Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Hi-Ho Silver


Rod Thompson



FROM OUT OF THE PAST COMES THE THUNDERING HOOFBEATS OF THE GREAT HORSE, SILVER!  THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN! And with that the Lone Ranger and Tonto galloped out of the past, out of the radio, and into the hearts and minds of millions of boys and girls who sat eagerly enthralled in front of their radios listening to the exclusion of all else. Happily, I was one of them.

I remember an instance when I was hovering as close as possible to not miss a single word or shot and my dad was sitting across the room behind me.  After a few failed attempts to get my attention, he reared back in his easy chair, as they were then called, raised his feet into the air and simultaneously slammed them down on the floor, clapped his hands loudly together, and yelled “HEY!”   He got my attention, after which he laughed heartily and told me whatever it was he wanted to tell me.   While he was talking, The Lone Ranger on Silver and Tonto on Scout galloped at least five or ten miles, shot three or four outlaws, and rescued a damsel or two in distress. Now, I ask you, how important could what he had to say have been when I can’t even recollect what it was, and that was only sixty years ago. 

After that came television where we got to actually see them doing the galloping and who can say they weren’t thrilled when the galloping was accompanied by The William Tell Overture? And then there was Gene and Roy galloping across the screen before slowing down to an easy walk that allowed them to sing while millions of kids groaned and cried, “Oh quit singing and go shoot somebody.” 

In between walking and galloping are trotting, loping, and cantering and a few miscellaneous other gaits.  All simple enough, yet I see them frequently misused.  Although I spent the first years of my life on a South Dakota farm, rode a horse to school, and generally know the difference, I did some research to make sure I was portraying them accurately and found it quite interesting.  And like many things I research, I found I didn’t know as much about the subject as I thought. As in most research, there are more specific details to be had but I found this information adequate for my needs. You may want to delve deeper.

There seems to be two main gaits, the “natural” gait which most horses do without special training, and what are called “ambling” gaits which are footfall patterns that occur in certain breeds but frequently require many hours of special training, ones that can be called for on command. In order by speed, they are walk, trot, canter, and gallop, some with three beats and some with four. In western terminology, a canter is called a lope. 

Walk:  Averaging approximately four miles per hour, is a four-beat pattern with the left hind leg being followed by the left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg in a steady 1-2-3-4 beat.  While walking, one foot will always be raised and the other three on the ground except the brief instant when weight is transferred from one foot to another. The advancing rear hoofs generally overstep where the advancing front hoof touched the ground and the farther the overstep, the smoother the ride. As the horse speeds up and loses the four beat gait it moves into the Trot.

Trot:   Trotting is a two-beat gait varying widely in speeds, generally averaging about 8 miles per hour.  Trotting very slowly is also called jogging; a fast trot has no special name, and in harness racing, the trot can be faster than the gallop of a non-racehorse. While trotting, the horse’s legs move in unison in diagonal pairs causing much movement of the head and neck for balancing and is the “working gait” for horses.  Cantering and galloping can only be done for short distances at a time before needing rest to recover, but well-conditioned horses can maintain a trot for hours.  It is the main way for horses to get from place to place quickly, but is difficult for the rider to sit because horse’s body actually drops some between beats and bounces up again when the next step hits the ground.  Every time a pair of legs hits the ground, the rider can be upwardly jolted out of the saddle and coming down, meets the horse which is on the way back up.  At most speeds above a jog, experienced riders post to the trot, matching their rising up and down rhythm with that of the horse so as not to be jolted, and it is also easier on the horse’s back.

Canter (lope):  A three-beat gait faster than a trot but slower than a gallop with an average speed of 10 – 17 miles per hour, depending on the length of the horse’s stride.  A three-beat gait is just that, sounding like beating a drum three times in succession…rest…three more beats…rest, etc.  The faster the horse is moving, the longer the rest.

While cantering, one rear leg propels the horse forward and is the only hoof touching the ground while the other three are moving forward and the following step timing and hoof movement is complicated and too lengthy for this writing but non-the less important. An extended foreleg matched with an extended hind leg on the same side is called a lead and important in various situations such as setting up the horse properly for a jump over fence, log, or stream. When the horse jumps over something, it is stretched out, typically taking the first two steps of the galloping stride with its back legs and making contact on the other side of the obstacle with its front two, thus completing the stride.


Gallop:  Very similar to a canter only faster. Although The American Quarter Horse in a short sprint of a quarter mile or less can make up to 55 miles per hour, the gallop typically covers about 25 miles per hour with the three-beat cadence changing to a four beat and covering more ground. Moderately paced gallops can sometimes go longer distances before the horse becomes winded and needs to be slowed down, most can only make a mile or two at top speed.  Unlike people, horses will not slow down when they begin to weaken to protect themselves.  They will go full out as long as their rider asks them too, oft times until death.  Riders switching between two horses will generally lope, allowing the horsed to fall into a comfortable pace that matches each other.  Keeping an eye from above, the rider can tell when their nostrils begin to flare in order to take in more air signifying the time to switch.

Thoroughbred horse races are seldom longer than 1.5 miles, though Arabian horses are sometimes as far as 2.5.  In fact, there is a Bedouin belief stating “The Arabian horse was created by Allah from the four winds...His Spirit from the North, Strength from the South, Speed from the East, and Intelligence from the West and will take care of its owner as will no other,” which is why I chose them as the horses of choice for The Black Hills.  Lop Ear is a purebred Arabian and Horse is a Mustang/Arabian.

