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Read an Excerpt
By Rose McClimon Hamlin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Rose McClimon Hamlin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA GIFT, A NAME, AND A HORSE
Some say in a horseman's lifetime he or she would be fortunate to meet one great horse. I was more than fortunate. My family owned a great horse. February, the year 1988 began the journey of a five year old gelding named Gus and the gift he was to me.
Gus was an appaloosa who stood fifteen point three hands high and had dark brown spots all over his hide. His spots looked more like freckles on his face and I often imagined if he were a boy he would have been about my age and would have had a face full of freckles same as me. The spots on his rump were big and dark, the color fading as he grew old. I would trace his spots with my finger while he ate his oats, or I waited for our run in the horse arenas.
Gus had big brown ears. His legs looked like he wore brown stockings pulled up to his knees and hocks all year round. His feet were big and white. He could have worn a draft size horseshoe, yet he never wore shoes, he never needed them. Shoes never would have been his style anyway.
His eyes were a soft brown that appeared sad. I used to stare into his eye and see my reflection, the same reflection I saw when I looked into the back of my breakfast spoon. Gus had a baggy bottom lip that would droop when he was relaxed. I would sometimes take my finger and dab at it watching it swing back and forth. His lip was soft and pink on the inside with long thick whiskers on his chin.
Gus became a member of our family twenty years ago. I do not remember the day he came, but I remember stories about it. One evening at the dinner table Dad announced, "A friend at work told me he knows a man that has just the horse we're looking for. We should take a drive this weekend and look at him."
"Is he an appaloosa?" Mom asked. "I would rather get that colt across the valley. He is black with a blanket of white on his hindquarters and black spots. That's the kind of horse we're looking for."
"I'm not sure of his markings, but let's go have a look at him," said Dad.
The weekend came and Mom and Dad still wanted to go look at this horse. We sisters got to go along for the ride too. I was five years old and I am the eldest of us sisters. Fiona was four years old and the middle child, and Loretta was two and the baby of the family. Fiona and I were horse crazy and Loretta was starting to show signs that she too would be just as horse crazy as her sisters.
I was excited to see this horse. I began to dream of all the fun we could have together riding in the woods and brushing his mane until he shined. I wondered what he would look like. Riding in the car I ask my sister Fiona, "I wonder what we will name him if Dad buys him?" We thought for a while, but didn't come up with many names other than Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and Donald Duck. We knew those weren't any good. After all, Mickey is a mouse, Pluto is a dog and Donald is a duck. We decided to wait for a name.
I hoped Dad would buy him. A new horse would be fun. We already had two horses. We sisters shared an old appaloosa named Polly Anna. Mom and Dad called her bomb proof. Nothing could get her excited for anything. Dad had a big red gelding named Tom.
The trip to see the horse was disappointing. I wasn't allowed out of the car. Mom and us girls sat in the car while Dad took this new horse out for a test drive. "Mom, how am I supposed to help make the decision to own this horse if I can't even get out and look at him?"
"I think Dad can handle the job. We aren't buying him for certain. Dad will make sure he rides good before we make any decisions," said Mom. I watched from the car window as Dad rode out into a field. Pine trees blocked my view and I strained to watch Dad ride away on the mystery horse. "Mom, I can't even see Dad riding the horse!"
"Settle down Rose! Dad will be back in a few minutes. Just sit back and relax," Mom huffed.
Moments later Dad came back into view. He rode back to the barn where the owner met him and they talked for what seemed like eternity. Dad's ride must have been a good one because he bought the new horse. I was super excited. I don't think Mom was as excited as I was because she told Dad our new horse was the wrong color. The colt Mom had wanted was black with a blanket of white across his hindquarters and black spots. Dad said this new horse was white with black and brown spots.
Dad brought our new horse home on Valentines Day. As Dad drove the truck and trailer into the driveway I rushed outside to finally meet our new horse. "Mom, what are we going to name him?"
"Gus," she replied. Named after Gus McCrae from the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, his new name fit him well. I also noticed that his spots were in fact not black at all, but mostly brown.
It was an icy cold February day and we couldn't visit outside with Gus for long. I hurried back in the house and watched Dad from the kitchen window as he took Gus on a short ride. Dad rode Gus bareback and they started up the hill in the horse pasture. The hill was icy and half way up Gus lost his footing and slid back to the bottom. After that Dad got off and Gus ran to meet his new horse friends. It was the beginning of a new journey.
Chapter TwoNO FRIEND OF MINE
I soon learned Gus was not the horse I had dreamed him to be. He was mean and knew countless dirty tricks. There were many summer days Dad and Mom would catch the horses and we would go on rides through the woods.
Our family never went on normal trail rides with groomed trails. Our family rides were scary. There were times my knuckles turned white from holding on so tightly, fearing if I loosened my grip I would fall off and be trampled under the horses hooves. It was more like we were a small family of trailblazers. Dad would pick a route and off we would ride fighting our way through thick brush. Polly Anna would plow her way through while my sister and I covered our faces and ducked down as low onto the saddle as possible to keep tree branches and brush from clawing at us.
