Our family was a member of the Cross Plains Riding Club. The arena still sits near Highway 36 in my little hometown and after 60 years, is still an active place. Children started off with Shetland ponies and graduated to larger horses. Heard of goat ropers? We actually did rope goats, dogs, each other or anything else that moved. Goat roping was a timed event and much more difficult than roping calves. Goats run faster and are more agile, sometimes doubling back and running under one’s horse which usually resulted in the rider being bucked off. The ground was always freshly plowed, though, and injuries were few. After a dad had the goat roped, his child would run to the goat, yank a little hair from its tail and run barefoot lickety split to the judge holding the stopwatch. If the men were roping calves that night, a ribbon was tied to the calf’s tail which the runner retrieved for the judge with the stopwatch. Many romances were started with girls “running ribbons” for boys.
Other favorite arena games of mine besides barrel racing and pole bending were the boot scramble and the rescue race. The boot scramble involved at least ten kids removing their boots and mixing them up into a pile at the end of the arena. Barefoot, we would mount our horses and run full tilt toward the pile, slide to a stop and hand our reins to a parent, put on our boots, remount and run our trusty steed back to the finish line. The lucky ones had siblings with boots just a tiny bit bigger (allowing for arena dirt) which would slip on easily without falling off on the gallop back. Having a fast Shetland was a definite plus with the younger group for a taller horse required jumping to a moving stirrup for remount.
The rescue race was much trickier involving a Yakima Canutt move. The stronger rider would run to the end of the arena, grab the arm of the lighter rider and using centrifugal force, swing her behind the saddle and ride double back to the finish line. Not all horses care to be ridden double and bucking was always a risk if the rescued wasn’t careful about keeping heels out of the horse’s flanks. My best friend and I were vaulted into the dirt one evening, requiring shampoos before bedtime. We just couldn’t believe that Old Mousey had bucked us off!
These games were nocturnal, occurring under arena lights, the moon and stars. No one could bear to do all this running and roping under a summer sun and one certainly couldn’t take boots off. But in the evening, the ground was cool and we played and competed for paper ribbons and glory. Even our ponies were friends. Squeals and nickering noises proved their gladness to see each other every Saturday night. Our mothers stocked and manned the concession stand with pimento cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, sodas and admiration for their brave and daring young ‘uns. The Blackfeet Indian Tribe called this activity O-Mok-See or riding dance. The Californians called it Gymkhana. We called it the most fun we could possibly have on a Saturday night in Podunk.