May 25, 2009 | | Comments 0

Short Horse Stories: Smokey Goes Swiming

Written by: Wendy Lafond

At 14 hands, Smokey was a pony by rights, but he was my horse, my friend, and my companion. We had many adventures together and formed a special bond that I still treasure today. He was four and I was eight when our friendship began. Our early years together were filled with learning experiences for both of us. He learned to enjoy the freedom I allowed him and I learned to trust his judgment.

I would ride bareback, with no bit, on the trails through the woods near my home in northern Wisconsin. Smokey knew his way as well as I did so, most of the time, I didn’t really even pay attention to where we were going. I had to practice my saxophone and I knew he would take care of me.

One day we were wandering among the trails on the far side of the woods, along the bank of the river. It was a very hot day in August and I was trying to get ready for the placement tryouts in band class. I really wanted to place in the jazz band. I gave him his head, told him to be good, and proceeded to find out that saxophones do not float.

I didn’t realize he had walked into the water until my foot was getting wet. I threw my music toward land to save it from getting wet, but my sax was fastened to its strap around my neck. By the time I got it loose it was too late. Smokey was swimming, I was sliding off his back into the water, and my saxophone was dropping to the bottom of the river like a rock. I was not a good swimmer, so I decided that holding on to my horse was a better idea that trying to save my saxophone.

Smokey Goes Swiming

Smokey Goes Swiming

I had never been in the water with a horse; even though I had watched others do it. My friend and often riding companion, Jill, had tried to convince me to give it a shot. She often swam in the same place with her Paint, Pizza, but to be honest, I was afraid. The fear left forever that day. It was such a feeling of freedom to hold his mane and allow him to propel me through the water. We swam for about an hour that day. My music sheets had gotten wet and I had to find a long stick to “fish” for my saxophone, but I found it and dried it off. It was really no worse for the bath it had gotten. When I explained to my mother why my music sheets had gotten wet she laughed and told me that she would replace them if it were necessary.

Mom told me to be very careful when I went swimming with him as his hooves were very sharp and she didn’t want me to get hurt. She knew that, even though I had always had a fear of the water, I had complete faith and trust in my horse and there would surely be other swimming adventures for us. She was so right! It became a regular ritual for us every summer, one that we both enjoyed completely and often. Jill and Pizza were thrilled to have regular swimming partners, too. The four of us spent many hot summer afternoons in that swimming hole.

As for the tryouts, I made the jazz band. To this day I thank my horse Smokey for that experience. He loved to hear me play and would walk calmly around for hours so that I could practice. Sometimes he would stop and turn his head for a while like he was listening. He was a very patient audience, trusted friend, and excellent swimming instructor.

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