Texas is another country...

Texas is another country...I have driven into Texas from all four directions and can affirm that after crossing that imaginary state line you just know you are in Texas . The world becomes wide open space, the sky feels higher, you can stretch out and rest a spell.

Monday, June 10, 2013

HORSES

Post by Alana Cash

I love horses.  I love the way they smell.  I love the way they sound.  And I love to watch them run.  I learned to ride when I was five years old.  We stayed on my grandparents’ farm for six weeks before leaving for England, where my dad had been transferred.  My grandpa had a mule named Dixie, and we were taught clearly to stay away from him, and a gentle horse named Ginger that looked just like the one with the cowboy in the picture.  My brother and I both sat in the saddle and Grandpa led us around until he got bored.

In England, we first lived in Burton Hall which was constructed during the 1600s and became a 3-story, 68-room house which would have inspired Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King .  Over time, the “yard” was created with the end of Burton Hall as one side of it.  The gatekeeper’s house and horse gate created a second side to the yard.  Buildings for the laundry, game larder, etc. formed a third side, and the wall and gate leading to the manor house, a less imposing home constructed later, was the fourth.  My family and our visitors came and left by the horse gate.  Our apartment was upstairs inside Burton Hall just above the stables, but we weren’t allowed inside them or near the horses. 


The landlords were gentry and held fox hunts.  They never entered the yard except occasionally to drive through it; the horses were always taken to them.  Their little girl used to stand at the manor house gate, which was always locked, and watch us play.  She seemed lonely and I asked her once to come into the yard, but she said in such an ever-so-nice BBC accent, “I’m not allowed to play with you because you’re not our class.”  So, she played with no one and we played with the other kids in families that lived in Burton Hall which had been turned into apartments, rented by people of “not our class” in support of the fox-hunt and cricket lifestyle.  Ironically, Burton Hall was in Lincolnshire, 20 miles from Sherwood Forest, and I love to believe that Robin Hood dealt with the ancestors of the owners.

Burton Hall was moldy and had rats.  There was a narrow staircase between the kitchen wall and the bathroom wall that led to the floor above that we referred to as the attic because of the pitched roof.  Just looking at that door I could imagine a nobleman (using the term loosely) locking away his wife up there forever, of course, without matches.  I only went up there twice and always with my dad.

On the ceiling in the kitchen 12 feet above the sink was a 4' by 4' mirror It posed a complete mystery - was this a two-way mirror for the ghosts in the attic to spy on us or to remind the person cleaning the dishes to stand with good posture?  We never knew.  But it was pretty spooky to be washing dishes and look up to see yourself.

Occasionally, we had visitors stay overnight – military families who had just gotten transferred to Sturgate AFB.  Not long after an adult visitor swore he saw a ghost one night, it was time to find more modern accommodations, and we moved to Summerhill Cottage built in 1802.

Cottage meaning similar to the “cottage” in the movie Sense and Sensibility.  Huge.  You can find the estate on the Internet, but the land has become a housing development and another, much smaller house, has taken the name Summer Hill Cottage.  When I lived there, the house was surrounded by 30+ acres of land with horses and rabbits running around on it.  I remember wondering at night if my soul could enter a horse while I slept and run like that.

We lived in the converted stable, and our front door opened into a wall-in courtyard, much smaller than the Burton Hall “yard” with smaller buildings that used to house tackle and wagons, but were now used as car garages and sheds.  Our living room was about 40 feet long and my brother and I used to run from one end, ram into the couch, and tip it over. One time, the ceiling in the kitchen collapsed, covering everything with oats.  

All the heating in both those houses was done by fireplace.  If you can imagine a 40 foot room with 12-foot ceilings being heated by a small fireplace in the corner of the room.  Are you beginning to understand the name of this blog?

We were closer to Gainsborough township and on Saturdays my mother and I walked down the lane and into town where there were market stalls set up in the street.  I was warned to stay away from the gypsies because they were dangerous people, and that was clear because they had pierced ears.  Later, when we were transferred to a base near London, we lived in Minster Lovell village and one summer weekend, gypsies set up a fair on the green at the end of the main road.  I saw the beautiful wagons they lived in and their big, black horses and I wanted to run away with them – for many reasons.

While we were living at Summerhill Cottage, we heard from Grandpa that there was a wild stallion coming around the farms and the mares were running off with him, so that he had to keep Ginger in the barn corral.  The stallion was called “the Ghost” because he was white and nobody seemed able to catch him or shoot him.  There was a $1000 reward for anyone who could get rid of him, and I remember fantasizing that when we got back, I’d find that horse and get that reward.    

As soon as we returned from England, we drove from New Jersey to my grandparents’ farm.  Ginger had two foals by this time – Dusky was two years old and Buck was just a pony.  Grandpa let them run wild.  Word had gotten around about that and while we were visiting, a “horse-breaker” came to visit.  He was tall and red-headed and rode an Appaloosa.  His career consisted of riding around the country breaking horses.  I couldn’t imagine a better life and he remains in my mind as exciting as the circus.  In fact, this cowboy was the inspiration for my novel, TOM’S WIFE.  I wondered if my grandma found him exciting too.  Although, he would have been a lot younger than she was at the time, I was only 9 and I’ve never forgotten him.  Grandpa didn’t let him break Dusky or Buck and I would have liked to have seen that.

I stopped visiting the farm when I was in high school, preferring to hang around the swimming pool, but I did once go horseback riding at Breckinridge Park in San Antonio.  Those horses didn’t seem well cared for and my horse threw me and ran back to the stable. 


When my grandpa died, my dad didn’t want to keep horses, but when I returned to Texas from California I lived near a horse farm in West Texas and drove out there every once in a while just to see them.  Recently, the closest I’ve come to a horse has been at the racetrack.

Video of horses (with music) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chBUJWtTHtM

Music interlude:
Run with the Wild Horses - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-f11ZV7I7n4

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