American History & Genealogy Project
The Horse with Attitude
The Horse with Attitude
Compiled by Kate Mullins
In 1930, shortly before I was born, my father bought a quarter horse mare at the local auction barn. Some man in Texas brought through a trainload of animals to sell. The drought was so bad in Texas he was losing his farm so my father got the mare cheap. For some reason he named her Frank, maybe after the man who sold her, who knows? Frank was a roan with a typical quarter-horse sturdy body and legs. She turned out to be a gentle, easy to handle saddle horse.
She also turned out to be with foal and later in the year gave birth to a filly colt. One look at the foal and my father knew that she had mated with a mustang stallion. The colt had the little round body and very long slender legs of a mustang and she was a paint—white with roan-red splotches. Around the red the dark skin extended about two inches and white hair grew over it, giving the impression of a dark blue strip around the red spots. My brother Harmon, who was about 6 years old at the time, claimed the colt as his and named her Patches.
By the time I was old enough to remember, Patches had been broken to bridle and saddle and was used as a sometime saddle horse around the farm. I say “Sometime” because sometimes she would let the rider stay on and sometimes she threw him. She could put her four feet together and as fast as lightening bow her back and pitch any rider who ever got on her. She not only could but she often did. She could also outrun any thing on the farm. Also, she could, and frequently did, jump any fence that my father ever built.
It was in the 30’s and my father, like most farmers then, was struggling to keep the mortgage paid on the farm and to feed and clothe the family. He announced one Spring that if Patches would not work as a saddle horse he would make a plow horse out of her. After one disastrous attempt to hitch her to a plow—ending with two farm hands injured, a set of harness hanes and collar ruined and one side of the barn kicked out—my father never mentioned plowing in connection with Patches again.
To say that Patches had Attitude was a mild statement of the true facts. And my father hated her—he just couldn’t stand having some animal get the best of him. By this time, my father had suffered several strokes and walked with a cane. Whenever Patches came within striking distance he would take a swat at her—and the feeling was mutual because Patches would kick or bite him—or both-- every chance she got. I guess you could say that they had a mutual hate society! She was nearly 20 years old before she EVER let my father ride her and even then he could not carry along his walking cane when he rode her. When she finally got too old to throw him she would just lay down on him! Thinking back, I often wondered why he kept her but I guess he was ashamed to put down a good animal just because he couldn’t ride her and I am sure that any of the neighbors who might be inclined to buy a saddle horse already knew Patches’ reputation for attitude!
But animals have a way of picking their own friends and they will often suffer many annoyances from children that they would never allow from adults. And so it was with Patches and me—I adored her and told her so often! As the baby of a large family I grew up as an only child in a household of teenagers and adults and I lived in an imaginary world full of pirates, cowboys, princesses and other marvelous friends. Patches often starred in these dreams as my steed. By the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I would spend hours with a brush and comb grooming the horse, teasing the burrs out of her tail and mane and trying out different braiding techniques on her mane. She would stand very still with her head held down so I could reach her mane, looking like a half asleep old plug nag. My mother worried that Patches would hurt me and my father gritted his teeth, cursed the horse, and watched—always at a good safe distance from the horse’s hoofs.
About my father’s cursing—no dull four letter expletives for him! He cursed with the creative flair of an Irish Traveler—he started with denouncing the horse’s ancestry, moved on to describe her current miserable ugliness and ended with a wish for her future. I recall one time he ended by saying that when the Devil came for her he wished that the Devil would take her by the tail, pull her rump first through the keyhole of Hell and dust her with an ash bag until she went blind. Now, early on, I knew instinctively that it was not a good idea to try out some of my father’s more colorful language on my mother. However, I was so taken with the imagery of the Devil’s keyhole that I did try to engage my mother in a discussion of what kind of locks the Devil had on his house. My mother gave me “the Look” and the end-all, answer to all questions not to be discussed, namely—“Don’t be silly”!
