I was in Tallahassee recently, when I noticed several men in business suits wearing cowboy boots. I guess that’s ok…, but I’m pretty sure that boots were originally intended to be worn while riding a horse. And these guys certainly had not ridden to the capital or anywhere else for that matter. I suppose if you asked them, they’d tell you the boots were comfortable and that they liked the way they looked. Well… fair enough. But I think it’s also a way to pay homage to a particular lifestyle or tradition. This got me thinking about some of the “old Florida traditions” that we hang on to or even romanticize about in connection with raising cattle, which has been a way of life for generations here in Florida. As far as my family goes, I suspect that the “cracker cowboy” part of our family tradition may have ended with my father… and here’s why.
I know that many of you love horses and that’s just fine by me. My mother loves horses too. But me… not so much. Although I am actually pretty good on horseback and I’ve got a lot of experience with them, those experiences have been laced with some pretty painful incidents.
I’ve been kicked, thrown to the ground, head-butted, bitten, stepped on and scraped off on trees by these… animals. Don’t get me wrong, they are magnificent and powerful creatures and I really admire their stamina and beauty, but unlike a reliable and blissfully mindless jeep or ATV, they have a mind of their own. A mind that delights in purposefully and without warning jumping sideways, leaving you like a flipped coin on your head, or on your tail, in the palmettos. They then stay just beyond your reach, pausing now and then to taunt you… leaving you to follow them like some kind of sand spur covered horse stalker.
They also demonstrate this equestrian sense of humor when you’re saddling them. One of their favorite pranks is to simply stand on one of your feet. They wait until you’re distracted, adjusting the saddle, then they casually side step pretending not to notice as you flail around, howling and shoving uselessly on their thousand pound bodies. They will eventually let you go with an amused snort, but only so that they can set you up for their next “bit”. As you chinch up the saddle (while standing on your one good foot) they swell up their belly so that despite all your tugging and pulling and putting your knee in their girth, the saddle will only get as tight as they want it to be. The punch line generally comes about 15 minutes into the ride, when the horse exhales and you spin around upside down under his belly. My dad used to stubbornly ride the horse upside down for a couple of hundred feet. I suppose it was an attempt to prove to the horse that my dad had purposefully swung around in order to inspect the trail conditions… with his face.
To my relief, we sold our last horse a long time ago, but periodically I still somehow get talked into going trail riding. It’s actually something that many of you may enjoy and it’s a great way to experience Florida. The local outfitters are very competent and unlike me, they manage to keep well trained horses. But as my luck would have it, on my last family trip out west the outfitter had one horse that had ‘behavioral issues’. As she was carefully matching up horses with riders, I quietly waited with my arms crossed for the inevitable. “So are any of you experienced riders?” Silence. No one ever volunteers for this kind of mission. Minutes later, I threw my hands in the air, finally surrendering to fate. “O.k., o.k… go ahead and put me on “Psycho”. Fifteen minutes later, as I rode upside down hanging from Psycho’s belly, I stubbornly stayed in the saddle, inspecting the trail with my face.
The family tradition lives on.