Seven Pines Stables
by: Russ Lancaster
Sometime during the early 1980’s, my wife, Helga, decided we needed a horse. She has always been interested in the old West, Indians, the Civil War and such. Maybe that was part of her reasoning.
My first experience with a horse was when I was about seven years old. My dad had taken me somewhere, put me on a supposedly gentle minded horse and let me go. The horse was gentle enough but, as horses often do, they are interested in clearing objects only as far as their bodies go.
This horse rounded a barn a little too closely and I hit my head on the overhanging tin roof. It gave me a nice cut and knocked me off the horse to the ground. I sure wish I had remembered why I didn’t like horses when Helga got the bright idea that we needed one but it had slipped my mind.
Richard Preslar was our office manager at the then SCL Yard Office in Hamlet. Somehow he had convinced Helga how "easy" it was to own and care for a horse. He did it by inviting us out to his barn off Highway 38 just outside the then city limits on the left before Central Carolina Gas Co.
Actually, it wasn’t Richard’s barn, he was leasing it from someone. There was a riding ring on the property with seven pine trees in the middle, thus the name: Seven Pines Stables.
He cooked hamburgers and hot dogs out on a grill behind the barn, showed us his two horses along with the other horses boarded there. He let Helga ride his oldest horse called "Lady". Lady was getting along in years and would travel at a slow pace. One ride and Helga was hooked.
Richard told us about a week later that he wanted to take us to buy a quarter horse he knew about somewhere West of Hamlet… I think it was somewhere around the Norwood area.
I worked 2nd shift that day so Helga and Richard made the trip to buy her horse. Helga called me at the Yard Office when they got back some time after dark all excited about the horse. After work she and I went out to the barn and I saw her horse for the first time. He was big and looked just like Matt Dillon’s horse on Gunsmoke. She had already given him a name: Dusty.
The next morning began a ritual that would soon become tiresome. We quickly found out that caring for a horse meant at least two trips to the barn every day. They had to be fed, groomed and their stalls had to be mucked. None of the work was hard, but it was time consuming. Twice a day, 365 days a year someone (us) had to take care of that horse.
Richard had always seemed a mild-mannered man to me and was the last person I would have thought of when thinking of horsemen. But he was a horseman, and a very good one.
Under his guidance, we learned how to saddle the horse, how to bridle him and even how to ride him. But we only rode him inside that fenced riding ring. We were not experienced enough to take him out in the woods.
Richard taught us how to muck the stall, how to clean the horse’s hooves, how to brush him down and what and how much he was to eat each day. He also broke the news that we needed to go to a sawdust pile once a week and get our trucks filled with fresh shavings for the stalls. These jobs were getting tougher.
With the arrival of winter, we noticed a change in Dusty. His hair became much thicker (his winter coat) and he had to be shaved. Richard showed us how to use a twitch to twist his lips and take his mind off the buzzing sound of the electric razor. Richard knew about horses all right.
Dusty also became spunkier when the cold weather settled in. He began to be difficult to control. It seems horses know if their riders are afraid of them or not. Dusty knew I wasn’t comfortable with him. I was comfortable with motorcycles, not horses. A motorcycle would do whatever I bid. A horse had a mind of his own.
We decided to go to a horse auction somewhere in the Lake Tillery area and see if we could get rid of Dusty. We were smart enough not to take more than a rope bridle with us.
Before the auction began, a couple of men who had a little too much to drink stopped buy and made us an offer. So long Dusty… but no so long horses.
The very next week-end, Helga and Richard decided she needed something more controllable. I went along this trip and we found a Tennessee walker out in a field. We approached the owner and he agreed to let Helga take a test ride on him. He said the horse might be a little frisky not having been ridden for several months.
He was saddled and Helga got on him in the owner’s riding ring. He started walking as she urged him along and at a good slow pace. Then he saw one of those "wind ducks" out of the corner of his eye. You know… the wooden ducks some folks put out in their yards and the wind turns their wooden wings.
When the horse saw that thing he reared up just as pretty as Silver would do for the Lone Ranger. Helga slipped her feet out of the stirrups and slid off his back while he was still reared up. I thought… No way… not another horse that is crazy but she bought him anyway.
We had Richard’s horse trailer with us and getting that horse in that trailer took nearly an hour and four people to get it done. He was not co-operating at all. When we finally got him back to Seven Pines Stables, it was another nightmare trying to get him out of the same trailer he wanted no part of to begin with.
The place we had bought him had the old reddish clay colored ground. In Hamlet, we had the grayish white sand of the Sandhills. The horse had never seen such sand and refused to step in it. He was spooked. It took more than an hour to get him out of the trailer and into the barn.
It was December when we bought this horse with no name. The next morning we got up and headed for the barn. We fed the new horse and then made a big mistake. I decided to ride him.
