Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Write something AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL (10/02/14)
- TITLE: Summer of '74
By Linda Buskirk
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Mohican Wilderness Campground boasted camp sites along the Mohican River and guided trail rides. After one visit, I pestered the owner, Mr. Woebeck, to hire me. Despite no formal training, my persistence paid off. I got the job: trail guide!
"It’s hard work and long days," Mr. Woebeck warned. "You must get the horses from the field early in the morning, groom them, watch for sores, saddle and bridle them, then lead trail rides all day. In the evening, you unsaddle and take them to pasture."
I solemnly answered, "Yes, sir," but wanted to scream, "Yes! Yes!" Hard work? It was perfect! Sun up 'til sun down with horses!
When I think back, I can't imagine anyone hiring a 17 year old girl with no experience to be responsible for more than 30 horses and the safety of all ages of riders.
Perhaps the owner knew that my overwhelming desire to be present would overcome my inexperience. Maybe he couldn't find anyone else. Whatever, I believe myself as a liability was trumped by myself as a cowgirl, wanting to do my best for the animals.
Not that the animals always appreciated me. I was kicked, bitten and nearly had my head bashed when lead horse Rusty got a mind to pull against the reins with the force of a locomotive and head into the barn where beams hung low. And then there was Killbuck.
A buckskin quarter horse with a flare for the dramatic, Killbuck was ridden only by Ken, Mr. Woebeck's son, when he took a turn as guide. Sparks flew from Killbuck's hooves as he pivoted and reared on the gravel road. I was petrified of him.
One day when we had a line of riders mounted for the trail, Ken handed me Killbuck's reins. "You take this one."
"Let me get another horse," I countered.
"You will be fine on Killbuck. You'll see. He's tame on the trail. If any horse wanders out of line, just drop the reins and he’ll go after it. He’s a trained cutting horse."
"What about when he runs back at 60 miles an hour?" I questioned.
"Oh, he just does that for show at the end. He'll stop before he gets to the barn. He's not like mean ol' Rusty."
With a gulp, I placed my foot in the stirrup, grabbing the saddle horn as Killbuck took off before my butt could hit the seat. He didn't go far. His aim was to take charge, prancing in front of the collection of tame mix-breeds carrying greenhorns. I laughed, calling for folks to pick up reins and follow along.
We became fast friends. Often I rested Killbuck in the afternoon so I could take him out by myself at dusk. We'd head to the river, shallow as it flowed along the campground. Killbuck would wade in then take off at a full gallop, speeding and splashing as campers lined the river bank, cheering.
How I loved that horse.
At the end of that magical summer, I intended to spend Labor Day weekend on Killbuck for every trail ride. I whispered in his ear that I would come back to visit and someday try to buy him.
We were leading a group back at a gallop when I felt Killbuck move from under me. Still in the saddle, I flew through the air, a broken cinch strap dangling underneath. The wind jolted out of me when I hit the ground. A young boy who witnessed the accident later told me Killbuck came back, standing over me until help came.
After a short hospital stay for bruised kidneys, I learned Mr. Woebeck sold Killbuck because everyone but his son was afraid to ride him.
"That's not fair," I protested to the co-worker who told me. "Old equipment caused that accident, not Killbuck."
There was nothing I could do. The finality of it stung like a tragic ending to a wonderful movie. I treasured every frame of that summer, from early mornings banging a bucket of oats to call in the horses, to evening rides playing Cowboys and Indians. I knew it wouldn't last forever, but somehow I thought Killbuck would.
The summer of ’74 left me understanding that when a dream comes true, it might not end well, but the experience makes it all worthwhile.
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