Horsing Around with Dad

Today, a very unusual and unexpected thing happened. I was sitting at home, minding my own business, when my Mother called to ask me if I wanted to go horseback riding with my dad. To most, this probably sounds like nothing to blog about, but it’s an almost unheard of event in my life. So, I was more than a little surprised.

To start with, my dad and I don’t do things together. I mean, we hardly even speak. This isn’t because we don’t like each other or anything particularly sinister, it’s just the nature of our relationship. We had a very tumultuous relationship when I was a teenager- we’re very similar in personality and temperament and yet completely different in just about every other way. That kind of situation leads to a lot of conflict and we have a tendency to aggravate each other. Even the things that we have in common, namely reading, scuba diving, and farming, we have wildly differing opinions on. Given that our interests and beliefs are almost completely different, we’ve become locked in a sort of stalemate- neither of us WANTS to argue so we generally just leave the other be.

I know it’s a source of sadness for both of us. I am his oldest child and I was the BIGGEST daddy’s girl when I was young. He’s often said things in passing about how he wonders where that child went. And I have always had a hard time with the fact that he and my siblings have easier relationships. My brother is very, very much like Dad, so they have things that bond them: ideology, hunting, sports, their particular brand of farming, and being great horsemen. My sister filled the spot of daddy’s girl and has managed to hold onto it. I think it’s because she is more like my mother and, therefore, their personalities compliment each other better.

Anyway, an invitation to come riding with Dad came as a big surprise. I decided that it would be fun. Which is another strange thing, since I don’t ride horses very often. Now, it might sound strange that a farm girl, who grew up and currently lives on a horse farm, doesn’t ride much, but I don’t. I rode a lot as a kid. I was never the most accomplished horsewoman, but I trail rode a lot and even did a bit of showing (Western Pleasure and beginner’s show jumping). As a teen, my interests lay decidedly “off farm”- it was much more common to find me on stage than on a horse. Once I left for college and live beyond, the opportunity to ride became almost non-existent. The retirement of my horse 6 years ago pretty much put a stop to what little riding I did manage to do. Well, that and the fact that I’m no sprightly young thing.

So, this afternoon I found myself contemplating the fact that I was about to get on a horse for the first time in almost 3 years and spend quality time with my father, whom I see every day and yet hardly ever really talk to. It was bound to be interesting.

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that riding in your high school saddle is about as flattering as wearing your old prom dress. Which means it’s not at all an ideal situation. Man has my ass gotten HUGE! I mean, not so huge that my saddle was uncomfortable, but huge enough that I was seriously not pleased with the shadow I was casting. Man oh man, am I glad that no one (except my entire family) got to see that.

I’ll also share that trail riding is not the most comfortable activity to do with someone you don’t really know how to talk to. Those awkward silences that inevitably crop up are a lot easier to handle in a car where you can listen to the radio. We spent the first 20 minutes simply riding single file, both unsure what topic would be safest.

But, naturally, we found our way around to the horses. At the very least, we could reminisce about the good ole horses that have gone before. My dad isn’t a particularly sentimental man, but there are horses that can tug at his heartstrings after all these years. So we talked about Sam, the most wonderful horse in the world and the horse that my siblings and I all learned to ride on. My parents got him before I was born and he was their first child. Sam holds a very special place in family mythology and no horse will ever be his equal. And we talked about Singer, the second horse my parents bought together. He is the horse that has always seemed to be an extension of my dad in my mind- he never let me get emotionally close to him either, but he was the kind of horse that you knew would never let anything hurt you. And, as always, we spoke of Traveler, the matriarch of a large clan of family horses, including my dear Nutcase (the name is a total misnomer) whom we lost this February at the age of 32.

We also talked about my dad’s rodeo days and how I spent the better part of my childhood surrounded by cowboys and rodeo clowns. I was the little girl who looked like Shirley Temple but dressed like Howdy Doody. I could always be found with my trusty sidekick, Jake the blue heeler, and I loved nothing more than sitting on top of a huge horse and telling everyone some story I’d made up. Of course, I thought my dad was the most amazing person who’d ever lived. We laughed about his favorite story from my childhood, about how, when I was 3 years old, I convinced him to take me on an overnight trip to buy cattle at a big livestock sale. I managed to not only convince the auctioneer to let me sing “Get Along Little Doggies” in the middle of the sale, but I insisted, with the benefit of tears, that dad buy 100 head of particularly scrawny cattle that were destined for the dog food plant. He swears that the men at the stockyard never let him live that down.*

As we turned back toward the barn, I knew that, no matter how different my dad and I are and no matter how little time we spend together, we will always have something that binds us. Be it horses or just our shared memories, it’s still something. And it’s those kinds of things that can be built on. This could be the start of a whole new chapter for Dad and I.

*To be fair, Dad had to admit that he turned a very nice profit after we put those cattle on good pasture and fattened them up. He said he can’t be sure, but he suspects that they gained weight so well specifically because I would come by to inspect them every afternoon and give them pep talks… I was a loquacious child that no cow could ever dream of disappointing.

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