Even though Antioch was a "Hell-Hole" I met some amazing people who came into my life while living there. The two that became like foster parents to me were Dub and Ilene Freeman. They both were in their sixties and I had never met anyone like them before in my life. When after almost two months had past my horse Duke was finally brought from Salinas to the new town. Dub and Ilene leased a 10 stall barn at the Antioch Fairgrounds where they kept their three Tennessee Walking Horses and boarded out the rest of the stalls. The barn was divided by a long open corridor with stalls opposite each other. The first two stalls had been converted into a tackroom on one side and their office opposite.
Neither Duke or I had experienced such a clean, fresh smelling barn as this. Our previous stable life was lacking in both. Each stall had a thick rubber mat on the base of the floors with thick layers of pine shavings atop. The stalls were cleaned twice a day, feedings of oat hay twice a day, alfalfa if the horse was being worked more and sweet grain as well. I think Duke was in horse heaven. The tack room was neat and tidy with plenty of brushes, hoof picks, shedding blades, and any other needs for grooming. I could use mine or their's as it didn't matter as long as I put them away where they belonged when I was done.
Dub was a long distance truck driver and went on the road for a week at a time for deliveries a couple of times a month. They had a grown son who would come help clean and feed when he was away. Dub was small of stature with a wiry body. He had slightly bowed legs that seemed like he walked on the outsides of his feet. His face was deeply lined and tanned as he spent a lot of time outside. He greased his very dark hair and I can still see him combing it back with a small black comb he kept in his back pocket. He didn't wear a typical cowboy hat but a small crown and brimmed one of light brown. He always wore a plaid Western shirt that he kept a pack of cigarettes in the front snap pocket. His voice was deep and gravely and I am sure it was due to all the smoking he did.
The first thing you noticed about Ilene was her pursed painted red lips. Then you saw her carefully applied face makeup of bright blue eye shadow, mascara with blushed cheeks and a lightly powdered face. Her face was wrinkled in a softly lined way and she never smiled a lot yet she was a sweet person through and through. Her red brown hair was worn atop her head in a big round bun with short curly bangs. I never saw her wear her hair any other way. She wore slim stretch pants that zipped on the side with a small belt or Wrangler blue jeans and a neat Western woman's shirt tucked in. She tucked her pants inside her boots. She wasn't big but her small belly did stick out roundly from the high waisted pants she wore. The both of them smoked constantly. One cigarette would be almost done and they would light a new one right away.
Ilene had a crock pot that she would bring from their home each morning with soup or chili ready to eat by noon. They would always feed me. I could never say no because it was always so good. The office had a small portable heater so on cool days it was nice and warm inside. A radio would be on a country station all the time and that must have been how I came to like old time country music. On the white wood paneled walls were photographs of Dub riding his horses at Horse Shows and some ribbons he had won. An old metal desk for writing on with a chair Ilene sat at, a small table where two chairs were and where we would eat at and which the crock pot sat on, Dub's chair (he was the only one who sat in that chair) which was nearest the door and some shelves with mugs, bowls, and odd items were. There was a small refrigerator in the corner with the top being used for storage. They just expected their boarders to eat there with them. Dub would talk to me about Tennessee Walking Horses which I knew nothing about and I could listen to him for hours. I learned more about horses from him than all the previous years of riding I had done. He never said a harsh or mean word to me. He fondly called me Hippie and after awhile I finally asked him why he called me that. I thought it was because of the hippies since I wore my hair long, straight and in my face. He told me that he called me Hippie because my hips were big! I just about died and no longer liked the name. Apparently all the good food Ilene was feeding me was adding to my weight.
He taught me how to use the cross-ties in the barn, how to use hoof polish, and how to get my horse's coat to shine like a copper penny. Dub taught me how to clean and take care of my tack. He would get the saddle soap out and expect me to clean my saddle and bridle. No other person had shown or told me that. He taught me that if my horse had a foul smell in the hoof area while I was cleaning it that first of all it meant I wasn't cleaning them enough and second to pour a little bleach on it, swirl it around, then rinse with water, and it would help it heal up. I didn't own a horse blanket but he had plenty and would put one on my horse in the winter. It helped to keep the coat from getting long and wooly. He taught me the importance of walking my horse after I had worked him when he was sweaty. I would come back to the barn after walking all around the fairground barn areas and he would say keep walking he's not cooled off enough. Sometimes he would throw a cooling sheet on my horse which seemed to speed the cooling off faster but most of all it kept your horse from getting a chill during the walking around. He taught me how to use a lunge line to warm my horse up before riding and later to use two lunge lines hooked to the bit to train my horse while I walked a distance behind. He was a wealth of knowledge that I am grateful to have learned from.
