The Farm Chronicles: Three strand chord

My mother’s last words when Dad and I were getting in the truck were, “Carl, don’t you and Bill run that ribbon race.” We were going to an all-contest horse show in Orville around July 1969. All-contest means all the events are timed, fastest horse and rider wins. “That ribbon race” referred to by my mother was the last race of the day. It was the fastest timed event and the most dangerous. Two horses with two riders are timed around the arena with the riders holding a three feet strand of crepe paper ribbon between them. They can go as fast as they want, but the ribbon must remain unbroken as they cross the finish line. Just so happened that Dad and I had the fastest two horses in the state. Temptation ahead.

We didn’t sign up for the ribbon race—at least right away. As the day went on, we were accumulating trophies—Dad on Hollywood Hummer and me on My Holly String. Both horses were natural competitors. It had taken me a long time to get Holly quieted down to do the non-timed events, but now we were letting her run some timed events. And she was like lightening. Hollywood, a golden palomino, had never been beaten in the barrel race, and he had run the quarter mile within two-tenths of a second of the world record—with a full western saddle and a grown man, not a jockey. The more we won, the more the temptation of the ribbon race. Finally, I talked Dad into letting us enter. It was just the beginning of sorrows.

We lined up with the ribbon stretched between us, me on the inside, Dad on the outside. With a nod of the head, we burst out at a full gallop. Heading for the turn in the arena, Dad was leaning way to the inside to compensate for my smaller speedy horse. Then he leaned too far, Hollywood slipped and Dad and him went down. We broke the ribbon, otherwise when they regained footing we probably would have still won the race. People said it was the fastest half they had ever seen. But Dad had a problem when he dismounted. He couldn’t walk very well. It appeared that he had hurt his ankle in the fall. But we walked the horses out, and loaded up to get on the road.

A couple of miles out of town, the truck started wobbling. A flat tire. Dad could hardly get out of the truck, and of course we had to unload the horses, unhook the horse trailer, to jack up the truck and change the tire, which was mounted under the truck held in place with rusted bolts. When we got home, so late, Mom was furious that we did what we did. And after cutting Dad’s boot off, Doc Owens said the ankle was broken, but the boot actually set it and served as a cast. I think about this adventure often, and I still remember Dad herding cattle on Hollywood with his leg in a cast after being told not to ride for six weeks. I often ponder that verse in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that says, “a chord of three strands is not easily broken.” I wonder sometimes “what if” that ribbon hadn’t broken We will never know. We never ran that race together again—Mom saw to that.

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Bill Wilson