When I was four years old, there was no question in my mind as to what I would be when I grew up. The answer was obvious: I would be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl; a cowboy.
These western fantasies were not unusual for children of my generation. They were stoked by radio programs (The Lone Ranger!) and Saturday movie matinees. By the time I was six or seven, most families (except ours) had televisions, which led to shows about Gene Autry; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; Hopalong Cassidy (I still have two plastic place mats featuring him and his horse, Topper); and Sky King (a flying cowboy with a cool plane!)
So in 1949, when I made my first trip to Door County, WI, it seemed logical that I would find myself learning how to ride. What I didn’t know was that “Uncle” Roby–my dad’s best friend–had goaded my parents into it.
“How can you have a life when you have to drive Nancy everywhere?” he demanded of my mother. “She’s what–four? She should learn to get around on her own!”
Although this thought hadn’t originally occurred to my parents, my dad and Roby were so close that they thought alike, and Mom knew when she was outnumbered.
I honestly don’t remember much of this event except what my dad captured on black-and-white film. I remember looking down at him running beside me as the thirty-year-old gelding named Tommy went into a prim trot. I thought he was possibly running away with me, but I held on, unafraid.
My real riding adventures, however, didn’t begin in earnest until I was six and tall enough to reach the stirrups astride an English saddle. And that’s when my world began to change forever.