1 Jan

Forty Miles An Hour In A Lawn Chair

                                       

The racetrack is a world within a world. It can be a dangerous place, injuries and death happen all too frequently, but you can make dear friends at the track; especially, if you work on the backside where the horses are stabled. Everyone on the backside can be divided into three groups: those who are addicted to gambling, those who are in love with the equine beast and those for whom the equine is merely a means to provide a job or for a few to make a fortune.

The gamblers are lost souls to be sure and only one out of 500 or maybe a thousand ever builds an estate with winnings; most gamblers funnel the memorable wins they score right back through the betting windows, but those wins become memories enshrined as gambling mythology and the efforts to duplicate those legendary wins become mystical like the search for the Holy Grail. Thus the gambler becomes one of many lost legions of forgotten people who exist solely to keep racing alive.

The horse lovers are in a precarious position; for they know deep inside that racing is one of the hardest sports of all for the equine and that injuries happen all to frequently and death is always waiting. They often choose to ignore the obvious contradictions and spend their time caring for the horses and giving them comfort during their often all too short lives. Like concubines for gladiators, they willingly give their love to these superb athletes and move on when necessary. Sadly, these most dedicated of care givers end up hollow shells within a couple of decades, they are often bitter people who are dedicated cynics and view almost all other humans as lesser beings.

Of the people for whom the horse provides an income, a group that includes me, there are those who are born under the right star and make a fortune, but even these with luck and skill must be wary, for even the greatest can stumble and end up ruined and destroyed financially. For every successful jockey, vet, trainer, farrier; there are at least twelve or twenty more that are standing around hoping to get that one big break that will launch their career. Most of them will never get that break and of those that do, a large percentage will let that measure of success destroy them as surely as the moth flies into the flame. The temptations are never in short supply for those who enjoy a measure of success and the giving in to temptation helps to soothe the pain from years of rejection.

One of my favorites from the group for whom the racetrack provides a job was T Red Booker. He was an old man when I met him, a Black Cajun with a bright yellow color to his eyes. We hit it off immediately, I suspect it was because of his rural upbringing in the woods of Louisiana and his interest in healing remedies and cooking. He was a groom for one of my big outfits from New Orleans. We talked for hours on cures for hoof rot, puncture wounds, poultices, shivers, fever fighters and then we would talk about our favorite cooking techniques. He liked to hear about my experiments smoking bacon and hams, my recipes for moose nose, elk liver, grizzly heart, and he told me about stuffed quail wrapped in bacon, snapping turtle fries, smoked alligator, and 20 varieties of poke salad.

Like me, he wasn’t interested in gambling, and he knew he was at the terminal position in his station in life, so he was above all the desperate struggling of the average race tracker. T Red was content to watch the others struggle for their goals; consequently, he was an excellent mentor for me at this stage of my life.

I once asked him if the name T Red meant anything in Cajun or Coonasse as he would say. He said that as a lad that no one could outrun him for any distance between a quarter mile and a mile. He had once raced a famous stakes horse at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans for a quarter mile, even though the jockey was running too close to him in an effort to scare him. In their language the name meant Fast Red. In his younger days, his hair was a reddish color before turning gray, the name stuck. So he had been T Red Booker ever since, one of the few men that could outrun a horse.

Booker and I were like a lot of people I’ve met in the horse world; they were just born in the wrong period of history. They were much more comfortable with horses and all things associated with an earlier time of civilization than they were with mechanical and electronic things of more recent times. We are often left with the feelings that are probably accurate, that we just don’t really fit in with modern society, thus we congregate on racetracks, ranches, and farms. We ride, drive teams, pack, and work on horses to keep a dying culture alive for a few more generations, mainly because there really isn’t anything else that holds our interest. Oh, we are a varied bunch, every shape, size, and color; usually, we are a bit rough around the edges for sophisticated types; some are educated and others have never been to school; there are friends and there are enemies, but the best among us can size up a horse or a rider within two strides and we all respect a gifted horseman for what he can do.

For several years, I looked for T Red’s outfit to pull into Chicago or Kentucky; we always had a homecoming of sorts and a period to catch up on the news of mutual acquaintances. On one of these occasions, I was sorry to see T Red was on light duty with a terrible limp. I asked him what was wrong and he said he had an ingrown toe nail that was giving him problems.

The next day, I had to shoe a gelding for T Red’s outfit and T Red was going to hold the horse. I was there about 10 AM and most of the track work was over for the day until the races started after lunch. T Red brought out a comfortable folding lawn chair and sat down while holding the horse. Between the relaxed nature of the two of us, the horse was very cooperative.

T Red had an old shoe on his right foot and had cut out the leather around the area of his big toe, the toe was about three times bigger than normal and looked like it was ready to explode. T Red fell asleep with legs out in front of him, so I was real careful not to step on his sore foot while clinching the front shoes.

