead River to a certain point, they would come up out of the water and hand a band off to a horseback rider. That rider would ride a mile, hand off to another rider, who handed off to another rider, this next rider would hand off to a runner, who would carry the band a mile and hand off to a person riding a bycycle, who carried the band to the end of the race.

By this time, Mary Lou had a reputation of being a pretty fast little horse. I was asked to be a team member for the Mayor’s Over the Hill race. Other members of the team I was on, told me, some people are in this race for fun…we’re in it to win!

Mary Lou and I ran that race for three or four years in a row. Our part of it was to start out at a dead run, fly into the key hole pattern, come out, then run a mile. Our team was hard to beat!

I finally decided I was to old to be riding like that and left the race to a younger crowd. Two years after we’d run that race, Mary Lou and I were riding with some friends in the same area as the race. When we approached the starting line where we’d been handed the band, Mary Lou perked up her ears and took off running. She hit the exact spot on the ground where we’d run the key hole and entered the pattern like the lines were still there. It was so amazing. I laughed until I cried at how funny she was…

Around this time, I was helping several neighbors riding for cattle. One hard riding, hard drinking, older cowboy used to have me help him. He had a pasture, with a pole barn hay shed in the middle of it. No corral, no panels leading to the hay shed, just the shed sitting in the middle of the pasture. He needed help getting his cattle into that hay lot, so he could ship them.

Mary Lou and I went to help! We got the cattle herd headed into the gate and as usual, one old cow doubled back to escape. Mary Lou was in a good mood that day and she headed after the cow at a dead run.

We came up over a slight rise, there was an irrigation ditch running along the crest of the hill, it had an old car in it. The cow jumped the old car, then doubled back toward the rest of the cow herd, who were all in the makeshift corral.

Mary Lou, went up the rise, over the ditch, over the car and after the cow in one smooth move. She stayed on that cow until the cow went through the gate to merge with the herd.

The old guy I was helping, dropped his reins on his horses neck and was sitting there with his mouth open, his comment was, “Ho—-ly Sh**t!”.

There were times when I wondered just how fast Mary Lou could run. I entered her in a neighborhood pasture race. I decided to put a jockey on her instead of riding her myself. I wanted to watch her run for a change. During the race, I stood on the sidelines in a huge crowd, yelling for her run her best. To my dismay, I realized she was headed straight for me! She’d picked out my voice in the crowd and veered across the field of horses to get to me. I shut my mouth and the jockey pulled her into line again to win the race.

This was the first time I realized she had some affection for me.

Mary Lou was a funny horse, the older she got, the more mental problems she seemed to grow. She began to threaten to throw herself backward more and more often. It became harder and harder to deal with her.

I had friends who begged me to stop riding her before she caused me harm. One day, I helped a friend move his cattle down the road. When we got within range of the corral, he asked me to ride through the cattle, get ahead of them and turn them into the corral gate. Mary Lou went willing through the herd, and stood quietly while the cattle went through the gate.

My neighbor was behind the cattle, when he got to where we were, he got off his horse and stood talking to me. I was still on Mary Lou’s back. Suddenly, she jerked her head sideways and grabbed a rein in her mouth. She became totally agitated and began to rear. I pulled her head around, thinking I’d get her back on the road, and run her out until she let go of the rein. I think when she got the rein in her mouth, she began to remember that hard bit that had cut her so badly when she was young.

My neighbor, thinking he was helping, grabbed the reins and tried to hold Mary Lou to the ground. He was a big man, and exceptionally strong, but his efforts only made Mary Lou crazier. I asked him several times to let her go but he was scared for what she was going to do to me.

She finally got the best of him, reared up and went over backward. I managed to jump free but went flying backward down the road, twisted my ankle and landed hard!

My neighbor begged me not to ride her again. He made me promise to sell her and not try to deal with her any more.

When Mary Lou got up, her panic attack was over. I got on her and rode her home but I made myself a promise to get rid of her and all her problems.

I figured I’d given her every chance to have a normal life and I’d had enough. It took me a lot of years, but I finally decided, there are so many good horses out there, why mess with a crazy one?

I sold Mary Lou to a neighbor who kept her in the pasture as a “petting horse”. They liked her because she was so pretty, but didn’t plan to try riding her. Mary Lou lived out her days on tall grass and didn’t end up hurting any one.
Donna Ridgway

Mary Lou, a horse story.

Donna Ridgway

Vaughn, United States

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A horse named Mary Lou.

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