Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 4, 2013

THE PLAIN SIDE: A sleepy solution turns into a full-out horse race

— Children: Do not try this with your horse (or pony or any live animal). Results may vary and they could certainly be much more devastating than the ones Freeman Gingerich reaped when he attempted the stunt.

My friend Freeman of rural Shipshewana is no dummy. He has many bright ideas and intelligent insights and, what’s more rare, the ambition to apply them. He is human, though, and it has been proven before — sometimes smart people do dumb things.

Freeman lives north of town and works west of it on busy U.S. 20.

Freeman is on his way to work on a frosty morning this past winter. He has elected to drive his horse and buggy with the extra chilly temperatures and stiff western wind today. Riding his bicycle would bring the advantage of stimulation and would likely deliver him to work wide-awake. But this morning it is just too cold. Freeman hitches Ranger to the buggy.

The relatively warm interior of the buggy and the rhythmic cadence of Roger’s hooves do cause a problem. Freeman is beset by drowsiness. He tries opening the front. He tries shaking himself. But after a few minutes, he catches his head nodding again. It surely won’t do to fall asleep while driving. He is a mile and a half north of busy U.S. 20 and wants to be alert when he gets to the highway.

Inspiration strikes. Freeman thinks of a sure way to wake up. If he gets out of the buggy and runs alongside for a bit, it will surely get his blood pumping and infuse him with a dose of oxygen. Ranger doesn’t trot all that rapidly anyway and Freeman figures he can easily jog beside the buggy while keeping one hand on Ranger’s lines. After jogging for a stimulating half mile or so, he will simply hop back into the driver’s seat and be wide-awake for the highway portion of his trip. Brilliant. Right?

“Whoa, Ranger.”

Ranger is not accustomed to stopping in the middle of the road, but he waits obligingly while Freeman climbs out and rearranges the lines to his liking.

“Giddyap, Ranger.”

Ranger feels his load is a bit lighter and hears an extra set of feet pounding behind him. In his early days, this would have spooked him, but he has covered too many miles to be alarmed at little things now. He trots along at his usual pace.

Freeman is fast waking up. This is fun. His left hand stays on the lines while his right arm pistons alongside as he trots along with Ranger. The narrow country road doesn’t allow Freeman room to run on the asphalt but the gravel shoulder is firm enough for a decent running surface.

Suddenly, things go wrong. Freeman is later unsure if he stepped on a loose rock, if his foot hit something solid, or if he simply tripped over his own feet. Something though, goes alarmingly wrong with his running gear and Freeman goes sprawling face first into the gravel.

The lines slip out of Freeman’s hand and Ranger trots on, oblivious to the extra commotion.

Freeman would like to gingerly check himself over for injuries now, but he does not have that luxury. His airplane is bee-lining for U.S. 20 with no pilot.

After clambering to his feet and inadvertently groaning a bit, Freeman sets out at a brisk trot toward U.S. 20 and after his horse.

A brisk trot will not suffice, Freeman soon sees, and breaks into an all-out sprint. Legs pumping, eyes bugging and breath tearing, Freeman makes some quick calculations. He’s not going to catch up. Ranger, though his pace is still methodical, simply has too big a head start.

Thinking quickly, Freeman turns into a driveway, barrels up to the shop, snatches a bicycles and legs churning and gravel flying, sets out in fresh pursuit. He’ll explain to the owners of the bicycle later.

Trying to catch up before Ranger reaches the highway is a long-lost cause though. Freeman can only cringe from a thousand feet behind while Ranger slows down as accustomed, and makes a right turn onto U.S. 20. Thankfully, no traffic nails the rig and Ranger sets out westward for the last mile of his journey to Hilltop Machine Shop, Freeman’s workplace.

When Freeman turns the corner one long minute later, he immediately realizes the brisk headwind will add to his difficulties. He has to struggle for every pump of the pedals now and his speed is actually reduced.

Oblivious to Freeman’s struggles, Ranger trots on, covering the familiar mile at his usual pace, breezing through the next crossroad and climbing the long hill that Hilltop Machine Shop rests on. Now tired from the climb, Ranger turns in at the usual driveway, trots up to the barn, and stops. There he waits patiently until his owner catches up and unhitches him.

After Freeman has tied his trusty steed in the barn, his breath is finally slowing down though his hands are still a bit trembly. He shakes his head once, thanks God for watching over him and his horse, grabs his lunch box off the buggy and heads to the shop to go to work.

Freeman has accomplished one goal this morning. He is now wide awake.

Loren Beachy is an auctioneer and an elementary school teacher. He can be contacted by writing to 14047 S.R. 4, Goshen, IN 46528 or calling 574-642-1180.