How’s that for a sneaky segue into my series, The Black Hills Thrilogy -- I found that misspelling a few months ago and have been having fun with it since.  Book #2 in the series, The Saga of Jane Hicks, is already number four in the nation and Troy only released it on the 6th.  I know it is fourth because I was told it was so by the fellow interviewing me last night in my dream.  Unfortunately, I awoke to find that fact to be incorrect but that’s also what happened with my dream about Raquel Welch: wish that one could have lasted about another three minutes.




The Saga of Jane Hicks is about the protagonist in book #1, of course, Cormac Lynch, being sent a letter by a woman he never heard of demanding he come to the rescue of her and her children since he was responsible for her husband’s death in a gunfight. The story is complicated by the facts that he is newly married, doesn’t want to go, and he will have to pass through the territory under control of the mighty Sioux Indians who all want his horses, scalp, and his bride’s red hair – and one Indian has him measured for a spit.  It’s further complicated by the fact that he knows nothing of the dangers. He only knows what he reads in the letter from Jane Hicks he finds in his pocket when he wakes up on the ground, miles from anywhere, with no memory.  Troy let me design the book cover which is actually a photo of one of the story’s fans and an authentic 1874 Winchester. 
 Also on the 6th, book #1, The Black Hills, was re-released by Penguin Berkley with a foreword written by James Drury, the star of The Virginian TV series who called me to tell me it was the best book of any kind he has read in years.  I haven’t been able to get my hat on since.

My thanks to anyone who came to read this and double thanks to anyone who stayed till the end. I’m  obliged.           

  HIHO SILVER! AWAY!!!!!!!!


19 comments:

  1. Very nice, Rod. There is some good stuff there.

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  2. Rod, I'll keep this post in mind when I write about horses. I always wanted a horse but never got one. Congratulations on your #4 spot (in your dreams) and let's hope that becomes a reality. You've got a fascinating premise for The Saga of Jane Hicks, and you're in very capable hands with Troy as a publisher!

    Cheryl

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    1. Thank you Ms. Pierson, and thank you for your opinion of The Black Hills. Coming from you, it is high praise indeed: " Rod I wasn't sure I would like it, but it grabbed me from the very beginning, and I never lost interest. Got it before I had my kindle, and the font was small, but that was my only complaint. The reading material was just riveting, and I couln't wait to get back to it when I had to put it down." Love it Cheryl, thank you so much. Your new best friend, Rod

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  3. Rod, I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the Black Hills Thrilogy. I plan to review both together on the WF blog as soon as possible, so I won't say anything more about either.

    In the meantime, thanks for bring back some cherished old memories about the Lone Ranger and Tonto (less so about Gene and Roy, whom I always want to stop singing and go shoot somebody, too). The radio days were long gone when I was growing up, but my whole family never missed an episode of the Lone Ranger on TV. I think I was more taken by Silver than by any of the humans, but my sister and I did pretend the be the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Never ones to be constrained by traditional gender roles, she and I made our younger brothers play the bad guys. ;-)

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    1. Thanks Kathleen, Remember the scenes of them up on a hill when Silver rears up with the lone Ranger in his perfect outfit just before he rides off into the sunset? Loved it.

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    2. How could anyone forget that iconic image, Rod? "Hi-ho Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilver! Away!" :-D

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  4. Excellent, Rod. The Lone Ranger sent so many of us down the Western trail. He certainly grabbed my attention and interest.

    And thank you for the information about horse gaits. I have bookmarked it.

    Keith

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  5. Enjoyable post today! I came along too late for the radio shows but loved watching The Lone Ranger and others on TV. As for the gaits, some of us are still receiving chiropractic care as a result of "pre-posting" rides on trotting ponies.

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    1. Thanks for coming Vonn.. I hope the chiropractors do good for you. Rod

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  6. I'm still smiling, what an informative post and I loved the segueway into your books. Nicely done and thank you. Doris

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    1. I like smiles. Thanks Doris. Rod

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  7. That is indeed some valuable info, Rod. And while I am admittedly prejudiced as the publisher, of part 2 anyhow, I highly recommend both these books.

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    1. Why thank you Mr. Smith. You are a gentleman and a scholar and there ain't many of us left.

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  8. Rod,

    Some really good writing in this piece!

    Some very clever promotion!

    Some very good information about horse gaits.

    Yes, on the floor, ear close to the speaker of the large wooden radio with the 37 knobs. You could just hear those vacuum tubes humming as the words and sounds of the program swept over your young senses in the mesmerizing thrill of it all!

    Charlie

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    1. Charlie my friend. You hit the nail right on the head. Many of us have been there. Ever listen to "Straight Arrow" or "Bobby Benson and the B --Bar-B Ranch? Or watch Sunset Carson or The Durango Kid at the Sunday matinees? thanks for coming, Rod

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  9. What a fine post, Rod. I'm also impressed with your segue--well done. Congrats on your new release, and even though it didn't work out with Raquel, I hope your #4 in the nation dream actually takes you there.

    Be watching for your post on Romancing The West on May 22.

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  10. Rod, you have really done it this time! I reread Black Hills to ready myself for Mrs. Hicks...and also to slow down the clock so the story would last longer until you write #3. I have started the Saga and am having much trouble putting it down. Literally. I am getting nothing else done. I am considering calling in sick (hard to do when you own a ranch) and just curling up and giving in to it. Love this new one! Thank you for sharing your gift of story-telling.

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  11. I ordered both books for a friend and gave them as a gift this weekend because I liked mine so much. Thank you for bringing back life to the "Old West" as it truly was. Hope you are working on book three.

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