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The first time I was introduced to a horse was when I was a kid in the Bronx, and my mother had taken my twin brother Pete and me to the Bronx Community Hospital to get vaccinated for small pox. There was a little park there, and on a walkway stood an enterprising photographer with his saddled pony right next to a water fountain. I think it cost one quarter to have a photo taken of your child sitting on top of the pony, and our Mom went for it making us two happy cowboys. Somewhere in a cardboard box is the five by seven black and white photo of me sitting high in the saddle. As I was growing up, I remember seeing it in our family photo album many times and reliving the pure joy of being a top of that beautiful creature. Best of all, I can still feel my young legs astride the horse’s back, the leather reins in my left hand, the raw odor of his hide, the exciting feel of his wiry hair as I caressed his long mane, the shock of seeing his animal soul when he turned his head to look at me sitting up there being one with him that magical while. I have been superabundantly in love with horses ever since.

I was almost a teenager when I got my next chance to be a Bronx cowboy. But importantly all during the seven years in between time I had with my vivid imagination been riding with Tom Mix whose 5:15 in the afternoon radio program transported me and Pete to the western range galloping alongside of him as Straight Shooters brave and true partners ‘till the end of the trail. Oh, how we loved being with Tom “in Texas when the bloom was on the sage…” with him “…in Texas home a riding on the range.” And so it was when June Ann Lannon, the girl who lived across from us, sashayed over to me one morning on Glover Street and invited me to “go riding” with her, I naturally said, “Sure!” To my astonishment she told me that she owned her own horse and had it at a riding stable called Split Rock up in Pelham Bay which was where our Dad had taken us fishing many times. Who knew there were horses up there in the woods by the Bay, too?

The next thing I knew I was sitting high on top of a retired racehorse named “Seven” alongside of June Ann who was sitting on her horse, a black stallion named “Smoke.” I remember hoping I looked as great on top of my horse as she did on hers. I know I was trying to sit as tall as I could in the saddle ‘cause her stallion was bigger by far.

The owner of the stable, a tall German man with a mustache, a heavy accent, and named Hans Richter, insisted that he ride with us on the trail, since June Ann had told him this was my first time on a horse. I hadn’t told her about the long ago adventure sitting for a photo on a pony in the park or my imaginary galloping all over Texas with Tom. Anyways, we had ridden about a mile together through the quiet woods, and as we for some unknown reason changed from a walk to a canter, Richter asked me if I was Polish. I was surprised by the question and told him yes indeed I was, but how could he know? He said he could tell because I was a “natural rider” – he said I had a “good seat.” June Ann looked over at me with an admiring smile, and I suddenly felt I was really Tom Mix -- even though I was riding my horse while in a sissy, English saddle.


czaja36@yahoo.com


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