Dub and Ilene's Tennessee Walking Horses were very tall. My horse Duke looked like a pony next to theirs. Tennessee Walkers stand higher on their front legs because of the thicker front shoes. Dub also put weighted chains on the front legs while he was training them and they sat just above the hooves called the pastern. He would rub some kind of oily substance like vaseline that protected that area of the leg. I never saw his horses hurt, bloody, or abused. Of course nobody does this anymore as it is considered cruel but that was very common at that time. When you use the weighted chain in training it makes a horse have to work harder to lift their legs. Once you take the chain off the horse, he lifts his legs even higher which accentuates the unique Walker action of high stepping. He also would use a special wig piece on the top of the tail which gave the look of the tail being carried higher than a horse normally does when he had them in horse shows. All his horses had very long manes and tails. The tails were wrapped up to keep them from dragging on the ground and getting dirty. He let me ride one of his horses once and it was like floating on air. The action of movement was a gliding feel and you could cover a lot of ground because of their long legs and fluid movement.
The lesson that Dub taught me that made the most impact though was not what I had expected nor was it one that would be called a typical horse lesson. A friend of his had a mare in foal who came to stay at the barn to give birth. She was a beautiful Quarter horse and to watch her walk around with her big belly was a treat for me. To put my hand on her sides and feel the foal within kicking and moving was amazing to a 14 year old. Dub had said if I was around I could watch as long as I was quiet and paid attention to what he said. I hoped so much that it would be during the time of day I went to the barn. One day I came and she had already had the foal early in the morning. He was a cute little guy with such wobbly legs. My friends and I at the barn couldn't get enough of staring at the two of them. Dub would tell us to leave them alone and take care of our own horses. The day after the mare gave birth she started having a fever and not doing to well. The vet came out and checked her and her baby. I don't know what was said but it wasn't good news. I later heard it was a uterine infection that happened after birth. A couple of days later the mare died and her little foal an orphan. I came to the barn to witness the hauling away of that beautiful mare. I had never thought about this part of an animal's life cycle. I had never thought what happens to a horse when it dies. This large bed truck had a motorized wench chain that was wrapped around the horses back legs and reeled her into the bed of the truck. I don't know how they got her out of the stall but I assume they had backed the truck into the barn and maneuvered her out of her stall into the corridor with the wench. It was heartbreaking to say the least and every girl at the barn was in tears. Dub was quietly talking to his friend who owned the mare and foal and it was agreed that the foal should stay at the barn and not be moved. Ilene was quick to come up with a foal size blanket which they put on the little guy. Being in school I wasn't around as much to see all the work it would take to keep this foal alive. All the feedings I was not aware of. Someone had to stay at the barn round the clock for awhile. As awful as seeing the loss of the mare it was a delight to watch the foal grow. Foals have lots of energy just like a kid and need exercise so as soon as he was strong enough they would take him out for walks around the fairgrounds. He wore the cutest little halter and jumped, pulled, and tried to run in all different directions nickering and neighing the whole time. He grew fast and soon enough it was time for him to leave. We all were going to miss him.
For awhile I kept thinking what if that had been my horse. I couldn't imagine life without him as he was my best friend. I had friends who had horses that had been hurt or had lameness but they got better and continued riding. Not one had lost a horse to death. Dub tried to explain in his way that these things do happen. It wasn't expected of her to die. No one could have known she would get an infection and not respond to the medication. It came down to it that there was not much that could have been done. At least the little foal was healthy and would be just fine. I know Dub and Ilene had seen other horses pass on and though upset this had happened they quickly shifted to the care of the little foal. How little did I realize that I would have to face a dark day in the months ahead.