Ken's View: Billy Boy
By Ken Robinson
A girl who lived across the highway had a horse. I saw her once in a while and riding the edge of the road. That must have been what made me want my own horse. I was 14 and wanted to meet that girl.
In that adolescent blur that impels us as we grow from child to teenager, some selfish force led me. It all seemed to happen at a trot.
Our neighborhood still had the remnants of a city-farm look. One place had chickens roaming. In the swale at the base of the hill, another family had a worn-out old nag in a make-shift structure. They had a crude barn where they stomped grapes for wine. They offered us a water glass full when we would visit.
On our side of the highway, there was a father-less family of five. That Spring, the absent father sent the oldest child, Monty a golden palomino mare from his home in Arizona.
He named her Goldie. She was tall and leggy and ready to run.
Monty was my contemporary then, but he has long since passed. He was quiet and capable and built a small corral for Goldie and kept her behind their house on the highway where the land sloped gently to a low spot.
Monty seemed older than our mutual age. Rust red hair and an often sour expression added to that impression. Some of his friends had a criminal history. Ricky B, he told me, had once broken into a drugstore and stole condoms. He and another kid stole an old Buick and dumped it in a field. Ricky smoked cigarettes and had a ducktail hair style. He wore short-sleeved shirts with the sleeves rolled to hold his pack of Lucky Strikes. He looked defiant.
There was no barn for Goldie to sleep in on cold and wet nights. There was only the small open-ended shed where bales of hay were stuffed. In there, a sack of oats perfumed the shed.
It seemed like Monty was speeding ahead in life.
My transportation was a Schwinn ‘Corvette’ bike, bought with a loan (and a co-sign from Dad) of $100 from Ben Singleton Finance in White Center. When Monty got Goldie, my bike already had 100,000 miles on it. The mudflaps were gone. The plastic streamers which once flared brightly from the handle grips were also gone. The tires were thin and the spokes were loose.
One Saturday, I read the classified ads in the Post-Intelligencer and found a listing for a Welsh-Quarterhorse for sale. This breed seemed exotic to me, the type of horse that might be the envy of all my contemporaries.
The price was $300. I convinced Dad to take me out to see it.
In Federal Way, there was a big make-shift corral on a muddy vacant lot trampled by horse hooves. A small ratty mobile home was in the middle of it all and a stubby man in a white cowboy hat stood near the door.
"Billy Boy" was chocolate brown with cloudy white dapples on his belly. The cowboy told us the horse was a ‘trick pony’ trained to respond to voice commands. We had no saddle or bridle so we could not test ride. We learned Billy Boy was 13-years old and 14-hands high.
I believed Billy Boy would be glad to leave the muddy yard and told Dad I wanted it. The cowboy said he would deliver the horse. We went home, talking about where we could keep a large animal in our yard.
There began a string of improbabilities. We lived in a neighborhood in north Highline. It wasn’t ‘country’ and it wasn’t city. Neighbors had small gardens and manicured lawns.
We had no good place to keep a horse. We had no barn and no corral. When the cowboy showed up, all we could do is tie Billy to a stake in the yard.
We had no feed for a horse. We had no bridle, saddle or saddle blanket or any of the accoutrements of horse ownership. All we had was a halter the cowboy gave us. Billy Boy began his stay in a part of our yard the size of a garage.
Within weeks, we set about to build a one-horse barn and small paddock. Dad somehow knew how and a pretty red horse barn with white trim slowly arose behind the garage. The barn had a hay loft and a ladder. We found hay from Eastern Washington. and grain from the feed store in White Center.
That Christmas, we went to Duncan and Sons in Pioneer Square and bought a Western saddle and bridle. The rich smell of crisp tanned leather surrounded us, shopping for horse gear, horse shoes and nails and something called Gentian Violet to help keep horses healthy.
While the barn was under construction, we boarded Billy Boy in the little corral down the hill where Goldie lived. The barn took a few weekends to build. Monty told us Goldie was pregnant. I don't think Billy was the father. One day, Billy Boy kicked Goldie in the belly and the foal was lost. At the time, this seemed sort of matter-of-fact, something horses did. In the slow brain of an emergent teenager, it was just a fact.
We moved Billy Boy into his new digs. He seemed happy. He produced a lot of manure. We piled this ordure behind the new barn where the aroma eventually was noticed by neighbors.
I was anxious to show my brothers, now four of them, what tricks Billy Boy could do. In the front yard, I told him to ‘walk’ and he walked. I told him to canter and he cantered. I told him to trot and he trotted. Dad took 30-seconds of an 8mm movie.
The cowboy had told us Billy Boy would buck if you poked him on the rear. This was true and we did a test poke and he bucked a little.
On the second day of horse ownership, I put on a clean white dress shirt and saddled Billy Boy. We left the yard and walked down the hill to Monty’s place. Goldie was in the corral and dug at the ground when we came into view. Our trek led us toward the rough sandy road that traced Salmon Creek to the salt water.
I knew that path from previous hunting expeditions with a BB gun.
The road was closed at both ends of a narrow canyon. We stepped onto the soft earth and headed toward the bay, about a half mile west.
This lonely place seemed like a good track to test Billy Boys pace. We side-kicked his belly and he began to trot, bouncing us as we hung on. Suddenly, the horse planted both from hooves and I flew over his head onto the soft sand.
Shocked but not hurt, I stood and took the reins. Billy Boy was impassive, possibly glad he could show me this new trick.
Back in the saddle, we walked toward home.
I never again saw the girl from the other side of the highway.
Two years passed and my cowboy days had faded. I ran an ad in the PI. A man called to say he wanted to buy a horse for his daughter. It was a Saturday. I had already boarded Billy Boy at Monty’s.
On my Schwinn Corvette, I rode fast down the hill to Monty’s paddock where Billy Boy waited in the paddock. My front wheel collapsed as I turned sharply into the field. The bike was broken. My other ride was leaving my life too.