With two of us on Polly Anna, one of us sisters would have to ride behind Mom on Gus or with Dad on Tom. Sometimes it would be my turn while Fiona and Loretta rode Polly Anna. It was scary to ride on Gus. Just when you needed him most to keep you from falling off he would throw his head or take off in his own direction leaving you feeling desperate and out of control. There were many rides I was certain we were going to fall down a steep hill and be squashed by his big spotted rump. He wouldn't have cared or even have noticed if he had squashed us. We would have been thorns out of his side.
I remember one day in particular. Dad was going to take us on a trail ride. Our local Chatfield Saddle Club was hosting a ride for horse riders who wanted to enjoy the trail. I was excited. An official ride with groomed trails and easy countryside. No steep hills to climb and descend, no enormous logs or rivers to cross either. It would be an easy day of wandering through the woods. If I had to ride behind Mom on Gus I didn't think it would be that terrible. Maybe Gus would be good today and follow along with the other horses. I hurried and got dressed. This was going to be the perfect day. Everything had to be just right. I put on my red cowgirl boots, my western shirt, and of course, my boot cut jeans. After one last look in the mirror I was out the door.
Dad was already outside catching up the horses. Polly Anna was standing at the hitch post by the shed and Dad was saddling Tom. Gus was still out in the pasture. I wondered why Dad was saddling Tom if Gus was still in the pasture. I didn't get a chance to ask Dad before he was mounted up and riding into the pasture with a lariat. My question had been answered. I watched Dad for a while as he chased Gus. Dad was in hot pursuit, but never close enough to throw the noose and capture Gus. When they were deep in the woods and out of sight, I ran back to the house to find Mom. I was starting to panic.
"Mom! Mom, where are you?"
"I'm in your room," she said. She was helping Loretta get dressed for the day.
"Dad can't get Gus caught! He's chasing him with Tom," I wailed.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Rose. It's only nine o'clock and the ride doesn't start until noon. Why don't you clean your room while you wait?"
"No way! Dad might need my help. I'd better get back outside."
I wasn't about to spend my morning cleaning my room while Dad was out with the horses. An hour passed. Dad had to have Gus caught by now. I ran back out to the hitch rail to see Dad pulling the saddle from Tom's back throwing it onto Polly Anna's. Tom was dripping sweat from his belly. I could see the pink insides of his nostrils as they flared and he puffed out of breath.
I climbed the hitch rail and looked for Gus down in the north pasture. Our north pasture has four small groves of plumb trees. I could see him among one of the groves. "Gus looks just fine and dandy to me," I said. "He isn't puffing out of breath at all! He's eating grass and swishing his tail!" I was so angry. Now Polly Anna had to run after Gus too. She didn't deserve this kind of treatment. I watched vehemently as Dad rode Polly Anna towards the north pasture to chase Gus down.
I hurried back into the house hollering for Mom. This time I found her in the kitchen washing dishes. "Dad still doesn't have Gus caught and now he took Polly Anna because Tom got all tired! Mom, what time is it? Mom! What if Dad can't get Gus caught in time?"
"There isn't much we can do about it, Rose. There is still another hour before the trail ride starts. Gus should be getting tired soon. Dad will get him caught."
"That darn stupid horse! Why can't he just cooperate? We only want to be his friend! Well, maybe not me anymore." I walked back outside and stood by Tom. He had finally caught his breath and was standing relaxed. Dad was still chasing Gus with Polly Anna and I was beginning to lose hope. We weren't going to make the trail ride in time. My perfect day was ruined all because of Gus. No more groomed easy trails to meander along. I had gotten all dressed up for nothing. I hoped Dad would catch him soon. I had a few things to say to this young appaloosa.
Noon came and went. Gus still wasn't captured. Dad saddled Tom again and continued the chase. I went and lay on my bed. Hot tears and frustration consumed me. Gus was no longer my friend. I didn't want anything to do with him.
It was around two in the afternoon when Dad captured Gus. He had worn out and surrendered. I went out to offer my sympathy to poor Polly Anna. She had worked hard all morning.
Gus stood tied to the hitch post as Dad took his saddle off Tom. He threw his saddle over Gus's back and cinched him up. I didn't approach Gus. I didn't feel like talking to him anymore. I told Polly Anna I was sorry Gus was so rude. I'd be her friend. We wouldn't need Gus. We didn't need any saddle club trail ride either. We could have our own. Fiona and I put our saddle on Polly Anna and rode up and down the driveway. Our driveway is about a half mile long. In a way it was our groomed and easy trail ride. We decided to enjoy the rest of our day.
Dad must have been thinking the same thing because he took Gus on his own ride too. Only I doubt Gus's trail was as groomed and easy.
Chapter ThreeFREE SPIRITED APPALOOSA
I watched as Dad put his boots on by the front door. It was an early summer morning and I was still in my pajamas. "Dad, what are you doing?" I asked
"I'm going to work."
"What are you doing at work?"
