I recognized the girl right away when she showed up at my house on a huge Palomino-Paint horse.? Merry and I were in the same class at high school.?? I had seen her around and we shared a class or two, but we were far from friends. She had just moved in about a mile down the road.? Since I lived close by and had a horse, she wondered if I wanted to go riding with her and Oakie.? Little did I know what a ritual these rides would become and the major role this new friend would play in my life.
There is little I remember about my first horse that did not involve Merry.? She was fortunate enough to have been given a horse at a younger age and even had a few years of 4-H under her belt. I was book smart about horses, but Merry had much more hands-on experience and education.? Luckily for Cherokee, one of the first things she taught me was that even though you could fluff up one flake of hay to fill a manger, it wasn?t enough to sustain a horse.
The afternoons that I didn’t have to work at my part-time job were filled with hours on horseback.? This was a time when dress codes at schools were becoming a thing of the past.? Most of the girls were still wearing dresses, pretty blouses and slacks to school, but Merry and I dressed in T-shirts, jeans and boots.? This gave us more time with our horses once school was out for the day. It’s no wonder we were not popular with the boys in our class, although that point escaped us at the time.
We had a regular trail that we rode, one that looped behind my house, across the state highway, down dirt roads and through fields.? Sometimes we role-played, imitating our favorite television westerns and calling the pet dogs that tagged along names like ?Bear? and ?Wolf.?? Sometimes we poured our hearts out about home life, siblings and our lack of social life outside of our horse world.
More than once we dismounted long enough to have dinner at my house before heading back out again. It was during one of these dinner breaks that Merry overheard my mother comment to my father, ?Do you think those girls will every stop smelling like horses??? To which my father replied, ?I think they?ll clean up just fine when the time is right.?
The summer between our junior and senior years in high school, Merry?s mom asked me to join them in Colorado for a visit with her sister.? What an experience it was for me–flying alone, with a long layover in Chicago and Denver.? Colorado was heaven for Merry and me.? Her sister had two horses and lived in a small town in the mountains northwest of Denver.? We were a bit confused about where we fit into the scheme of things. The locals considered us ?dudes? and the tourists thought we were cowgirls.
The next spring Merry and I drove back out to Colorado, looking forward to another great western adventure.? We soon learned why everyone else headed south to destinations like Florida during spring break.? We couldn?t find a cowboy that showed any interest in us and Colorado was dreary, drab and cold in March.
Back in Michigan, if we weren?t riding, we were visiting western stores and trying out horses that were for sale, even though we had no intention of purchasing tack or a horse.? Sometimes we skipped school to get an early start on our riding. This wasn?t an easy feat, as the woman in charge of the attendance office at school lived across the street from Merry.
Spring, summer, winter, fall . . . it didn’t make any difference to us, we were either on horseback or doing something associated with horses and riding.? Many times, all it took to get our horses ready to ride was a quick grooming and a bridle.? We learned it was much warmer to sit on your hands riding through snow with no saddle between you and your horse.
We did some smart things on our horses and we did some stupid things.? Not smart was tying a large, metal two-foot square sign to my saddle and riding home.? Most horses would not have put up with the bumping against their shoulder as they walked, but Cherokee took it in stride.? Another time we rode from one car dealership to the next, asking the salesmen what we could get for trade-in on our steeds.? This was great fun until my horse left a huge pile of road-apples in front of the picture window at a big Ford dealership.? The words that came over the loudspeaker held no humor: ?One of you girls get back here and clean that up!
Our dumbest action involved the consumption of alcohol.? Lots of stupid teen-aged acts are attributed to alcohol, and we’re probably not the first–nor the last–to include a horse in our shenanigans.? Although Merry and I were both of legal drinking age, we were still children in the eyes of our parents.
When my parents left me at home with my younger brother to make a trip to California, Merry and I immediately headed to a nearby store that sold beer and wine. What mischief could two giggling girls get into under the influence of alcohol?? How about bringing my horse into the house?
Seeing my horse standing in front of the television in the family room was funny enough, but made even more so by my brother?s reaction.? But it was definitely not funny the next morning, when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing hoof-prints out of the carpet while nursing a hangover.
As best friends sometimes do, Merry and I drifted apart after high school.? I had a job working with the Forestry Service my first summer after graduation. The next summer I was in Montana on a ranch.? Merry went to New Mexico and took a dog-grooming course.? This was followed by a trip to Colorado where she met a guy, got married and left Michigan. I ran into her at a western store some years later.? She introduced husband number two and I introduced husband number one and then we were at a loss what to say next.
More years passed.? I was living in Arizona with husband number two and Merry was in Michigan,still with her second husband.? Planning a trip back without my husband along to get bored during my strolls down memory lane, I arranged to meet with some people I hadn?t seen in years, making good use of the Internet to get contact information.? I found Merry through a couple of club associations and we arranged a get together at her home.
We talked about the old times for hours. Merry remembered things I had totally forgotten, and I had stories that had slipped her mind. Why was my mom so mad when I bought that saddle?? And remember that birthday saddle pad? Merry was in cahoots with my mother on picking it out for my birthday. Of course, she told me about it, so it was an even bigger surprise when my mother announced that the driving lessons they were paying for would be my birthday present.? I ended up buying the pad for myself months later.
I had forgotten that Merry not only played an important part in my life, but that my parents and siblings had become her second family.? As we talked, time flew. Before I realized it, I was running late and needed to return to my mother?s house.? Merry and I have rekindled that cherished friendship, thanks in large part to the Internet. We had been two high school best friends brought together by our love of horses . . . and yes, we did ?clean up just fine.?
When we meet again, I hope we can saddle up, hit a few trails, complain about our husbands, relive our past and share our dreams once more, for old time?s sake–pard?ners and best friends.
? 2012 Kristie Allison
Read more of Kristie’s exploits:
A Reader’s Story: Kristie Allison
Horses and Flying Saucers Don’t Mix