Memoir

The Horse Trailer with Billy John

©Peggy Vurgason

Our friend Walter has a horse carriage business which services wedding, festivals and parades.

A few days before Memorial Day weekend, he called and asked if my husband George and I would help him out by driving one of his Clydesdales in the parade. The horse would pull his beautiful white Vis-a’-vis Carriage with town dignitaries on board.

We had helped Walter out a few times in the past by supplying one of our mules when he was short a driving animal. However, this time he was short a driver and didn’t need the mule. This was the same parade, that two years prior, our mule Billy John pulled the Vis-a’-vis Carriage with the town mayor and other dignitaries. What a beautiful sight he was! It was an honor to watch him

Saturday morning we left our house early in our truck, this time without the horse trailer and without Billy John. We dressed for the part, wearing patriotic shirts and hats. George was going to wear his work boots since he has a problem with his feet and his work boots are the most comfortable for walking. Instead, I advised him to wear his black cowboy boots because they look nicer and he would be sitting in the carriage.

Since we were not pulling Billy John in the horse trailer, we were able to stop at McDonald’s for a quick breakfast and be back on the road to arrive at our destination on time. I told George to head for RT 287N.

Once we got on RT 287, I put my head back and closed my eyes as I usually do on long drives.

A few minutes later George asked, “What exit do we get off?”

So I sat up and told him exit 35 as we were passing exit 33. Less than a mile later, exit 36 popped up.

“All right, what happened to 35? Are you sure you got this right?”

“Yes, I know for a fact that we are to get off of RT 287 at exit 35!”

“We are not on RT 287 anymore. You said get on RT 78!” he bellowed back at me.

Of course, I know what I said and there was no point in arguing. So I told him, “It does not matter who said what—just turn around and get back on RT 287.”

I sent Walter a text message telling him we were on the wrong highway and we would be there soon.

Then I thought to myself, “It is a good thing we are not pulling the horse trailer with Billy John.”

A half hour later we arrived downtown where the parade would take place. The streets were already congested with people pushing baby strollers and carrying chairs in search of the best place to watch the parade.

“From here it is 1.1 miles; we are almost there,” I tried to sound positive.

“Give me landmarks!” George demanded without taking his eyes off of the road.

“We are looking for Adam’s Tavern. It is on the corner of Franklyn Street. It is a white building with black trim.” I was doing all that I could to stay calm.

“Is it on the right or the left?!” George was not staying calm. Then he threw his arm in the air and said, “We must have passed it!”

I looked at him in dismay. “Didn’t you check the mileage when I said it was 1.1 miles?”

“Ugh, no. I didn’t check it, but we must have passed it! It would not be down this far. I am turning around.”

He abruptly pulled into a church parking lot to change directions. Seconds later we were back to where we started from and there was no sign of Adam’s Tavern and Franklyn Street. So I called Walter and told him we were in town, but lost. Walter’s voice was very stressed as I would imagine he was very busy harnessing up the draft horses.

Walter explained that we were heading in the right direction the first time. “Turn around and keep driving. You will come to Franklyn. Make a left. You will see us in the park.”

We turned around a second time. As our luck would have it, at the light before Franklyn the police had the road blocked in preparation for the parade.

We told the officer that we were in the parade and needed to get through. He responded with a smirk and said, “Why are you so late? You will need to drive around, this road is blocked.”

We headed in the direction that he advised and got trapped in a maze. Cars were parked on both sides of the road with little or no passing room. There were people walking in all different directions, some were dressed to be in the parade and other were spectators. We called Walter again and turned around two more times before finding him and the Clydesdales.

Then I thought to myself, “It is a good thing we are not pulling the horse trailer with Billy John.”

Walter nodded when he saw us coming. There were four Clydesdales harnessed and ready to be hooked up to their carriages. We helped him do what we could before he advised us to get into the Vis-a’-vis Carriage. It was time to head out.

I looked around the driver’s seat for a carriage step or any other form of entry. “How do I get in this thing?” I broke the tension with some comic relief.

