I meet the man who lives next door. He comes driving up to our shared “falling down fence.” Gerry Black is his name. Jerry seems to be an old man to me. When I first met him he is only ten years older than I am now. I am currently 65 years old. Gerry drives up to the fence in his old Ford flat bed truck. The truck is highway department yellow. The truck bounces across the non road of Gerry’s rolling oak savanna. How all the “stuff” on the flat bed stays put is beyond the scope of any ones understanding. At 75, Gerry is still shoeing horses and does a fine job. He eventually becomes my shoer. I learn very quickly to take away his truck keys so that he does not leave a horse unfinished. I bring him gallons of coffee and Costco muffins while he shoes. Sometimes of shoeing takes all day to get three to four horses done. He is an excellent shoer and a fabulous story teller. I love the stories.
We meet over the cobweb fences that keep his herd of twelve to twenty cross bred Belgium work horses off my irrigated lands. Jerry knows how to drive horses. As I get to know him better he tells me stories of digging irrigation canals with a slip (ditch digger), logging in the woods of the Cascades, gathering wild horses from Pilot Rock to Mt Shasta with his dear friend Buck. I meet Buck who becomes a friend of mine as well.
These old men hang out on cold winter days at the local (no longer standing) café called the “Milky Way.” They sit there for hours drinking stale coffee and telling vibrant stories. I often find my way to the café just to sit and listen to men who are vanishing into the mists of time and to remember their stories. I am so aware that I am living on the cusp of time that will vanish before my eyes. I must live the adventures of my life or I will never have the vanished opportunities again…
One morning Jerry says,
“Bout time we put together that pair of Morgan horses you have always dreamed of having.”
“Sure” I reply. “I can hardly wait.”
Currently I have two Morgan horses on the place. Suzie, my mare, and Woody, my gelding… I use them for everything necessary on the ranch and often for the unnecessary things as well. I just ride for the love and fun of riding.
I am so excited about driving my pair of horses. Gerry and I (really it is just Gerry as my job is to just sit and hang onto the seat of the old auto tired wooden wagon.)
Gerry uses one of his very broke Belgium Crosses, Jug, as a breaking horse with my smaller mare Suzie. He moves Suzie to the right side of the pair and put the horses through their paces.
“Always break horses in the winter. They don’t get overheated and mad.”
Gerry continues with his wisdom of experience. “You don’t get mad either. Too cold and wet to get mad.” He drops another pearl of wisdom. “Never use a hammer on your wife or husband, your truck or your horse. Use the tool as it is intended and learn how to use the tool.”
Then comes another pearl on this necklace of knowledge that I continue to learn from Gerry. “There are no shortcuts. Don’t hide behind the problems. Drive the horse beyond the problem. If they won’t stand. Teach them to stand. You got to teach them to stand with a silk string holding them and to pull the weight of the world behind them. A horse is very smart. Do the job right the first time.”
I sit with a master horseman upon an old wooden farm wagon that has seen better days. The tongue of the wagon is a tree with the bark still on it. Gerry drives the horses as a perfect pair. What I would give, if I had the funds, to send him to the East Coast driving competitions. What an art this man holds in his hands. He can drive a pair. Gerry begins to talk about putting together a four-in-hand of Morgans.
I start looking and will continue to look for the next twenty years until I figure out that driving is pair is “good enough” for me. At one time I own and drive three pairs of Morgans and can put together a four-in-hand with that group. I can drive the four by myself but realize just how dangerous and fool hardy driving four by your self really is. I keep to my pairs. Now let us return to Gerry.
One of the best parts of learning to drive a pair is gathering up Gerry’s horse that we use a partner to each one of my horses.
“You cannot train a horse by the clock”. Gerry lives by his own time and sees the world only through his own eyes. He NEVER has his horses ready when I show up with my Morgan. I ride my mare over to his old wooden pole barn. I ride out on his 250 acres in search of the big horse herd and run them into the barn. I have a surreal experience on these fall mornings searching out the horses that are the colors of fall leaves and watching them gallop to the barn with their hooves thundering and their manes flowing behind them.
Yes, we could lock up old Jug so we wouldn’t have to catch him each morning, but then I would miss my leaves, the bucks, and my gallop. For the first time in many years, I have the most precious commodity of all things. I have TIME. I enjoy my ride rather than worry about “saving time” by having Jug locked up
I am forever grateful to my “formal driving lessons” from some of the best drivers in the world. All those hours of driving in California carry me to a height of appreciation of formal driving that I would never have obtained if I did not have the art of “perfection.” Behind me. Now I am content to sit beside a master driver disguises as a “Cinderella” , covered in farm dirt and wood smoke and dirty clothes, knowing full well, in my heart of hearts, that Gerry Black is able to perform as the driver of a golden coach going to the ball. Such is the fabric of my dreams that slowly weave into the fabric of my reality.
I learn to drive pairs very well and with great joy and purpose.