The stomach full of food, the cold air and the wind would all soon be my enemy. We saddled the horse and took him in the riding ring. Helga held the reins as I swung myself up in the saddle. So far, so good. I gave him a little kick and off we went. Riding a Tennessee Walker was much more comfortable than riding our previous Quarter horse.
The horse went about a quarter of the way around the ring perfectly. I took my right hand and patted his neck and said, "Good Boy".
The horse then went totally nuts. He started bucking me like crazy. I had never been on a bucking horse before but the talent came naturally. I dug my knees in, threw one arm out for balance and held the reins with the other. He bucked 7 or 8 times and I was still in the saddle with Helga cheering wildly. I yelled at her that I was going to get off and just as he hit the bottom of a jump he quickly jumped again and threw me into the air.
It seemed like I was looking down on those pine trees because he had thrown me so high. I landed on my backside and saw stars. I didn’t see my watch; I had lost that sometime during the bucking.
Helga caught the reins as the horse came around on his next swing. He stopped and she named him "Go Boy". I refused to get back on him (I had actually cracked some ribs). I was hurting and would be for the next six weeks. Getting back on him was not going to happen.
Helga did ride Go Boy from time to time but was always a little uneasy. He just couldn’t be trusted. And Go Boy had no warm feelings in his heart for me.
As summertime came around Helga rode Go Boy less and less. He was always a little spooky and couldn’t be trusted. One summer day, after mucking out his stall, I sat on an old wooden bench in the barn outside his stall. I had a piece of watermelon and Go Boy began kicking his stall door. It was evident he wanted some of that watermelon. I took a small slice and offered it to him. He nearly took my hand off. He loved that stuff.
Later that same summer, I had taken Go Boy out of his stall and put him in the riding ring alone so he could get some exercise. I closed the gate and took a seat on the tailgate of my pickup trick. I had Bobbie Sue, my youngest daughter, with me.
Go Boy began running at the gate full speed and I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted to jump or crash the gate and get me. I sent Bobbie Sue off to safety in the cab of the truck and called Helga out of the barn to witness the animosity this horse was showing me. She saw the hatred in his eyes too. It was time for Go Boy to go.
We loaded him back on Richard’s horse trailer the next weekend and took him to a horse auction. Before the auction began, two men who had had too much to drink walked up and made me an offer. They did want to ride him first though. I was smart enough to have taken only a rope bridle with me and no saddle. I refused to let them ride but offered to sell him for cash. They came up with the money and the sale was final.
They got him off the trailer a little easier than I had been able to do. I watched as one of them hopped up on his back and the last I saw of Go Boy was him disappearing into the woods with a drunk man on his back being bucked around. His friend was chasing after him. We got in the truck and headed home.
A few weeks later we bought our third and final horse. He was a field trials Tennessee Walker named The Speculator. We called him "Speck" for short. Finally we had a good horse. He was mindful of our commands and we rode him freely outside the ring, into the woods and up and down the side of Highway 38. The only things that ever spooked him was a chicken that surprised him one time and a black powdery mushroom that exploded as his hoof hit against it.
He was the last horse I ever owned or rode and the last ride was the only time he ever scared me. I had taken him out into the field south of the barn to the wooded area beyond. We were having a good ride and all was going well. As darkness fell, I turned him in the woods back toward the barn.
He knew where we were going and that his supper would soon be there. He took about three gigantic leaps and got the bit in his teeth and began running toward the barn. I couldn’t slow him down and I couldn’t turn him.
I yelled ahead to the folks outside to close the bar doors. He was going to have to run through the closed wooden doors or stop because he was headed for his stall. At the very last instant he drew up and stopped. I got off, gave him a hard slap on his massive shoulder and took him into the riding ring. His supper would have to wait until he learned his manners.
I rode him round the inside of the ring for about another half hour before letting him back in the barn to his stall. He was the one horse I DID get back on and he was still a good horse. He would change his gait to the preference of who rode him. Even little Bobbie Sue could draw a huge crowd on Sunday afternoons riding that big old horse.
We ended up selling Speck and at a slight loss. But we had at least had one horse that was controllable. It was the day after day duties that finally wore us out and caused us to sell that fine horse. I don’t miss him at all.
But I do miss Richard Preslar. He was one of the finest men I ever knew. He ended up in Jacksonville a few years after I moved here and died of cancer about 5 years or so ago.
He taught me most of what I knew to be a Railroad Clerk and everything I ever wanted to know about horses and some things I didn’t want to know.
I miss those evenings after the chores at Seven Pines Stables when we sat around drinking coffee and eating stuff like carrot cakes. Those were good times despite the bad horses we dealt with. I remember those days well and most of all, I remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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