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Getting Lucky

GAYS MILLS - I had an exceptionally good summer in 1964. I had a full-time job at a milk bottling plant in Fullerton, California between my first and second years of college. The pay was good, it was a union job, and I could pay for a year of college with 3 months of work. I wish that was the way it was now for all the debt-strapped college students.

The World’s Fair was in New York that year and I thought it would be cool to go to that before classes started in the fall. Either that or get a horse, something I’d always wanted. As it turned out, I worked up until the day I left to go back to school. The plant was trying a new bottling process for small, plastic containers of a juice drink and it didn’t go well….for them. For me, it was a gravy train since there was a lot of overtime involved in working out the kinks with the plastic after the regular shift of bottling milk in glass bottles.

So, I went back to college pretty well heeled but without a trip to New York or a horse. One night a few weeks later on my weekly call home, my mom said “We found you a horse.” 

 I was stunned. This was a dream come true to a kid who grew up on western movies. A woman my mom taught with had several horses and offered to let me borrow one for the school year. I was happier than a kid with, well, a pony.

I found a place to board the horse right across the street from where I was living. I bought a well-used saddle and waited for the couple who owned the horse to deliver it to me, a 250-mile trip. Soon enough they appeared with the perfect horse for a greenhorn such as me. Lucky was a 14-year-old chestnut Standard Bred/Quarter Horse crossbred gelding. Lucky was gentle, sound, 15 hands tall and lanky. But he still had plenty of life, he was no ‘plug.’ And, he was a looker with a blaze face and two white socks on his back feet.

I had ridden a little before, very little. Most of those rides had been with groups of horses from a stable, calm, gentle horses that followed the horse ahead of them at a walk. But when it’s just you and a horse, a horse that you’re getting to know and vice versa, it’s best to take it slow. So we did. 

I’d never ridden enough to become sore. That was soon to change. On the advice from a friend, I rode Lucky bareback for several days. When you ride without a saddle, you grip with your legs and there’s nothing to hang onto with your hands. And your legs get sore, stronger with new muscles involved, but sore. After a while, you learn to grip when you need to, but otherwise you’re just along for the ride-literally. It is a great way to feel one with the horse and develop a ‘seat’ instead of bouncing around. It wasn’t long before I could ride with some confidence at a walk, trot or lope.

Lucky was a good teacher for me. There were no surprises and he was responsive to my commands. I began to feel comfortable and we became used to each other.  

I certainly got lucky with my year with Lucky.