Whenever daughter my Jamie goes out of town for a few days, she leaves me in charge of her horses. Actually, I’m not “in charge” of anything and she knows it. The horses are bigger than me and they’re better trained, so they pretty much call the shots.
Jamie uses the phrase “leave you in charge” in order to motivate me. She’s challenging me to up my game and assert myself with the horses like a biped should. This is a clear case of manipulation, of course. Jamie knows how to handle large animals better than I do.
I don’t mind dealing with the horses when Jamie is gone. It’s mainly a matter of throwing them a few flakes of hay, leading them to the pasture, chasing them when they get away, apologizing to neighbors and the sheriff’s department, and lying about it when she calls to check on her prized steeds:
“How’s it going, Dad?”
“What? You say you’re sad? I can’t hear you!” I shout into my cell phone.
Then I hit the off button. It’s not necessary to bother her with the messy details of how Eddie got into Mrs. Barker’s carrot patch. Nor would it serve any purpose for her to know that Chilli figured out the fence again and that he is under the impression he still capable of procreation. Or that Floyd Patterson and his mares have no sense of humor.
The older Jamie gets, the more ambitious her horse activities become. She used to be satisfied with a little showing, a little trail riding and bit of local camping. But now she’s cooking up something big. Real big:
“Dad, I’m going to Tennessee. Andrea and I want to camp in the Smokey Mountains with a few girls from school. We’re bringing the horses.”
Mountains? I have visions of a small band of frostbitten young women leading exhausted horses waist deep over snow capped peaks against blizzard force winds and through narrow passes just inches from a plunge to certain death. I don’t think they should go.
“Dad, this means you won’t have to take care of the horses when I’m gone.”
“Oh… I think it sounds like a great vacation for you girls. Leaving soon?”
Jamie pulls out a brochure she had been keeping in a well worn copy of Cherry Hill’s Trailering Your Horse and hands it to me.
“Check it out.”
The brochure is for a place called Gilbertson’s Lazy Horse Retreat in Townsend, Tennessee.
“The peaceful side of the Smokies,” it says on the front. There is an illustration of a horse lounging in a camp chair with his feet propped on a stool and beverage in hand. I wish Jamie’s horses were more like that.
Inside the brochure, I learn that the retreat is near twelve of the major trailheads for riding into the Smokey Mountains National Park. You can even ride directly from the campground to the Park without trailering. Panoramic views and spectacular scenary are promised. And indeed, people can bring their own horses. There are stalls, paddocks, round pens and a pasture. Hay can be purchased. The girl did her research this time.
“This looks great. But isn’t it a bit far away?”
“The Smokies are only a day’s drive from here,” Jamie assures me.
“What about your horses? Can Chilli stand to be cooped up for that long? He thinks our pasture is even too restrictive.”
“We’ll make frequent stops. There are plenty of places to do that along the way.”
“How do you know about all this?”
“I read magazines. We’re going to stop and spend some time in Kentucky. At least one night.”
“Kentucky? What’s in Kentucky that could possibly interest a bunch of horsegirls like you?”
“We just like the food.”
“Well at least try to bring back some corn muffins for me. People in Michigan don’t know how to make them.”
“Dad, there’s just one more thing.”
“You’re afraid of bears?”
“No. Well, yes. But that’s not it. I need your truck.”
I blink several times and study Jamie’s face. I’m waiting for the punch line.
“Andrea’s truck needs brake work. We have to have a good one to take into the mountains.”
Bad brakes. Mountain roads. Horses. … oh, I see.
“But if you would rather spend next week chasing Chilli around the neighborhood, we could just leave the horses home with you. You can be in charge again.”
As an experienced manipulator, Jamie knew to leave the truck issue for last. Had she started with the truck, we would’ve stayed on the truck and I would not have had the opportunity to ask for corn muffins. That request made me an interested party in the success of the trip.