In 1966 my step-father,Dick loaned me one hundred dollars to buy a six-year-old palomino mare named Dixie , and another $200 for a Billy Cook saddle. She wasn’t a quarter horse or a jumping steed or anywhere near a show prospect, she was just a big horse. She stood 16 hands at the withers , trotted like a jack hammer and ate a lot. But Dixie was loyal , and had a heart as big as she was. The mare would do anything I asked of her, from crossing busy streets to jumping mud filled ditches to wading through waist-high water. The horse was bomb proof for me.
That is why my world came crashing down when a drunken friend of Dicks came over at night looking for booze. When he was told ,by my mother and Dick, to shove off, he went to the barn and in a drunken rage, chased Dixie out.
The mare was spooked and not knowing where to go headed back to her old barn about 10 miles away. She almost made it when a speeding car hit her from behind tossing her onto the side of the gravel road.
Thankfully,the driver was not injured , Dixie was. It took over two hundred stitches to close the huge capes in her rump. fortunately, her legs were not broken but her hock was swollen to twice the size of normal. The vet said she would always be lame in the left hind leg.
About the same time, after a very hot debate with my father, I quit school. The idea was that since I already knew everything, after all, I was sixteen, that I would go to work (somewhere) and pay Dick back for the horse and then buy a huge sprawling horse ranch.
I ending up spending endless hours putting hot compresses to Dixie’s swollen hock and walking her. Her first walks lasted minutes . Then hours, then twice a day. In four months I was riding her at a slow walk in the paddock. Thank God, the vet was wrong.
Meanwhile, I was under pressure from all sides to start looking for a job. I had milked the “poor me” cow for long enough I suppose. To keep the hounds (parents) off my back, I told them I had a trail riding job at the local riding stable. Dixie was healing very fast now so I was leading out riders for the stable owner. Which was true. Except, instead of cash, he paid me in food from the restaurant.
So, on my way home, under the cover of night, I would snatch a bale of hay from a huge stack and toss onto the saddle in front of me. Riding like this meant I couldn’t see or direct Dixie. I would just drop the reins and ask the mare to go home. She would always take a short cut across a field and when she came to a ditch I could feel her gathering herself for the jump and I’d hang on for all I was worth. Dixie wouldn’t stop until she was in front of the barn. I was also stealing bags of grain when I had the chance. At least the pressure was off me as Dixie and I were paying our board.
Dixie always had the swollen hock but she didn’t limp any more and turned out to be a great riding horse. I spent that whole summer going to the riding stable, meeting a lot of city girls who came to rent horses. Occasionally, I even sneaked a few smoochs from some of the more forward gals. Out behind the barn wasn’t just for the horse manure.
Inevitably, those stolen kisses perked my interest in the opposite sex.
One bright night I rode Dixie up the hill behind the new Windsor Racetrack to watch the standard breds pulling the sulkies around the track. Dixie would watch with great interest, her ears perked and stomping her feet in excitement. A light bulb went off. Maybe I could get a job at the track.
Next morning I thumbed a ride to the raceway and sure enough I got hired to groom four horses for $10 a day. I could have Sunday off because I was so young. Even after paying my loan with Dick I was stinking rich. At least that’s what it felt like to me. In a few months I bought a 64 Chevy Impala on credit for $55 a month.
I didn’t ride Dixie much now and that winter I went over to Detroit Raceway, following my four horses.
When I came home in the spring Dick had sold Dixie. I can’t blame him though, I didn’t send any money home and really didn’t have much correspondence at all. He was doing all the work and getting no appreciation.
Things, for me, had changed. I had job, I was in dept, and I switched my interests from horses and pigeons to girls, and more girls.
A year later I tracked down Dixie to a farm not too far away. She was in a huge pasture, and just for the fun of it, I called out to her. I almost cried when she turned and galloped, and I really mean galloped, right up to the fence.
I hadn’t any romantic notions to buy her and live happily ever after. I knew our time together had come to an end. I patted her neck and said my good- byes. Sadly, I was no longer a naive kid. I was in the system now.
In the years ahead I would own many other horses and was always very fond of my charges. I even went back to school and got my grade twelve. But, for me, there will never be another 1966 and for sure, never another Dixie.
‘They’ say you never forget your first love. I believe this to be true.
Keep the faith, it gets better, it always does.