I was working away and noticed that T Red had dropped the leather lead shank on the ground. The horse was really easy to work with, but he was still a race horse and if he took off it would be trouble for T Red, so I wrapped the leather lead shank around the arm of the lawn chair, just in case, and went back to work.

I couldn’t help myself, I kept looking at that infected big toe; suddenly, just as I was finishing the hind shoes, I had a brilliant idea to help T Red. I lifted one of the horse’s front legs and brought it out in front of him with his knee locked straight. I aimed the hoof and brand new aluminum shoe with its steel toe grab right over that ingrown toenail that needed to come off of that toe, in the worst way. I lifted the foot up and down several times to be sure of my aim and let it go. The steel toe grab was right on target with a couple of hundred pounds of force as it landed on the base of that toenail. Immediately the corruption exploded out of that toe and T Red woke up emitting a horrible scream that scared the horse and caused him to lean back without picking up his hoof. This action ripped the ingrown toenail from the big toe and it was draining well at this point and triggered more screaming from T Red.

There was another problem; I had forgotten I had wrapped the lead shank around the chair arm earlier. The horse pulled back until the lead shank tightened, which took all of a millisecond, when he felt the weight of T Red in the chair, he spun around to the right until T Red was behind him; now, T Red was making the situation considerably worse by screaming blood curdling screams while reaching for his foot and throwing his hands in the air. I was at a loss to do something useful, but I just stood there watching the drama unfold all too quickly. All of this strange behavior by T Red caused the poor horse to become scared; suddenly, the horse decided to leave this loony bin and he took off at a dead run. Thankfully, this made T Red quit screaming and he looked at me with a a blank expression, but what could I do, I could never run that fast. As the horse gained speed with the lawn chair and with T Red bouncing along beside him. It was amazing how long the chair stayed in the upright position, because that horse was gaining speed with every stride, but when the chair started to tip over backwards, the lead shank came undone and the horse lost his curious load.

No one really understood how the accident happened and I didn’t want to tell them about T Red falling asleep on the job or how I wrapped the lead shank to the arm of the lawn chair: everyone figured it was just one of those unusual race track accidents that are bound to happen now and then. T Red’s big toe healed up in a few days and he felt better almost immediately. He received a few bumps and bruises when his lawn chair flipped over, but all things considered, he did pretty well.

I’ve always maintained, you need a little luck when you play this game called life and I’ll admit, I’ve had my share of luck. The country has absorbed some bumps and bruises the past few years, but I think we will emerge stronger and smarter. Sometimes, we just need that horse hoof with the brand new shoe to drop on our sore toe, to wake up and get better.

About Skook

A professional horseman for over 40 years, Skook continues to work with horses. He is in an ongoing educational program, learning life's lessons from one of the world's greatest instructors, the horse. Skook has a personal website skooksjournal.com featuring his personal writings and historical novel type stories.
This entry was posted in Daily Distraction, Education, Entertainment, Humor, Socialized Health Care and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 at 11:22 pm
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12 Responses to Forty Miles An Hour In A Lawn Chair

  1. Poppa_T says: 1

    I love it when you make me laugh Skook. Unfortunately I don’t agree with your conclusion. I believe that we have crossed the point of no return…that point being where the takers outnumber the producers. There is no “democratic” way back to where we once were. To quote Heinlein “… when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death…” . And we are hemorrhaging from our spending. It’s not just our entitlement programs it’s our defense (war) spending and our corporate welfare as well, not to mention our unfunded liabilities.

    Our society has become a democracy where every Tom, Juan and Abdul, in some States virtually regardless of citizenship, can vote their political agenda without considering the consequences. An untreated ingrown toenail isn’t the equivalent of our Nations current status, I fear we are closer to untreated leprosy and it will take much more than a quick but painful fix to get us back on the path of liberty.

    Just as an FYI I work down here in south Louisiana with several T’s… T-Tim, T-Aint (pronounced aunt) and T-Bob and according to them if you’re a Jr. you’re also a T. So Tim Jr. would be T-Tim, or in your case T-Red. Of course I did get this explanation from a bunch of coonasses so they might be yanking my chain.

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  2. Skook says: 2

    @Poppa_T: Thanks for the feedback, your points are well made. Especially the definition of “T”, it was forty years ago for me, and the memory is a little cloudy. However the explanation brought a smile to my face this morning; perhaps, I had my chain pulled back then.

    Thanks again, work will go a little easier today.

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  3. Brother Bob says: 3

    Between guns and the Fiscal Cliff dominating the news something lighter was needed – great piece, Skook

    And I’m really grateful you weren’t around last weekend when I was dealing with two ingrown toenails!

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  4. Skook says: 4

    Bob, your problem sounds twice as bad; it’s hard to get a horse to go through that frightening situation twice, but if they were both on the same foot, with careful aim, I might be able to get two for one.

