Story by Cris Paravicini
When I was a little girl I drove my family crazy by always wanting to ride anything on four legs - the milk cow, the workhorses, the sheep, and everyone's saddle horse. My Grandpa Noble, being one of my greatest influences when it came to horseflesh, was always helping me climb onboard his old ranch horses whenever I begged to ride. He always told me, "Now don't go fast, Crissie...till you're outta sight...then go like hell, pardner!" And of course, I always did whatever my Poppa told me. But, the fact was I still didn't have a saddle pony I could call my own.
My mom always kept track of what I was up to and must have noticed I wasn't ever going to outgrow my craving for the back of a horse. So one fine spring day, she cornered my Uncle Dick and dealt him out of his favorite mount - Bally Rabbit.
My very own horse! Boy, did I have big plans for that little, bald-faced buckskin gelding with the soft eyes, four stocking legs, and the biggest heart that God ever put in an animal.
When we brought him home, I quickly set up a rodeo barrel racing pattern with three 50-gallon oil drums in the upper pasture, and excitedly, began teaching him the only thing I knew. Go fast!
When no one was looking, I went like hell to the first barrel, made a wide turn around it; went like hell to the second, and turned again. I kept the wild pace to the third barrel, jumping the irrigating ditch in route, then turned the last barrel, and let Hell's speed take me racing back toward the barn. Then I did it again and again and again... Practice, I was sure, would make Bally Rabbit and me perfect. Lesser horses would have balked, soured, or taken advantage of a little kid's innocent energy.
Tirelessly, Bally Rabbit hung with me over the years. He would trot up to me whenever I called to him and patiently stand close to the corral fence or down in a ditch where I could easily drag myself onto his back. Other horses - when slack falls to the bridle reins - always ran off under the lowest branch of the pine tree, brutally scraping me out of the saddle. But, Bally Rabbit was different. If I let him sneak a bite of grass and the reins went limp, he just inched his way to the lowest pine bough, then rubbed me off his back, carefully, politely.
Whenever he missed his horse buddies, Bally always called out to them with a high-pitched nicker that sounded something like a raspy blend of a spike elk's bugle and a mule's bray. Anyone within earshot would turn to see what was making such a pitiful racket, but I was proud of him, anyhow.
One day my sisters and I had clamored onto his back and then rode to a nearby gravel pile. Once there, we discovered the great sport of charging like cavalry riders up one side and down the other. Bally Rabbit's muscles bulged and strained in the summer sun as he tried his best to make us happy.
After the fun worn off, we jigged off toward home. Somewhere along the way, though, my buddy suddenly refused to go another step. We couldn't ride him; we couldn't lead him. We kicked and tugged, and certain that he was just being oddly stubborn, we tried to switch him off-center with a green willow branch. But, Bally just stood there blinking his eyes at us, stunned and confused - almost begging to be left alone.
We pulled the saddle from his back, took the bridle off, and left him alone in the willows while we raced home to get help. My dad finally coaxed him into staggering home; Dr. Reinow prescribed some sort of medicine and we waited to see if he would live or die.
I stayed with Bally Rabbit in the corral, it seemed, for days. I felt sorry for him one minute, then would get mad and cuss him for being sick and not tearing after the wind with me. His pink-colored nose peeled off in thick sheets from the high fever, and the skin beneath his lackluster coat felt dry and crackly like parchment paper. He stayed stiff and sore for days. Though our vet said otherwise, I knew it was my fault; I had hurt him, and it could have been prevented. Bally Rabbit was tough, though, and he pulled through. Happily, I got another chance with him, and we ended up having many wonderful adventures.
Then on a cold, bleak spring afternoon when I was in junior high, I got off the school bus and found my mom crying and my dad looking away from me, shaking his head. They told me what had happened.
All the livestock had been feeling frisky that morning when they went to feed, and so, too, had my old Bally Rabbit. They told me he'd nickered, then loped around the pasture with his tail and head held high, nimble and cocky as a young colt - enjoying what would be his last victory lap. The ground was slick from a new snowfall, and when he jumped a little ditch, he fell in a crumpled heap. Bally Rabbit tried to rise, but his brittle hind leg was broken and swung back and forth, sickeningly.
Neither of my parents could face shooting their daughter's favorite horse, so they called my grandpa. But before he could get to the ranch to end the old horse's suffering, Bally slipped and fell again, this time, breaking his hip.
That evening, I went to the place in the cottonwoods where all our special ranch hands must one day go - the loyal cow dogs, the pet sheep, the tough barn cats, the doe-eyed milk cows, and the honest work horses that never quit pulling more than their share of the load.
Bally Rabbit lie there, peacefully, among the scattered, bleached bones - his broken hind leg twisted unnaturally beneath him. I tried to straighten it out a bit, tried to make things right and heal the hurt, but I could not, so I sat down beside him, laid my head on his neck, patted his cheek one last time, and I cried.
The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted,
Cris Paravicini, 2000. No part may be reproduced without permission of
the author/photographer. Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 2000.