Heroic Horseman

it-happened-to-me
Michael Delrizzo Illustration

The summer of 1966 was a pivotal year for me. I had finished high school and would enter the university in the fall. My summer plans involved getting a job to save money but also enjoy what I would be doing. The local YMCA ran a summer camp and needed a horseback riding instructor.
When we lived in New Mexico, my father had been in charge of the riding stables at Walker AFB in Roswell. Since I spent all summer at the stables and most weekends riding during school, I could feed, saddle and instruct in the art of Western riding. My position as a senior camp counselor put me in charge of a bunkhouse full of campers, with two counselors under me to help. Before breakfast, I would rise early and hike to the corrals where all of the hungry horses would meet me after a whistle or two. I fed horses at the barn, and hiked back to the mess hall, to eat with my campers, then I would head back to the barn to gather horses and bridle them and bring them to a riding ring to await my first class of riders. My days were spent with 90-minute sessions, teaching novice riders, about 10 years old, how to be safe while learning to brush the horses, saddle them, and then, over the two-week camp, learn to ride.

All horse-related activities required a knife, from opening feed sacks, cutting twine on hay bales and sometimes cutting leather for a quick fix on a bridle or saddle that needed repair. My jeans were tight and I often had to reach in my pocket for my 3-blade stock knife while balancing a hay bale on my knee or while restraining a horse that wanted to move away. At this point, I decided to carry a sheath knife as well, thinking that two knives were better than one; the sheath knife might be better for prying, and the blade was longer. This knife, made in Solingen, Germany, had a 4-inch blade with the tip broken off, and a handle of stacked leather washers. I am the only son of an only son, and the knife, like all of my guns and knives, was a gift from my beloved grandfather. This knife rode on my hip for several weeks and became the knife I used most, since it was readily accessible and fast into action—not requiring two hands to open.

Other counselors involved in archery, boating, etc., may have carried a small pocketknife, but my fixed blade always drew glances and questions. The most common: Why do you carry that knife? My best answer was always the horses and their care. Then one day in the riding ring, I had 10 horses spread out around the fence, tied by their bridles, and students were grooming the horses before riding. My job was to ensure safety by keeping the boys from walking behind the horse or another horse and getting kicked.

All was going well that day until a horse stepped on a boy’s foot and somehow the tennis shoelace got caught in the horseshoe. The boy pounded on the back of the horse’s leg to get his foot free, started yelling, and when the horse lifted his leg the boy went along for the ride. The boy screamed. The horse put his foot down several times, attempting to rid himself of a 90-pound screaming anchor.

My student’s panic increased, which caused the horse to try to “throw off” the boy by raising its leg even higher and shifting its hindquarters around violently. I could imagine the horse breaking its reins and running off, dragging my student and stepping on him, putting his life in danger.
As I rushed to grab the boy upside-down by the waist to keep him safe from the hooves, I pulled my sheath knife out and quickly cut the tennis shoelace that tied the horse and the boy together. The rest of the day, my mind reeled with images of a boy being hurt during my classes, and I thanked God that my handy knife prevented an accident.

Since then, for the past 45 years, I feel somewhat naked without a knife on my person, and I always carry a spare folder in my car for those few days a year when I rush away from home without a knife. In 63 years, I have never been sorry that I carried a knife, but often regretted the times I was without one.

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  • http://www.next2thetracks.com Tracks

    I work around horses all day and can tell of several very similar stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as horse panicking while tied and almost injuring themselves. People should not be around horses without a knife. Many prefer folders because of the possibility of falling from or with a horse while riding and having a fixed blade stab you during the fall. There are however certain fixed blade sheaths now made specifically for riding horses and I believe the risks of not having a quick knife handy outweigh those of having one. Folders for really well too so long as you can get to them in quickly in an emergency.

  • http://www.next2thetracks.com Tracks

    *I meant folders work really well too*