"I'm going to fix a few garage doors."
"Oh," I said yawning. "When will you be back home?"
"Supper time." He gave a quick look in the mirror to adjust his hat and looked down at me. "See ya later."
"Bye Dad." He was gone for the day. I was eating breakfast when Mom said we had chores to do outside. I finished my cereal and hurried to get dressed.
Outside it was a warm morning. It was us girls job to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. We had sheep too, but we left their care to Mom and Dad. All three of us were afraid of the big ram sheep that roamed about the pasture. He lurked waiting for the opportunity for a turned back to come charging and butt you with his head. I was scared to death he was going to charge me down and ram me. Instead, I watched as Mom caught Gus and tied him to a tree to feed him his morning oats.
I watched far enough away so Gus couldn't hurt me. I still didn't trust him or like him. I just wanted to watch him eat his food. His crunching was loud and he ate like a pig. His mouthfuls were so big the feed sprinkled about the ground around his feed dish. The chickens hurriedly gathered around picking and scratching for Gus's leftovers.
"Don't get too close to Gus!" warned Mom.
"I'm not! I'm just watching him eat."
Mom was filling feed pails for the sheep. Fiona was feeding Polly Anna, and Loretta was singing about flowers while she sat on the ground near me.
Mom was lugging the feed pails to the sheep pen when she walked behind Gus. None of us saw it coming, but instead saw the feed pails flying through the air, grain raining down on our heads.
"What happened?" I asked looking to Mom.
Mom's face was ghostly white as she slowly backed away from Gus. "Gus tried to kick me," she whispered.
"Did he get you?"
"No, he got the buckets." Mom's words were choked. She came over to where Loretta and I were standing and sat on the ground.
"Are you alright Mom?" asked Fiona.
"Yes, I'll be fine. Just give me a moment to gather myself."
"I think Gus did that on purpose," I said glaring at him.
"What are you going to do Mom?" asked Loretta.
"Nothing. Gus can stay tied right there. I don't really feel like dealing with him any more today. Maybe it will teach him some patience if he has to stand there for awhile."
Mom slowly got to her feet and made a big sigh. "You girls stay away from Gus. Don't go near him! He might do the same thing to you."
We nodded our heads in agreement and helped Mom scoop up what grain could be saved.
Gus stood at his tree for the rest of the day, but I don't think he learned much from it at all. I was starting to wish more and more this appaloosa had never become a part of our family.
* * *
One summer day Dad caught Tom and Gus and saddled them up for a ride. None of us sisters felt like riding with Mom on Gus so we decided to stay home and watch a movie.
"We won't be gone long," Mom said as she and Dad rode out of the yard. Gus was throwing his head in the air and trying to take control of the reins. "Stay out of the kitchen."
I watched as Mom and Dad rode around the bend of the driveway out of sight. I ran back into the house and joined my sisters in the living room settling in for our movie. "This sounds like more fun than riding on Gus with Mom."
"Yeah, it's way better," agreed Fiona.
Our movie turned out to be a much safer plan indeed. While we were getting into the middle of the exciting adventure of our movie, Mom and Gus were on an adventure of their own.
The field was long and green and wide open. Mom reined Gus in a little tighter as he tossed his head and pawed his hoof through the dirt. Timing was everything. If Mom let the reins go too soon Gus was sure to take off running and she would lose control. "I'm surprised to still be sitting in the saddle. "You've usually bucked me off by now leaving me for dead."
Dad was riding Tom alongside Mom and Gus. The urge was too tempting. A teasing grin played across Dad's face as he looked at Mom. "Want to race?" Dad didn't wait for a reply, but blasted off down the stretch of field. Tom's hooves sent dirt clods flying through the air. Gus didn't wait for Mom's cue and took off on his own will. Thundering hooves barreled down the field. The wind was roaring past her ears, tears were streaming down her face from Gus's speed. Gus was closing in on Tom, but the field was coming to an end. Dad gradually brought Tom down to a walk, but Gus tossed his head and gained more speed.
"Whoa Gus! Whoa, whoa!" screamed Mom. The barbed fence line came into view. Panicking, Mom gripped the saddle horn tighter and pulled the reins with all her strength. Gus braced against the strain of the reins refusing to slow his stride. Fearing the worst, Mom closed her eyes waiting for Gus to collide with the fence. A few yards from the fence Gus came to a crashing halt nearly sending Mom over the saddle.
Gus wasn't concerned at all. With a swish of his tail he turned to join in stride with Tom again. Mom sat in the saddle trying to catch her breath. "Shwew, I could have died right then," she said trying to joke, but her voice shaking.
Dad smiled. "Get your heart going a little?"
"A little? More like a lot!" exclaimed Mom. "I was pulling on the reins with all I had! Gus didn't even try to slow down. The more I pulled the harder he pushed against me. I thought for sure he was going to hit that barbed fence just to spite me."
Excerpted from Gus by Rose McClimon Hamlin Copyright © 2010 by Rose McClimon Hamlin. Excerpted by permission.
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