“Put your foot up on the hub and climb up in there Cowgirl,” my husband so affectionately instructed me.

A problem for me is that due to nerve damage to my back, some days my left leg “has a mind of its own,” so George had to take a hold of my left foot and place it on the hub. Once I was stable, I could climb in the carriage.

I would do the driving and George would ride shot gun.

“This is Jack,” Walter informed us. “He is the quietest of all of my Clydesdales.” He proceeded to tell us that the brakes on the carriage didn’t work and to be careful going down the little hill near the bridge.

“You will be fine,” he said as he gave Jack a pat on the rump. “Follow me to the road.”

I didn’t think driving Jack would be any different than driving Billy John. Although I knew he would not respond to “Gee” and “Haw” since he was show horse and not a work mule.

However, driving Jack did not feel anything like driving Billy John. Jack felt like a wet noodle in front of me. When I asked him to turn, only his head moved and the rest of his body did not follow.

Walter walked along side of Jack and guided us to the road where three elderly people from the historic society wearing colonial costumes boarded the carriage.

Jack felt a little fidgety so Walter commented, “He has not driven by himself in a long time. He is looking for his partner, Clark. He will settle down.”

Walter sounded confident and continued. “George, if Jack gets upset, get out of the wagon and walk alongside of him.”

So we were off to a good start with no brakes and a huge animal who was looking for his partner. A minute after Walter left, George got out of the carriage and walked alongside of Jack, wearing his cowboy boots instead of his comfortable work boots.

Our place in the parade was behind an elderly woman and a little girl walking with a banner. Their pace was not the easiest pace for a draft horse to follow. There were starts and stops every few feet. Each time we stopped, Jack combed the crowd with his eyes looking for Clark. Then George had to help get him started again by taking a hold of his bridle and stepping forward. Each time the carriage jerked forward and the elderly passengers reacted, “Uuuuugh!”

Jack did a very nice “passage” down Main Street when he was not veering side to side looking for Clark with George struggling to keep up. Jack held his head high and arched his neck ever so proudly as he pranced. The long flowing white hairs on his legs and the clip clop of his shoes hitting the pavement kept in rhythm to the parade music. What a beautiful sight he was and I could only wish that one day my horse Joey would do a passage like that in the dressage ring. I wondered how this would really feel under saddle instead of watching from the driver seat.

I think the people watching the parade thought it was part of the act. In reality, I would prefer Jack to walk slowly in the parade instead of doing an upper level dressage movement.

Then we came to the bridge with the little hill.

For a few steps, Jack’s shoes started slipping on the pavement. I held my breath and said a quick prayer for safety. Jack knew how to handle the situation and remained calm, continuing forward, putting one foot in front of the other. He was confident and he knew our safety was in his care. Jack was a hero.

Thank God, it was a short parade and we arrived safely at the finishing point. Jack was glad to see Clark and Clark was glad to see Jack. We met up with Walter’s son and assisted him in removing Jack’s harness. Jack put his head down so we could take off his heavy collar. He stood like a statue while the rest of the harness was removed.

Walter appeared a few minutes later and informed George they had to walk back and get the trucks. George walked a half of a mile with Walter in his cowboy boots instead of his comfortable work boots. I held Jack and let him munch on some grass. He stayed close to me and obediently picked his head up when it was time to load into the trailer.

Even though the stroll down Main St. was a bit nerve wracking, not once did I feel that Jack would get out of control. He just preferred parading with his partner.

I trusted that Walter knew his animal and would not put him in a dangerous situation. I trusted in God that we would get through it safely.

All in all, we were in good hands, both human and divine.

Then I thought to myself, “We should have brought the horse trailer with Bill John.”

 


About the Author

Peggy DeForte Vurgason began teaching horseback riding at the age of 15 and later went on to ride professionally. Today, she competes in Western Dressage and trail riding on her horse, Homerun Joe, and along with her husband George and his mule, Billy John. Peggy is the author of The American Riding System, the fiction series Long Ears and Short Tales, and the soon-to-be published novel Hootenanny Spirit.