Rusty

Grandpa had a horse named Rusty.

Our grandparents lived on homesteaded land in Nebraska and us kids spent summer days on the farm. We were handed an egg sandwich and sent outside in the morning and not let in ‘til supper. Kids were like dogs, it was felt, not civilized, not yet fully human, not fit to be in the house during the day.

So we’d go find our Grandpa—there was a pack of us at any given time, 4 or 5 cousins too young to work, too old for the playpen—and we’d say,

Can we ride Rusty?

Sure, he’d say, if you can catch him, you can ride him.

So, we’d get a rope from the barn and head for the pasture to catch Rusty.


Now Rusty was a huge old horse—at least from our perspective, belly-high at best—so we had to devise strategies to catch him. One of us would carry the rope, another one would fill his pocket with some oats, and we’d go forth. We figured Rusty couldn’t see us coming. He’d be calmly grazing, and we’d sneak up on him, get closer and closer, maybe as close as 2 or 3 feet away from him, and then Rusty would walk forward 5 or 6 feet and set to grazing again. We’d sneak up on him again, maybe closer this time, and he’d let us almost touch him before he stepped forward. Now this activity went on for several hours—an old horse and a passel of kids start-stopping across the fields.

At some point, with a capful of oats held out as a bribe, Rusty would come and stick his nose in for a minute. The cousin with the rope would attempt to toss the rope over Rusty’s neck and a cousin on the other side would catch it and run under his neck and if we were lucky, we’d have caught him. Now we could ride him.


Only we had to get up on him first. So, one kid would lead him up to a fence, as close as possible and the rest of us would climb up on the fence and when Rusty was in place we’d jump onto his back—theoretically at least. Rusty would stand patiently, head to tail near to the fence, and when the signal was given to jump on, when all of us were midair, Rusty would take one step sideways and we would all fall on the ground between fence and horse.


One time we all made it on, and Rusty walked calmly about 20 steps bearing his exuberant cowboys, over to the nearest rain puddle and lowered his head quickly as if to drink and we all spilled ass over ears into the mud. When we came into the farmyard streaming with mud and polliwogs, saying it was all Rusty’s fault for tricking us, Grandpa looked up from whatever he was fixing at the time and said,

That horse didn’t trick you, he is just smarter than you.

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August 29, 2021, 9:11:21 PM

Nebraska Stories