I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but once upon a time, far, far away, I was a jockey. Really! A jockey.
Now that was not only many years ago, it was many pounds ago. Many, many pounds.
The reason I am bringing this up is I want you to be aware that horse racing is alive and well in North Dakota. Belcourt just finished their race meet, and the next two weekends the horses will be running at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo.
Now, I didn’t set out in life with a goal to be a jockey. But when I was young, I was the only young cowboy in our neck of the woods. And Dad and Grandpa always had a bunch of horses around.
The races were held every two weeks in Kenmare. It wasn’t just horseraces. The main event was the chariot races. I mean actual chariot races with big old thoroughbred horses going as hard as they could on an oval track.
We didn’t have a big old live-in trailer that could haul a family and a few horses. Actually, we didn’t have a trailer. No one did. We had a two ton truck that you would back up in the road ditch, strap saddles on the side, jump the horses in, hook the chariot behind, and head for Kenmare. Crowd five or six people into the cab and we were rockin and rollin.
I think we usually hauled two teams of chariot horses. Dad and Grandpa would each enter a team and share the chariot. There were some wonderful races. It wasn’t like Ben Hur. No one had those deals that cut another chariots spokes off. No one reached over and cracked the other drive in the face with their whip. I don’t recall anyone getting struck with an arrow or a spear, but they dang sure tipped a chariot over now and again.
I didn’t drive the chariot, but I raced out saddle horses. And I remember riding a big old gelding for Jack Brown, a neighbor from Berthold. There wasn’t a starting gate. You had a guy with a flag that would get us kind of walking in a line and when he thought we were pretty even he would drop that flag and yell. And away we would go.
That old red and white chariot was built in Millard’s shop in Berthold. It started out as a fifty-gallon drum. But with a torch, welder, wheels off an old Model T, and a great imagination, it became a thing of beauty. At least in my eyes.
I don’t know where it is now. The last time I used it, the chariot had a flat tire. I hooked Ben and Buck, Linseth’s mules up to it. I drove them around in the grain shed for a while. That one wheel didn’t turn. It slid. But that didn’t bother the mules. I did figure eights and trotted around in circles. I had a pretty good whoa on them. I told Shirley open the door.
She gave me that look. “Dammit”, I said. “Open the door”!
She shook her head and opened the door.
My whoa didn’t work then. Down the hill we went as fast as two big mules could run. Right into the corral. It didn’t bother the mules that the gate was closed. Wrecked a wonderful gate and a wonderful set of harness.
See you at the races in Fargo! You will enjoy it.