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  5. Beth just south of Berkeley and just east of San Francisco says: 5

    Aside from having milked a cow, and grown up in a town with a real county fair, my life experience is about as far from yours as it can be, Skook. We had chickens in the ‘burbs, on the edge where they gave way to the country, and we raised a sheep there once. My Daddy had a general store when I was a wee thing, and did his own butchering. And I went out with him and a brother for catfish, trout and abalone. I did learn about shooting from him, too. Otherwise, it was hanging out on ranches with hippie friends, where I did actually have lessons reinforced about chores and living where you couldn’t just pop down the block to a store at any time.

    It’s not just that I learn more about critters and the wild from you, but I learn more about character at the same time. That’s why I like your posts so much. Not only are they entertaining stories, they remind me that if I ever have to dig deep down inside myself to survive some time, I will have the spirit to use the skills that I do have. The surviving thing goes for our country as well. Every little bit will help.

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  6. Skook says: 6

    @Beth just south of Berkeley and just east of San Francisco: Beth, it sounds like a wonderful upbringing, you should consider yourself lucky to have had those wonderful experiences, but more importantly, I detect the strength of a survivor in your words. Believe me, survivors aren’t necessarily big tough guys; no not at all, survivors are people with the confidence to know they can reach deep inside and do what ever is necessary to survive. I am proud of you Beth. With confidence and a nimble mind, you can handle situations that will destroy many people.

    If only more Americans had your confidence, we wouldn’t have all these self-designated helpless victims with their hands out.

    Keep that positive attitude and be ready for anything in the future, things are likely to get worse before they get better.

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  7. SKOOKUM
    VERY INTERESTING, IT HAS REMINDED ME OF ONE BROTHER IN LAW
    a real gambler, he start by working in a poker game house his older brother own,
    where nobody knew except the customers, he was making money but re spend it there,
    then he went to buy a horse race, SARGEANT RHUM BEAUTIFUL COPPER COLOR,
    he had won a couple of races, every day he would drive 20miles to be with the horse in a stall
    he was paying near a track he could exersize with the horse
    and SELKY, I got to go a couple of time with my sister to watch,
    THEN AFTERWARD HE PUT HIM ON RACES BUT NO WIN CAME SO HE TRY TO DOPE THE HORSE, NO WIN BUT A SECOND PLACE AND THIRD PLACE, FINALLY HE GOT EMPHYSEMA
    AND STOP BEING ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF THE HORSE, AND SOLD IT, HE NEVER STOP BETTING IN RACES, HIS BROTHER WAS IN BIG, BUT HE WAS MAKING MONEY FROM OTHER GAMBLERS,
    THE WHOLE OF HIS FAMILY WAS BETTING OR TAKING BETS WHICH WAS VERY LUCRATIVE IF YOU DON’T BET IT BACK, THEY EVEN TRIED TO RIG THE HOCKEY GAMES, ONE START TO WORK ON THE CLOCK TIMER AND WAS EVENTUALY CAUGHT CHANGING THE SECONDS TO FAVOR THE BETS
    OF THOUSANDS BUYING THEIR TICKETS THEY WHERE MAKING THEMSELVES AND DISTRIBUTING EVERY WEEK, ANY KIND OF GAMBLING UNTIL HE DIED VERY POOR.

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  8. Skookum says: 8

    Bees, there are different types of race horses. There are Standardbreds who race pulling a sulky, and Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses that race with a jockey. Some of the ridden horses race over fences or on the grass.

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  9. SKOOKUM
    YES, LIKE YOU SAY THERE IS A RACE FOR EVERY CHOICE,
    I saw some on TV, I always love horses and to watch them is a pleasure,
    there is one that I ran in to on a tv channel,
    geez the name is on the tip of my tongue,
    it’s the person on a horse with a big stick riding on two different narrow roads and trying to out the other from his horse, oh they have the old metal outfit on their body and face, like the old time,
    I think it was in GERMANY , but the one I saw was from the STATES, I found very interesting,
    the horse has to be with special skill to be chosen. like fearless also

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  10. SKOOKUM
    FUNNY ,I TURN ON channels on tv, and found the missing word on a movie just beginning
    the WORD OF THE SPORT I WAS TALKING ABOUT IS “JOUSTER”
    IN THAT MOVIE THEY EVEN HAVE A METAL MASK FOR THE HORSE,
    I’m going to see the movie, it’s also a comedy
    bye

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  11. Skookum says: 11

    Bees: It is called “jousting,” to make it work you need a horse as dumb or as crazy as the rider. LOL

    They don’t make them like they used to.

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  12. SKOOKUM
    hi,
    the movie is a must see,not an old movie, because of the song in the backround,
    it begin very funny, but don’t kid yourself it slowly generate into OLD ENGLAND DRAMA,
    where it is played, it has for every body taste, hate love SPORT JOUST done perfectly,
    DRAMA AND BATTLE,
    HOPE YOU GET TO WATCH IT, YOU MUST WATCH IT, YOU WILL LOVE IT
    I bet it’s the only movie made on that sport, and made in AMERICA,
    BYE

    ReplyReply

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