Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Storytime: The Wagon Incident

At the ranch camp I worked at, a traditional Saturday was spent taking kids to and from a mud pit, so that they could indulge in the most kid-centric activity of all - a mud fight! I have many years of photos of myself, dripping in mud, and grass, (sometimes blood), smiling at a camera with mud caked teeth. Gross, but so fulfilling as a kid. (and, okay, once or twice as a teenager and adult haha) As a riding leader, you drove the flat bed wagons out, we had two teams - John and Luke, two big belgians, and two percherons, Charlie and Billy.

Charlie and Billy were my favourite, Billy - big, white, strong, and had the biggest most beautiful doe eyes you've ever seen. He had a long tangled mess of a forelock that he would peek out behind of. Charlie was big, black, and slightly nutso. However, I have a soft spot for percherons, I just adore them, and so I was pretty smitten with the two.

The morning of the wagon ride we would have to chase the "heavies" in from the field that they resided in through the week. This would, on paper, look like a seemingly easy ride. Push them out their field, past a small cattle guard and then straight up the road, through the river, and into the open corrals at the barn. In theory, it should take 5 minutes tops. However, the boys always had better ideas - and when I say the boys, I mean Charlie.

Charlie would generally circle around his field for ten to twenty minutes, at a full gallop, with me in hot pursuit, trying to deek and dive my way around him and push him out the gate so that he would join back up with his three bigger buddies. When he finally did, he would zoom off, generally charging past whoever was suppose to be helping me, and zip his big bum straight up a large hill that bordered the road. Generally one, or two, of the heavies would follow him, leaving one bewildered big horse confused and alone with us. Sigh.

It was at this point in the game that the "pursuit" would happen - I don't know how many times I've galloped screaming obscenities at that big black horse, but i'll tell you - you coulda sworn he smiled as you came wooshing after him. One of us would go up the hill after them, and the other would stay on the road and wait. On the top of the hill you would be lead through a forest, circle after circle, until Charlie decided where to go down - this was usually straight down a large rocky incline. From the road you would watch as two to three large draft horses barreled with all their might down a rocky cliff, one rider right behind them. All before your morning coffee.

From there Charlie would inevitably head for the "junk yard", an assortment of old cars and dishwashers, fool around in there for awhile, whilst I would be screaming and nervously keeping an eye out for any scrap metal that may impale me, or my horse. Then, Charlie would take his band of brothers through the river, the 3 - Luke, John and Billy would amicably saunter into the yard, while Charlie would try one more time to deek past you and fling himself back towards his field. Again, the whole time with a big, goofy, grin. I swear it.

For all the craziness, and swearing, that ensued during those chases, they are some of my most fondest memories. At one point the Rancher brought his Quad, and asked me to ride, while another guy was on his bike - he thought the odd menagerie of "vehicles" would freak Charlie out. Instead Charlie took it as a challenge - nearly trampling the man on the bike, and circling merrily at a full clip around the Rancher as he almost flipped his quad. It was laughable, it was erratic, and often, after all the swearing had died down, it was hilarious.

For all the insanity that was Charlie, Charlie and Billy were actually the most steadfast team we had, quiet, and easy-going, they knew their job and rarely strayed from their path, or even needed assistance. When I drove, the Rancher would plop himself beside me on the straw-bale captain's chair and soak up the sun, and chat with those on the wagon and we walked along the road. Being the youngest (very much the youngest), blondest, girl of the group I was always teased, and rarely trusted with the teams. "You're driving like a drunken sailor", "Look how far apart your legs are when you drive - you look like a.. well, I won't say it.. but...", I laughed it off - I liked the teams, I liked Billy and Charlie and I enjoyed spending time with the Rancher as he taught me how to harness and drive teams.
One day we headed out to the mud-hole as we would have any other day, Billy and Charlie ambled along - Charlie, always the lazier of the two, making Billy work more for both of their suppers. "C'mon Charlie, pick it up a bit" I'd call and he'd take a few quicker steps and then go back to his slow, meandering ways. This, the horse I had only a few hours earlier witnessed galloping like a freight train down a rock-cliff. Once at the mud-hole, the kids played and splashed, every so often we would have to call out "Hey! No running around the horses!" and they'd stop dead in their tracks, stare at the big boys, and pivot around and run the other way. You want a bombproof team? Screw parades - put them in the centre of a giant kid-filled mud-slingin' mess.

The kids headed down to the river to wash up and I rolled the wagon closer so that their towels and clothes were near-by. The river was freezing cold, and you could hear their anguished screams as they were forced to wash all the mud off their little bodies. A few kids had opted out of the mud-fight, and stayed back on the wagon with us - two older girls were suntanning, and a younger kid was hanging out near them reading a book.

I made a joking motion as if I was going to race the teams chariot style, and as soon as I touched the lines, I felt the wagon lurch forward. "Woah boys" I called out as I turned my attention back on Billy and Charlie, it was too late, all of a sudden my team was galloping like bats out of hell (there is no better description) making massive circles around the field. The Rancher started to yell "WOAH" and grabbed the lines, I still had the lines aswell, we were both hauling back and yelling as hard as we could - it washed out the screams of the kids still on the wagon. Thankfully, those older girls had some sense and grabbed the younger one and placed her inbetween the two of them. They got themselves right in the centre of the wagon and wrapped their arms over her and around eachother. I was pretty impressed.

We just kept circling and circling, by this time both the Rancher and I were laid flat back on the wagon, legs on the straw bale still hauling and yelling as fast as I could. Kids were emerging from the river now, and I could see the counsellors motioning the kids quickly back into the forest. Shit. I thought. Shit Shit Shit.

"The Bridle!"
The Rancher roared in my ear, "It's the goddamn bridle!"Sure enough, Charlie's bit was hanging lopsided out of his mouth - the leather had snapped. All we needed was for Billy to gain some sense and stop his out of control partner, but Billy was clearly just as nervous as we were. We were going Mach 10 right towards a treed area and then a barbed wire fence, my stomach was in a big ball and I looked back at the screaming, crying kids. Once again "Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit." passed through my mind.

Finally... Finally... Billy put on the breaks right before the trees, he had, had enough of this non-sense too. "Get Off, Grab Charlie!" The Rancher yelled as he attempted to clamber up. As I jumped off the wagon I yelled at the kids to do the same. I sunk knee-deep in mud and bog-slime and rushed as fast as I could toward the boys. By this point Counsellors were running towards us, towels and other belongings were scattered throughout the large field like the aftermath of a battle. The Rancher had heart problems, I'm sure an out of control wagon is not good for one's heart.

Billy's big doe eyes were sorrowful and sorry, I couldn't help but feel bad for him. He was foam-covered and breathing heavy, he was not a happy camper. I rushed past him and got to Charlie, grabbing his thick head between both my hands. I looked him dead on, scowl on my face I grimaced, "You big idiot".

He looked right back at me, I coulda sworn he was smiling...

Charlie, Billy, Luke & John.


  1. That is hilarious! Nothing like a little attitude from a big ole Percheron! Good thing no one was hurt though- nothing funny about a run away team.

  2. Haha I love the big ones! But glad no serious injuries though.