Patches always came when I called her—which was more than anyone else on the farm could say about her. It was particularly annoying to my brother who “claimed” Patches as his horse but could not catch her or ride her. I would go to the pasture, call her to me, and without bridle or saddle would lead her up under a tree with low limbs. She would stand very still while I shinned up the tree, eased out on a limb and slid onto her back. She would then ease out from under the tree and let me ride her bareback up to the back lot fence. She would always greet me with a nuzzling sound and put her velvet soft nose on me, trying to get whatever treat I might have for her. As I recall, carrots and turnip roots were her favorite treats but an ear of corn was welcome also.
Back in the 30’s in Franklin County the schools were segregated but the children were not. On the farm, black and white children played and worked together and on school days the road would be full of children of both races walking the three miles to Bude to school. But by the time I reached high school, all of the children were gone and I was left to walk alone to school.
In 1941 the WWII started; the roads were full of military convoys, and many strangers were roaming about. My father had had strokes and was unable to drive; my brother Harmon who could drive our old car was in bed with Polio. So my parents decided that I would be safer riding a horse to school than walking. Archie and Mary Newman, cousins of a sort, lived just across the road from Bude School. They had a fenced grassy lot with a small corncrib at the back where they let me leave Patches every day. So rain or shine, I rode Patches to School all during my high school years. My mother made me saddle bags out of cotton sack material and I had a large slicker for rainy days.
It usually took about an hour to ride the 3 miles. In the afternoons, I would wind the reins around the saddle horn and prop my book on the horn and read while I rode home. Patches usually plodded along but she could suddenly shy away from a strange noise or sight. For example, every day we crossed the bridge over Dry Creek. The sound of her hoofs on the bridge was like a hollow echo and she definitely did not like it. So, twice a day—coming and going—she stepped out on the bridge¸ turned herself sideways in the road, straddled the white line in the middle and pranced sideways across the bridge. Of course, this meant that any traffic had to stop until I could get the horse across the bridge. I am sure that many a driver sat very still waiting for this wild looking horse to toss me off her back at any minute but she never did.
Patches also had a thing about her ears getting wet. Our farm was several miles north of the Homochitto River and we could hear rainstorms singing up the river nearly 30 minutes before the rain actually fell on us. Patches heard it first and her plodding walk immediately turned into a smart trot and if I had let her, she would have begun running to reach the barn before the rains came. If we got caught out on the road in the rain, she would go immediately to the nearest tree or shrub and stick her head under it to keep her ears dry. Many times it was all I could do to pull her head out of the shelter and head on home in the rain.
I had started life as a cotton top but by the time I got to high school my hair was a yellow blonde, the color of pulled taffy. When I first started to school my sisters tried to curl my straight hair. After months of my squalling and fussing, my mother relented and let me grow long hair. By the time I was in high school I usually wore my hair in two braids that reached my waist. This was not the usual hairstyle for schoolgirls in those days. I mention this because the braids and the paint pony became the trademarks of my childhood—a familiar sight on the road every morning and afternoon. In those days Hy 84 was full of traffic; the greyhound busses ran regularly¸ along with army convoys and locals traveling to town.
The bus drivers usually slowed down as they passed me, partly not to spook the horse, but I think they also pointed me out as a “local sight” to the bus passengers.
I was 15 years old when I finished high school and went away to college and to work. I never returned to live in Franklin County although I visited my family regularly over the years. I was over 50 years old before local people stopped identifying me as “the little Mullins girl with braids that rode the spotted pony”.
After I left home, Patches continued to live on the farm. She and my father worked out a truce of sorts and eventually he began to ride her around the farm and down to Monroe to visit friends. She died when she was 23 years old. She had jumped the fence into the bean field and ate green beans. The resulting bloat killed her. My father wrote to tell me about her death. He said that he had found her and got the vet but there was nothing they could do to save her. He had the last word of a sort; he wrote, “I am very sorry she died because I know you loved her so much but it served the old nag right because she shouldn’t have jumped the fence in the first place!”
If I ever get to Heaven, I know I will see Patches—down in the pasture, head thrown back—racing the wind and jumping any fence God ever built!
Like I said, that paint mustang named Patches had ATTITUDE!
Contributed by Kate Mullins
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