‘I always had a horse to ride’

From our April 2012 issue

By Elsie Kipp – Wilkie, Sask.

Horses have played such a great part in the lives of mankind during the ages. They are still used today, though in a much more limited way.

I’m not sure how far back the dog association goes, though I read once that Roman armies used geese for their alarm systems around their camps, if that can date the dog somewhat.

Dogs today certainly play a large part in peoples’ lives. I really enjoy reading the horse and dog stories in The Senior Paper.

There is an old cowboy saying that includes the horse and dog, as well as a friend: “A man should count himself lucky if he can look back on his life and say he had one great horse, one exceptional dog, and one true friend.”

I feel very fortunate to have been born on the ‘tail end’ of the horse and buggy days. I had the opportunity to take part in so many horse doings, like helping dad bring home a load of wood, help with the cow chores, sleigh rides to visit relatives and neighbours, or go to town.

As a child and onwards, I always had a horse to ride, with a dog trailing along.

Years later, my favourite horse job was making hay. My husband used a John Deere AR to cut the hay, but I drove our team on the hay rake, first raking the hay into long rows, then into piles.

Sounds were almost music

We’d load the hayrack towards evening, then ride home on top of the load sitting in the fragrant hay. Sometimes, a huge yellow moon would already be rising and quite often we’d hear the wild howl of a coyote.

The evening would be cooling after the long, hot day and the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the turning wagon wheels was almost music.

Though I loved a Palomino horse and we had a few, my ‘great’ horse was a liver chestnut mare. She was born and raised here on the ranch and trained by my husband.

The bond we had was quite something! Because I had a back and knee problem she seemed to sense that and was ever careful not to do anything suddenly and to stand very still for me to mount and dismount. She lived to be 32 years old but suffered with arthritis the last two years.

My exceptional dog was called ‘Crusoe’. He was definitely a one-person dog, and protected me whether I needed protection or not.

My dad and I used to tease him. Dad would put his arm around me and Crusoe would go ballistic, barking, growling, pushing to get in between, staying just barely short of biting dad.

He did threaten to bite anyone who even looked threateningly at me. He used to wait at the gate at the exact time I would be coming home from school.

Went Wagon Trekking

After the mechanical age took over and horses were relegated for mostly pleasure and hobbies, we were lucky to meet up with some horse-people who had taken up covered-wagon trekking.

What a great time we had reliving the good old days every summer!

During the years I had and have many friends, but one stands out in that we shared a great passion for horses. This friendship endured nearly 60 years.

The covered-wagon treks were very special to us. We travelled many miles where wilderness areas still exist. We preferred out-riding, but took our turn driving the team.

At day’s end when our horses were looked after and the evening meal was done, we sat around the campfire singing cowboy songs and telling stories.

One of the wagon-drivers was an ‘earlier than usual bird’. The moment he stepped out of his wagon, his horses would start up a chorus of ‘wickers’ that woke up the whole camp.

This ‘wicker’ is a special horse language that is very endearing to a horse-lover. It says “Hello, oh boy, here comes the feed” and a “Thank you” all in one.

Sadly, my friend and I had to give up riding a few years back. I had the great pleasure and joy of giving my saddle and bridle to my granddaughter this year.

Elsie (in yellow) on ‘Bonnie’ during Shellbrook, Sask., trek in 1990.