September 29th…“AS A LITTLE BOY, ON YOUR FARM IN MINNESOTA, DID YOU EVER HAVE TO “BREAK” ANY OF YOUR HORSES?”
Up there, in the equine clouds of Happy Horse Heaven, they must’ve had a bad day at the factory. Maybe this Shetland colt got hit by a lightning bolt on his way down to earth; cause from day one, that lil four-legged fiend was a tiny, tromping terror to tussle with!!! Just as we Noorlun children had to attend school to learn about the rudiments of life, so also did any young horse have to learn how to serve those humans that they now belonged to.
It wasn’t much more than a day or so, after getting this hirsute horse off of the livestock truck, that we realized that this was gonna be one crazy creature…….so we named him “Joker”. The title fit him well!!! For when one of us stood too close to “Joker”, he’d give ya a nip in the arm or your butt with those tough teeth of his. And, like any “baby”, he wanted to go his way when he wanted and NEVER your way. Good thing our wise farmer father, Russell, was raised with horses as he grew up in northern Minnesota. “Joker” was no match for Dad when it came to any tricks that that puny, pawing potentate of a pony would try. As a little boy, I’d watched plenty of cowboy movies and was always excited to see a strong cowboy get on a wild, bucking horse and let that four-legged firestorm go crazy with energy until the animal was finally “broke” and realized that the cowboy on his back was the “master”and it was time to obey the will of his new owner. When “Joker” came of age, it was gonna be me who’d have to deal with our tiny “firestorm”.
The day eventually came, for that rascally runt of a pony, when our dad felt it was time for “Joker” to learn about letting a human-being ride upon his back. Another word for this procedure is to “break” the horse. Now the idea is not to literally injure (or break) the animal, physically, but to “break” the disobedient self-will of the young pony so that the evolving equine can be a blessing and not a burden to the family he belongs to.
On many an evening, from Spring till the first snows of Winter, Dad would finish milking our Holstein cows and “put them to bed” for the night. Then, Dad attached a long rope or chain to “Joker’s” bridle and led that pony from his stall in the barn, to a soft grassy area of our lawn near the house. The reason for being on a soft lawn area for this event was that THIS little farm boy was about to become a cowboy buckaroo………like it……or not 😉
That Shetland equivalent to dynamite, that stood before Dad and I, first had to be broke to ride bareback before our father could even begin to think to put a saddle on his back. Dad tied two ropes, one to each side of “Joker’s” bridle, for me to hang on to while I was aboard for the ride. Now it was my turn to jump on from the left side as I threw my leg up over and “on board” that little powder-keg. The pony’s reaction was immediate, as if a pin had been thrust into his rump. As I jumped and landed on his back, that micro-stallion shot straight up, arched his back and when he landed, I did too……in that soft grass I’d mentioned earlier. I crashed to earth with a green-bone crushing THUD!!! Dad hollered, “GET BACK ON HIM!!! If you don’t, he’ll know you’re scared of him and he’ll think he won!” Well, heck ya, I was scared of him…..but I jumped back on anyway….and away we flew again and again.
Those first few weeks, the score of this competition put “Joker” in the bucking winner’s circle. Whereas, this flamboyantly flying farm boy had butt bruises like you wouldn’t believe from being launched off the back of that bad boy pony repeatedly, ad infinitum. I thought for sure that I could hear that Shetland snicker and smile as he’d see me become airborne from his bony backside. Over time, though, I got used to his antics and could hang on for the ride for longer and longer periods of time.
What got our dad laughing hysterically, one day, was when our girl cousins arrived at our farm for a visit. The youngest cousin begged for a chance to ride “Joker”. With a sly smile, I saw Dad give her his approval to board this mini-keg of our pulsating pony powerhouse…..all the while knowing what may transpire. At that time in her life, that little cousin had the roundest bottom ever seen on a chubby little girl. She managed to climb onto the pony, but it was as if “Joker” knew that this new rider was “going places”. One quick hump jump and a rearing up on his hind legs and our round-rumped girl cousin went rolling off and to the ground like “water off a duck’s back”. Collectively, we all howled with laughter as our little, chubby gal cousin picked herself up off of the ground and brushed the grass stains off of her rounded rumpus maximus 😉
Eventually, even Dad decided that this crusty critter wasn’t worth the hassle, so a deal was made with the local livestock company to make a trade and get rid of that prankster pony and soon a darling Shetland (“Little Lady”) came into the life of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.