Saturday, January 2, 2010

HOGAN THE HORSEMAN: Equestrian adventures in his Irish childhood

As in childhood the world over, play can teach useful skills for later, grown-up lives. In John Hogan’s case, his roustabout schoolboy days found him learning to ride quadrupeds (in this account, donkeys in the field) in a rough field in County Limerick – a skill that proved invaluable later in life as he traversed often rough terrain in sparsely settled Missouri, north and south, on horseback. True to the Irish love of horses, Hogan remembers many of his mounts, their sturdy service and his care of them, feeding and rubbing them down after a long day’s journey.

From Fifty Years Ago: A Memoir -
Riding was one of our favorite sports in those days. We usually indulged in it on school holidays, or when the master was sick, which meant we were scott-free until he had got over the measles. Our riding-course comprised two large adjoining fields, called Barnhill and Feahmoor, which were traversed by lines of hillocks with sharp ascents and declivities and by steep earthen dikes or ramparts curtained by water. This was the topography of Feahmoor, where the riding exploits took place. The Barnhill was rather more rocky, and therefore more suggestive of cracked skulls and broken bones of inexpert young jockies. These fields, to the great delight of us youngsters, had a never-failing supply of lively, well-fed donkeys, young and old. Old donkeys were not boys' first choice, on account of their vicious habits, of biting their riders legs and rushing their riders against thorny hedges and stone walls. Young donkeys were more choice, as more inexperienced in warfare with bad boys, who usually wished to enjoy a ride without being put hors de combat.

To ride a fast young donkey and to hold on his back trotting and galloping and in spite of hoisting, kicking, and rearing, constituted a boy an undergraduate in assmanship. But the honor of a diploma was reserved for the final test, to be made with the rider's face towards the donkey's tail. At this tournament, it was against the rules, and was inconvenient besides, to use a bridle; but the rider might hold on to the wool as best he could. Success achieved under these circumstances was proclaimed by the whole field with vociferous rejoicing. Discomfiture, on the other hand, never failed to be followed by roars of side-splitting laughter, especially if the young knight-errant should happen to land heels up in a mud-puddle or in a ditch of water. Not every boy, after a defeat or two of that kind, would be willing to try it again; and boys with soiled jackets and pants and muddied shirt-tuckers were usually not gallant enough to face their mammas at home, for full well they knew what strong faith these mammas had in the virtue of the tough birch twig that was kept ready for use and that was well seasoned.