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I don’t ride anything that can make its own decisions

Posted: April 17, 2014 2:22 p.m.
Updated: April 18, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Camden is, without a doubt, a horse town. Kershaw County is a horse county and the love for horses extends throughout this great area of South Carolina. However, it stops at my door.

Please, before all you horse lovers charge to our offices to tar and feather me, allow me to explain. I am not saying for a second that I hate horses in general. Far from it. But that does not mean I love them, either, and I have my reasons. Read on.

When I was a little boy in the early to mid-1960s, I wanted to be a cowboy. Didn’t we all? "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," "Rawhide" and the like ruled the TV airwaves of the two stations we could watch in rural Missouri and I watched them faithfully every week.

When I was around 7 years old my daddy took me to a rodeo in a slightly larger town about 25 miles away. As a door prize they held a drawing to give away a pony. The announcer talked about it all afternoon and my excitement grew with every word he said. I just knew in my heart that the pony was going to be mine. Looking back, I’m sure now that hundreds of other kids there thought the same thing. But, only one of us was right, and it wasn’t little wannabe cowboy Gary Phillips. To say I was disappointed would not even begin to describe how I felt. I was crestfallen, heartbroken and downright depressed.

After that, I begged incessantly for a horse for weeks on end. I guess daddy finally got tired of hearing it and did something about it, probably just to shut me up. Or maybe because he was a good daddy who loved his little boy, and he certainly was that. Well, whatever his motivation, he set the wheels in motion to get me a pony. We raised cattle and I think he arranged some sort of trade for the pony instead of just buying it outright, but the truth is I didn’t care how he got it. The main thing is, he did get it. I had my horse! Dodge City, here I come! Maybe after that I’ll head on over to The Ponderosa and hang out with Hoss and Little Joe. Oh, how I loved that pony.

But, that all changed one Sunday afternoon. Living in the country as we did, we had room for the horse with a small corral-like area that had a large sort of shed where the pony could get out of the weather. The shed even had a trough inside so the pony could eat in shelter.

On this particular day, my own personal "day that will live in infamy," I was riding the little horse around the fenced-in corral area. I obviously did something wrong, because the horse suddenly took off, running totally out of control with me hanging on for dear life. It headed for the shed and to get inside it had to step over a 2-by-4 board at the bottom of the open doorway that was part of the structure’s framework. But this pony was in a hurry and instead of stepping over the board, it jumped. WHAM! I hit the top of my head on the top of the door frame. Once inside the shed the pony turned into a prize-worthy bucking bronco and continued to jump up and down spinning in circles, with my head hitting the ceiling with every leap.

I have no idea how many style points a rodeo judge would have given me, but I probably could have won some kind of trophy just for the length of the ride. Unable to get me off its back, the pony went back out of the shed, jumping over the board and hitting my head one final time. It tore around the corral and turned sharply enough to throw me off – right into a big "sticker bush." I don’t know the name of the bush, but it was the kind with a thick, purple stalk and tight clusters of green seed pods and plenty of stickers. Plenty.

My entire family was out there and I came up out of that bush screaming, as loud as I could, "Kill that thing! Shoot it! I hate it! I don’t want it no more!" Love turned to hate in less than half a minute.

We kept the pony for a while after that, but I had no interest in riding it or even looking at it. After all, it tried to kill me. I wasn’t about to be its friend. I guess it lived a really boring life after that and it would chase calves around the pasture and daddy finally got rid of it, probably in a trade similar to how he got it. I didn’t care and never missed it.

For years after that daddy loved to tell that story and as a kid it embarrassed me to no end. Now I can see it probably did look pretty funny to anybody watching, even my loving family. I got a few knots on the head, some sticker bush scratches and a badly bruised ego, but I recovered from it all, except for one thing. My love for horses died right then and there.

(Gary Phillips is a staff reporter for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email responses to gphillips@chronicle-independent.com.)

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