When I was a kid we used to celebrate my birthday at a steak house called Taste of Texas. These days it's a great big restaurant that is so popular you have to wait for two hours to get a table. But back then it was dimly lit, intimate restaurant in the shadow of Town and Country Mall. I cared nothing about steak, but there was a horse-drawn carriage at the restaurant that would take you on a nice little tour of the area after dinner. This was the number one reason we went to Taste of Texas every year. To put it mildly, I was obsessed with horses. Truly obsessed.
I would spend a great deal of my birthday dinner outside the restaurant petting Bob the horse and talking to the carriage driver. As soon as dessert was eaten, my dad would join me outside and we'd pay the carriage driver to take us around. It was the highlight of my birthday. One year (I think I was turning 9) my dad was explaining my out of control love for horses to the driver and somehow by an act of God the woman offered to sell us a pony for $75. This pony's name was Coco and the woman and her family had used him for pony parties. I was ecstatic. It was the happiest day of my entire life. I could not believe my dad said yes!
Very soon we went to meet Coco at this family's farm. I was immediately smitten with my equine friend. As they say, love is blind and this love was no exception. I did not allow the fact that the first time I sat on him, he went to the bathroom, or that he then squished my leg up against a pine tree, to cloud the glory of my horse ownership.
It was not long before we moved Coco the Wonderhorse to our family farm in Waller, Texas. It was only a 40 minute drive from our house - an incredibly beautiful drive, in fact. My dad basically grew up on that farm and I think he enjoyed being there as much as I enjoyed my adventures on horseback.
Daddy took care of all the saddling and bridling. He would trot Coco and me around on a lead rope when I got bored of walking. He rescued me countless times when Coco ran me into a barbed wire fence (definitely intended for cows, not horses) or rubbed my leg against a tree trunk. That little pony was ornery. He knew exactly what he was doing but I was so infatuated I would never admit that he didn't genuinely love me and care for me.
Then there was that time when he took me under a low branch. I knew we were headed for trouble because the branch was definitely not high enough for me to duck under. He would not be steered away from it, so I closed my eyes and held my breath. Next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground. I'm sure my dad had some choice words for Coco the Wonderhorse, but all I can remember now is how he looked cutting the branch of that tree. I can still picture him - his black hair and his back to me, his arm going back and forth as he sawed it off.
Dad would show me different parts of the farm where he did this or that as a kid. He would tell me about riding his own Shetland pony out there - Pony B. Pony B was so bad, his legs had to be in restraints when he was ridden. One time the whole family thought it would be great to remove the restraints for my dad's turn to ride. Pony B took off like greased lightning toward a bull. My poor dad was probably terrified, but everyone looked on and cheered, "Ride him, Keith! Ride that Pony B!" I love how hard my dad laughs when my aunts and grandparents tell that story.
One ornery Shetland pony, one young dad, one young girl, one farm in Waller, one collection of amazing memories with the man who raised me.
My horse fascination continued up through junior high, when I upgraded to a quarter horse thanks to my Pappaw. Once boys entered the picture in high school, that season of my life drew to a close. Now, I would still put horseback riding on my list of hobbies. I still take any opportunity to ride that I can get. I still like to sketch horses on my worship bulletin at church sometimes. I still love the smell of horse sweat and would choose it over perfume any day. But that hyperventilate-with-excitement feeling did fade over the years. Which is probably best anyway.
What did not fade, what has in fact grown, is how much I love my daddy. The time we got to spend together driving out to the farm and riding that silly horse bonded this mama's girl and that young dad who wasn't sure his daughter needed him all that much. We had something special together that Mom and Melissa weren't a part of. Who knows what we talked about on those car rides, but I do remember chatting it up all the way. On the way home, we would stop at a little shack called JR's Chicken and get a huge Coke and a bucket of chicken. That place is no longer there, but we have often talked about how much we wish we could go back. Our family farm was sold years ago, but Dad and I have a standing date for a trail ride every time we go to the mountains.
Daddy, thank you for getting me a pony. I know now that Coco didn't really love me. That he didn't really deserve the title of Wonderhorse. That $75 for a horse of that caliber wasn't that much of a bargain. But I knew then and I know now that you love me. And you definitely deserve the title of Wonderdad. I love you with my whole heart. Happy 51st birthday.
Your goofy kid