One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

10 May 2013

Changing Reins (Part 1)

You never know who or what will be the spark that sets your life on a different course.

Sometimes it is a person...sometimes an event...sometimes a chance decision to take a different route home...and sometimes...
it is a horse.

In honor of his birthday, here is the story of one such horse...

Dunny originally came into my family as part of my Dad's dream.  He was the cutting horse Dad bought shortly before he got his dream ranch.  I remember how excited and proud Dad was when I first met "Dunny"...he grinned like a little kid.

Not that things were always perfect between them...
When Dad moved from the place in Monte Vista, CO to his dream ranch a few miles away in Del Norte, he thought it would be an adventure to ride Dunny cross country to the new place. Late that night, he still hadn't shown up and my step mom was worried...Dad finally arrived, without Dunny, and furious. Unfortunately, Dunny had issues about crossing water and they had come to a little stream that Dunny had flat out refused to cross. There was a battle, Dad would not have given up without a fight...but Dunny won this one. Dad had to turn around and ride all the way back to the house, leave Dunny there and drive to the ranch. Things like that were few and far between, though...and Dunny was something special even then.

After an art show in California in May of 2003...I felt the sudden strong urge to take a rather big detour to go to Dad's ranch for a couple of days. While I was there, Dad and I went in a little antique store and I fell in love...with a saddle. It was a beautiful high cantled, wide swelled C.P. Shipley, probably made in the twenties or thirties. A saddle was an odd thing to want so badly...since I didn't have a horse of my own at the time (not to mention, I couldn't afford it)...but for some reason, it spoke to me. The store owner offered to let me take it for a test ride. Dad said he'd buy it if I didn't and joked that either way it would be mine since I'd inherit it. So we took this old saddle, went to the co-op for billets and a latigo, rigged it to ride and then caught the horses.

It was Spring and the horses were feeling
pretty frisky...plus they hadn't been ridden since the previous Fall. Dad tied Dunny to a fencepost while I saddled him.  A tumbleweed shifted and Dunny went in reverse with such power that he pulled the fencepost completely out of the ground. With the added trouble of a brisk wind...this could be an interesting ride. The horses were looking for anything to spook at...jumpy, crowhopping, little rears...generally just goofy and silly, nothing that didn't just make us laugh.

Dad and I were having a ball just riding together. Finally the horses settled down and it was a fine ride on a gorgeous day. I decided that I wanted this saddle...but once more across the wide, open pasture...just to be sure. After handing Dad my camera, I took off at a trot...then a lope...then all heck broke loose. The saddle shifted sideways and Dunny went for some spontaneous levitation. (Dad later said this was no crowhoppin', but all four feet off the ground serious bucking.) I stayed on for a bit, but the saddle didn't...it slid sideways and I hit the ground. Remarkably, I landed on my feet...with one rein tightly gripped in my hand.

Knowing that if he got away, he'd buck til the saddle came off...I was determined that this horse was NOT going to get loose and destroy "my" saddle...so I dug my heels in. Unfortunately, 115 pounds of girl is no match for 16 hands and 1200 pounds of quarter horse. Still, I refused to "give"...Dad said Dunny pulled me face down in the dirt then drug me for about twenty feet before I lost the rein. All we could do then was watch in dismay as Dunny bucked until the offending saddle was left in the dirt on the far side of the pasture.

It was a long walk to get that saddle. The leather that had gleamed only a few minutes ago was now dusty, scarred and pulled back from the tree. Three of the silver "longhorn" conchos and the saddle strings were gone. The billet had broken...probably what had sent the saddle sideways in the first place. I carried it back and then walked the pasture until I recovered all the bits and pieces. We put the saddle in the truck and headed to the antique dealer. I told him "Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is I want the saddle. The bad news is that we had a little wreck and I need you to fix it."

Thanks to Dunny, I had to return a few weeks later to pick up my saddle.  Dad and I got to ride another time...this one was much less eventful.

We had another great visit...it was, in fact, one of the best times I'd ever had with Dad since I was a kid. Then I headed back home and Dad headed to Scotland to follow another dream. Within days of his return, he was whisked away from his beloved Southern Colorado ranch to a Denver hospital and diagnosed with double pneumonia, septic shock and respiratory distress syndrome.  He was given a 20% chance of surviving that first night.

My family doesn't quit without a fight...and Dad fought for six months. At one point while I was visiting, he took a pad of paper (a trach had robbed him of his voice) and wrote a note that he handed to my stepmom. It read: "Tell Lyn to take Dunny". I protested and told him we'd be riding together again soon.

I'd been to visit often while he was in the hospital and had just finished a monumental traveling art project...so, when Christmas came near, since my brothers thought they would be going to visit him and Dad was due to leave the hospital in a couple of weeks, I decided to stay home. But Christmas Eve morning, another overwhelming feeling hit and I packed up the old dog and drove the 10 hours to Denver. During his hospital stay, Dad kept saying he wanted to be home for Christmas...on Christmas Day he took matters into his own hands and passed away.  My brothers had both had to cancel their visit...but thanks again to paying attention to my gut...I was there to sing him cowboy songs for his last hours.

For the longest time after Dad died, I would tell people that that second ride together was the last time I saw him. Then catch myself...I saw him many times over his six months in the hospital. Guess that's how I remember him, though...smiling and laughing as we rode, talking about antique saddles, horses, art and life.

Dad left no will...but my stepmom honored that scrawled note and Dunny became mine.

Dunny is an incredibly special horse in his own right...but he is more so because of the connection to my Dad. Every ride on Dunny has been like time with my Dad...and, where ever he is, I am sure that Dad smiles every time I look at the world through Dunny's ears.

By the way, Dunny and I worked out the 'crossing water' thing, too.

To be continued...