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 4H under her belt. I was book smart about horses, but Merry
had much more hands-on experience and education. Lucky for Cherokee, one of the first things she taught me was
that even though you could fluff up one flake of hay to make it 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, while 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 on 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 would
dismount 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 year at high school, Merry’s mom asked me to join them in
Colorado for a visit with her sister.
What an experience for me that included flying alone and my first trip
on an airplane with a long layover in Chicago and Denver. Colorado was heaven for Merry & I. Her sister had two horses and lived in a
small town in the mountains northwest of Denver. We were a bit confused where we fit into the scheme of things,
the locals considered us “dudes” and the tourists thought we were cowgirls. The next spring we drove back, 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 during that part of March. We were bored half to death.
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
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 relieved himself of a huge pile of
road-apples in front of the picture window at a big Ford dealership. The words that came over the loud speaker of
“One of you girls get back here and clean that up!” had no humor to them. It had to be my horse that made the
mess. Merry’s horse would stop his
efforts if she pushed down on his raised tail – a trick that made a nasty mess
when she tried it on her next horse.
Probably the stupidest
of all involved the consumption of alcohol.
I am sure there are lots of stupid acts attributed to alcohol and we’re
probably not the first, nor will be the last, to include a horse in our
shenanigans. Although Merry and I were
both of legal drinking age, we were still but children in the eyes of our
parents. All it took was for mine to
make a trip to California. There was a
store next to my house that sold beer & wine. What mischief could two, giggling girls get into under the
influence of alcohol? How about
bringing my horse into the house.
Besides the fact of how funny it looked to see my horse in the house,
standing in front of the television set in the family room, it was made even
funnier by my younger brother’s reaction.
Of course, 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
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. I planned a trip back and 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. The
Internet makes it pretty easy to locate people from your past. I found Merry through a couple of club
associations. Once I had her correct
last name and address, getting her phone number was a piece of cake. I called her and we arranged a get together
at her home.
Merry remembered things
I had totally forgotten, and I had stories that had slipped her mind. We talked about the old times for hours –
why was my mom so mad when I bought that saddle? And remember the saddle pad that Merry was in cahoots picking out
for my birthday? Of course, she told me
about it, and it was an even bigger surprise when my mother announced that for
my birthday the driving lessons they were paying for would be my present. I ended up buying the pad for myself months
later. I had either forgotten or hadn’t
noticed that it wasn’t just that Merry had played an important part in my life.
My parents and siblings had become her second family. Time flew. Before I realized it, I was running late and needed to
return to my mother’s house.
We’ve rekindled that
cherished friendship, thanks largely in part to the Internet. Two high school best friends brought
together by their 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