My earliest memory of a horse, a real, live, breathing animal, is not a good memory. My mother’s oldest brother was a farmer and his barn was just a short walk down the dirt road from our house. I recall his strong arms lifting me up high, very high, to settle me down for a short ride. I was terrified.
I’m sure the horse was gentle, and since I was only 4 or 5 years old, my weight would have been no problem. But I had never tried to sit astride a moving object, especially one that did not have an on-off switch. (My tricycle was different; it moved at my command, and I could touch the ground at any time.)
My screams worked magic. I was quickly lifted to the ground, and that was the end of my cowgirl career. Not to say that I lost all interest. Although I saw every Roy Rogers/Dale Evans, Gene Autry and Lash Larue movie, and didn’t miss a radio episode of Tom Mix, I was never inspired to go to Hollywood and try out for a part as a cowgirl, and I stayed as far away from my uncle’s barn and fields as possible.
I recall a few instances when I went with my grandfather, Papa, to Chattanooga to the rodeo where horses did things they don’t do on a farm. It was exciting to watch since the activity was a safe distance away, just as it was and is at circus performances and roadside pastures.
Parades are another matter. Can’t say that I enjoyed the horse-drawn carriage ride in the Jubilee Parade a few years ago.
I ran across some tidbits recently about phrases that have entered our language via The Horse.
“On his high horse,” which has come to describe someone who is haughty and conceited, came from the old tradition of people of rank riding on tall horses or chargers.
We all say “straight from the horse’s mouth,” but I’m not sure we know why we say that. If I had thought about it, I might have come to the conclusion that it somehow derived from the “one-horse town” phrase, and the person who owned the only horse in town must surely be the person who knew everything that was to be known.
But, according to some sources, it actually came from the fact that the only certain way to discover the age of a horse is by examining its front teeth. The horse’s mouth is the highest source and cannot be questioned.
This was a very important element in horse trading. The phrase “Long in the tooth” goes back to this as well, as does “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Good advice when receiving a present. Don’t appear ungrateful by undue inspection of the horse’s teeth or whatever gift you’re receiving.
And then there’s Mr. Ed. Love that theme song, “A horse is a horse of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed.” For 143 episodes in the early 1960s, we laughed and loved this special horse and his unsuspecting owner.
Like all children of my generation, I read “Black Beauty,” but it was just a story, one that I could not personally relate to in many ways. There were many more books and movies that portrayed how special these beautiful animals are to so many people.
I’m reminded of my inadequacy as a library reference person when a few years ago I fielded a call from a library patron who asked if we had a particular book. I understood her to say “The Hoarse Whisperer.” After all, when one is hoarse, one whispers.
Somebody set me straight, and I went on to read “The Horse Whisperer.” Even saw the movie.
Here in Cherokee County, we are blessed with horse farms and horse lovers, and the Rock Barn where real race horses once resided. We do have the best of both worlds.
And I’m happy that this new generation of Hughes descendants can experience the joy and excitement of The Horse with no fear and trembling. I just hope they never ask Nanny to come along for the ride.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.