I used to ride my horse George from the stables at Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland where I worked as a nurse, through the trails along the Gunpowder River. My parents lived across the river, tenants on an historic family farm. It was an hour ride and I’d take it regularly, nudging George when the river was not too high, into the rapids above “Tobe’s Hole.”
The key to riding across water, in this case horse-knee deep, is to move the horse forward confidently, focusing across to a point on the far bank. The animal senses your confidence and sloshes its four legs through. At over 1000 pounds the horse is not easily unweighted by the swift, strong waters as they would a human. If you looked down you’d be easily disoriented as the river moves. The sensation is akin to when a car parked beside you suddenly moves and, even though you are munching away on your delicious chicken nuggets and waffle fries dipped in heavenly Chick-Fil-A Sauce, your foot hits the break instinctively because your brain thinks it is your car that is moving.
Don’t look down at the river. Stare straight ahead. We crossed the river and then trudged up the bank and the long steep hill. The “Pipeline” transported natural gas underground for who knows how many miles; for us, it provided a nice path to the river, right through the farm. That was one steep and rocky hill to climb. Horses gain speed as they climb; it is easier to bound up, if possible. The rider leans forward and clutches mane to stay balanced with the horse.
At the top of the hill we slipped left into the woods again, then out into the golden cornfields of the 200 acre farm. The best part came next–a long, winding gallop between two fields over a few rises and down to the farmhouse. I leaned forward, jockey-style and let the reins loosen. Horses run with their necks extended, nose reaching forward. The reins complete a straight line from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth. At one with the wind and George, we bent around the last turn, up the final rise where I would slow him down to descend the hill. Only, on one particular day a huge Great Dane shot out from the right from a newly built home on what used to be the neighboring farm.
I am still amazed that I didn’t come off George, who was three or four at the time and full of spunk. He came from champion Thoroughbred bloodlines, but never raced because of a condition involving his epiglottis, where it would flap and vibrate if he ran too hard. If I ever heard him start to do that, we’d slow down, because over time it would affect his oxygenation. The condition is called “Roaring” because of the super-loud snoring sound, five times louder than you’ve heard any sleeping old person.
Secretariat’s large great-nephew, George took an instantaneous dog-leg left turn into the cornfield to escape the dog legs chasing him. The Great Dane was a monster. For all intents and purposes I should have been left suspended mid-air to drop like a Looney Tunes character onto the ground. Did I mention that I was bareback that day? Yep.
Thankfully the corn was recently cut and the dog was called off by her owner, who offered profuse apologies after I managed to collect George from his wild 100 yard sprint. Then it was the Great Dane’s turn to be freaked out as I walked George back to our point of departure. The owner struggled to hold the dog as great George pranced and “roared” for a minute.
We had a quieting walk down the hill and through the post and rail gate to the farmhouse.
I tied a now peaceful George briefly to the porch rail and knocked on the door. Mom and Dad came out with hugs, apples and some water. After a visit–which I took for granted and only wish I could do again with my now-deceased parents–I used the porch to jump up onto George’s back. George was 17.1 hands which is very large for a horse, over five and a half feet at his back. We rode to Oldfields, enjoying this time…the alternate route along the country road down to the bridge over the river. A final long canter on the trail behind Dr. Haller’s house, which had been the old Glencoe Hotel in the late 1800s, and then back to the stables for a rubdown and fresh water and oats.
His registered name was Exuberant Champ, but he was nicknamed Gorgeous George. My big red pal for over two decades. I am so thankful for those times. I cannot ride anymore because of my back, but I have a wealth of memories…