I never really owned Top Sea. I just wished I did.
At sixteen, I was too old for camp and too young to work a real job so I volunteered at a local stable a few miles from home. J.B., the aging owner, grunted “ yep” when I asked if I could muck out the stalls and help saddle up the horses he rented out for trail rides. He sized up all one hundred and five pounds of me and asked, “Can you ride?”
“Can you get here by six AM?”
The next morning, I arrived at five. Nobody was there. I filled a bucket with grain, climbed over the fence and headed into the field that reached clear down to the Kansas City Country Club. By the time J.B. and his two paid hired hands arrived, I had shooed all the horses into the corral. He didn’t say much but I could tell he was pleased.
My duties included boosting paying customers into their saddles and leading them on horseback rides along shady paths that wandered through Mission Hills and down to a run off stream aptly named Brush Creek.
One warm sunny day in late June, J.B. came looking for me. “Get in the truck”, he said in his gravelly voice. “We gotta go pick up a new horse.”
As we rattled down the road I asked him where we were going.
“They got a filly at Woolford Farms they want to get rid of. ‘Green broke’ and cheap. Might make a good trail horse.”
WOW! I knew about Woolford Farms. They raised racehorses there. My parents knew Herbert Woolf and had been to parties there. “Why are you taking me?” I asked.
“’’Cause you’re a flyweight and I think you can handle her,” he said.
I nearly burst with pride.
We turned off Mission Road and drove up a driveway bordered on either side by white fences and open pastures. Further on, we passed Mr. Woolf’s sprawling home and pulled up in front of the busy stables. While J.B. negotiated the sale, I went to look at Lawrin, Woolford Farm’s homegrown Kentucky Derby winner. For that amazing feat, his owners had rewarded him with a private pasture in the middle of the farm where, the big, chestnut horse with a star blaze and white front fetlocks, spent his remaining days basking in attention. I got to see him grazing near by.
J.B. whistled for me He had a distinctive way of tucking in his lower lip and blowing. (I’ve always wished I could whistle like that.)
A groom held a slender, bay with black mane and tail. “You shouldn’t have any trouble with her,” he said. “I’ve been riding her a bit now and then.”
“Why are they selling her?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Guess she’s not good enough to spend time on.”
I got the saddle we’d brought along and the groom helped me tighten the cinch. I hopped up and he handed me the reins.
“Snaffle bit, so be gentle,” J.B. told me, “and stay close to the back of the truck.”
“What’s her name?” I asked as she danced under me.
“Topsy. That’s T O P S E A,” the stable manager spelled out as he pocketed J.B.’s money.
The filly was a little skittish and a bit prancy but it only took to the end of the driveway for me to fall in love with her.
J.B. and I worked with Top Sea every day, getting her ready for less experienced riders to handle. Meanwhile, I went home each night and begged my father to buy her for me. At first, he just rolled his eyes. Later on, he became sterner. “Do you know how much it costs to board a horse?”
One morning, I got to work at five. I went into the pasture and called Top Sea. I fed her grain from my pockets, patted her neck and kissed her nose. Then I slipped a halter over her head and lead her to a hay bale. I climbed on the hay bale and jumped on her back. She stood still until a touched my heels to her flanks. Then, she took off. She was a racehorse after all.
We flew across the field and I jerked on the halter to turn her and head up to the barn. Now, she ran flat out. I gripped with my knees, head low, hands full of mane hollering YEHAW! By the time I saw it coming, it was too late. I tried to hang on but she stopped dead at the fence and I went flying over her head, landing indecorously but unhurt on the trampled grass.
I groaned and shook my finger at Top Sea. She curled her lips back and neighed. I laughed out loud and wanted her all the more.
I pleaded with my dad but he told me the only way I could have a horse was if we moved to a farm. He smiled saying he was willing but my mother said over her dead body. She wasn’t cut out to be a farmer’s wife.
I knew that was true. My mother couldn’t even boil water.
Autumn came. I went back to school and only got out to the barn on weekends. J.B. let me ride Top Sea as much as I wanted. I took her all through the hills and down by the creek. I let her graze while I’d sit quietly listening to the sounds of the woods.
I choked back tears the day, J.B. and the wranglers loaded Top Sea and all the other horses into the trailers. Before they left, R. B. shook my hand. He said I’d done a good job with the bay filly, that he’d see she got a good owner. Then they drove off.