The Big Horse Race

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I purchased Judy the summer following my sixth grade. It took a lot of chitum peeling to come up with the purchase price.

She was a light palomino and had a big scar on the back of her neck like she had been bitten by another horse when younger.

Our neighbor trimmed her hooves and shod her for me. He would not take any money for the chore.

I rode Judy everywhere. She required a strong hand on the reins to make her do what the rider wanted. Judy was barn sour. She was uncomfortable away from the barn. When we would turn toward the barn, and I let her have her head, I knew I had better hang on tight.

One afternoon, Dana Watson and I rode Judy down the creek to Herman’s new barn. We met Jack and Larry Herman there and rode the horses up their hill a bit. The Herman horses made Judy look like a pony. Both were outfitted with full saddles, while Dana and I were riding bareback and double on Judy.

When we got back to the barn, we tied the horses and looked over the barn and the haymow. 

“Why did you buy such a small horse?” Jack asked.

“I really wasn’t looking for a horse,” I said. “My cousin Peggy had a friend selling her, and the price was something that I could afford.”

“She doesn’t look like much of a horse,” Jack said.

“She might not look like much, but she is the fastest horse I have seen,” I said. “I have been horses a lot, and I don’t think I know a horse that could outrun her.”

“Our horses are quarter horses, and they are pretty fast, too,” Jack said. “And they are so much bigger than that little thing, I don’t think she could begin to keep up with them.”

“Well, the only way to know is with a horse race,” I said. “What do you think, Dana. Do you want to ride with me?” 

“Sure, those big horses are all weighed down with saddles and everything,” Dana said.

“Okay,” Jack said. “We will start on the road here, race down across the creek and up the field to where it starts uphill. Do you want to do this, Larry?”

“Sure, I have wanted to see which one of these horses is the fastest for a long time,” Larry said. “The only problem will be if Dad sees us. He will be furious. You know he does like us to gallop the horses.”

“He is in town,” Jack said. “We will be able to get these horses cooled down and turned out before he gets home.”

I jumped up on Judy, and Dana got up behind me. We rode out to the road where the race was going to start. I had to hold a tight rein on Judy because we were pointed at her barn. 

“You have to hold on tight, Dana,” I said. “Judy is barn sour, and when she is headed home, she runs like the wind. These Herman horses are going to be left in her dust.”

Jack and Larry pulled their horses up beside us. I was holding a tight rein on Judy, and I could hear her heavy breathing. She was excited to be headed home and had no concept of a race.

I looked up at Jack. For the first time, I realized just how much taller their horses were. 

“You say the word,” I said. “Something like ready, set, go.”

“Go,” Jack said as he and Larry spurred their mounts.

I released my grip on Judy’s reins and let her have her head. I leaned forward with my head against her neck and took a firm grip on her mane. Dana leaned forward and tightened his grip around my midsection.

I looked back, and the Herman horses were thundering along on our left, but they were a least two lengths behind. Judy was headed home, and nothing was going to slow her down.

The creek was approaching. This time of the summer, there was only a trickle of water that ran between the deeper holes. The road crossed the creek, but there was a substantial bank on this side and a rocky creek bottom before going up on the other bank and then out into the field.

Judy flew down the bank and did not slow across the rocks. The downward force when she hit the creek bed caused Dana and me to slip. We were off Judy’s back and hanging on her left side. I still had my grip on her mane, and we were both desperately holding on with our right legs still over her back. I looked back, Larry’s horse had slowed at the creek, but Jack was spurring his horse, trying to catch up with us. If we fell, there would be no way his horse could avoid running over us.

Judy did not slow with our slippage. She was up the far bank and turned up the field. Her barn was in view, and I felt a surge in her speed. Dana was able to pull himself back up on Judy’s back first, and with a bit of tug, he helped me right myself. Judy was oblivious to our struggle to remain mounted.

Once back in a normal position, I looked back. Jack’s horse had faded a bit, and Larry’s horse was abreast with him. The distance at this point was probably a half-mile, and the quarter horses had spent their best energy. Judy continued at her wicked pace. My only problem was going to be in stopping her when we reached the hill.

When we came to the hill, I sat up and pulled back on Judy’s reins.

“Whoa, whoa,” I said as I pulled her to a stop.

Jack and Larry pulled their horses up beside us.

“You guys should join the circus,” Jack said. “How did you get up on her back?”

“I had enough of a grip with my right leg that I was able to pull myself up and then help Dave,” Dana said. “I thought we were goners.”

“Ha,” I said. “I was just looking at your horse’s hooves that would be running over us.”

“Well, you were right about how fast that horse of yours is, and she didn’t slow down a bit,” Larry said. “Our horses just about were done for when we got halfway up this field.”

“I have to admit, it would have been a different race if we were going the other direction,” I said. “Judy is barn sour, and when she is going home, she goes like the wind.”

“Maybe so,” Jack said. “It sure would have been a different race if you guys hit the ground.”

Photo by Zachariah Smith on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

2 thoughts on “The Big Horse Race

  1. I enjoyed this story from your youth. I also had to look up chitum and learned something new about the Pacific Northwest. You and Dana were very lucky, and I am reminded of a few similar horse/pony races from my early teens. We were all lucky we weren’t killed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is great! It reminds me of all the fun times I had with my cousins at their ranch doing things with horses that we weren’t supposed to do. Those were some of the best times of my life. Thank you for reminding me!

    Liked by 2 people

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