Merry and I were in the same class at high school.
I had seen her around and we shared a class or two, but we were far from friends.
She had just moved in about a mile down the road.
Since I lived close by and had a horse, she wondered if I wanted to go riding with her and Oakie.
Little did I know what a ritual these rides would become and the major role this new friend would play in my life.
There is little I remember about my first horse that did not involve Merry.
She was fortunate enough to have been given a horse at a younger age and even had a few years of 4H under her belt.
I was book smart about horses, but Merry had much more hands-on experience and education.
Lucky for Cherokee, one of the first things she taught me was that even though you could fluff up one flake of hay to make it fill a manger, it wasn't enough to sustain a horse.
The afternoons that I didn't have to work at my part-time job were filled with hours on horseback.
This was a time when dress codes at schools were becoming a thing of the past.
Most of the girls were still wearing dresses, pretty blouses, and slacks to school, while Merry and I dressed in T-shirts, jeans and boots.
This gave us more time with our horses once school was out for the day.
It's no wonder we were not popular with the boys in our class, although that point escaped us at the time.
We had a regular trail that we rode on that looped behind my house, across the state highway, down dirt roads and through fields.
Sometimes, we role played, imitating our favorite television westerns and calling the pet dogs that tagged along names like "Bear" and "Wolf".
Sometimes we poured our hearts out about home life, siblings and our lack of social life outside of our horse world.
More than once, we would dismount long enough to have dinner at my house before heading back out again.
It was during one of these dinner breaks that Merry overheard my mother comment to my father, "Do you think those girls will every stop smelling like horses?" To which my father replied, "I think they'll clean up just fine when the time is right.
" The summer between our junior and senior year at high school, Merry's mom asked me to join them in Colorado for a visit with her sister.
What an experience for me that included flying alone and my first trip on an airplane with a long layover in Chicago and Denver.
Colorado was heaven for Merry & I.
Her sister had two horses and lived in a small town in the mountains northwest of Denver.
We were a bit confused where we fit into the scheme of things, the locals considered us "dudes" and the tourists thought we were cowgirls.
The next spring we drove back, looking forward to another great western adventure.
We soon learned why everyone else headed south to destinations like Florida during spring break.
We couldn't find a cowboy that showed any interest in us and Colorado was dreary, drab, and cold during that part of March.
We were bored half to death.
Back in Michigan, if we weren't riding, we were visiting western stores and trying out horses that were for sale even though we had no intention of purchasing tack or a horse.
Sometimes we skipped school to get an early start on our riding.
This wasn't an easy feat, as the woman in charge of the attendance office at school lived across the street from Merry.
Spring, summer, winter, fall...
it didn't make any difference to us, we were either horseback or doing something associated with horses and riding.
Many times all it took to get our horses ready to ride was a quick grooming and a bridle.
We learned it was much warmer to sit on your hands riding through snow with no saddle between you and your horse.
We did some smart things on our horses and we did some stupid things.
Not smart was tying a large, metal two-foot square sign to my saddle and riding home.
Most horses would not have put up with the bumping against their shoulder as they walked, but Cherokee took it in stride.
Another time we rode from one car dealership to the next, asking the salesmen what we could get for trade-in on our steeds.
This was great fun until my horse relieved himself of a huge pile of road-apples in front of the picture window at a big Ford dealership.
The words that came over the loud speaker of "One of you girls get back here and clean that up!" had no humor to them.
It had to be my horse that made the mess.
Merry's horse would stop his efforts if she pushed down on his raised tail - a trick that made a nasty mess when she tried it on her next horse.
Probably the stupidest of all involved the consumption of alcohol.
I am sure there are lots of stupid acts attributed to alcohol and we're probably not the first, nor will be the last, to include a horse in our shenanigans.
Although Merry and I were both of legal drinking age, we were still but children in the eyes of our parents.
All it took was for mine to make a trip to California.
There was a store next to my house that sold beer & wine.
What mischief could two, giggling girls get into under the influence of alcohol? How about bringing my horse into the house.
Besides the fact of how funny it looked to see my horse in the house, standing in front of the television set in the family room, it was made even funnier by my younger brother's reaction.
Of course, it was definitely not funny the next morning when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing hoof-prints out of the carpet while nursing a hangover.
As best friends sometimes do, Merry and I drifted apart after high school.
I had a job working with the Forestry Service my first summer after graduation.
The next summer I was in Montana on a ranch.
Merry went to New Mexico and took a dog-grooming course.
This was followed by a trip to Colorado where she met a guy, got married and left Michigan.
I ran into her at a western store some years later.
She introduced husband number two and I introduced husband number one and then we were at a loss what to say next.
More years passed.
I was living in Arizona with husband number two and Merry was in Michigan,still with her second husband.
I planned a trip back and without my husband along to get bored during my strolls down memory lane, I arranged to meet with some people I hadn't seen in years.
The Internet makes it pretty easy to locate people from your past.
I found Merry through a couple of club associations.
Once I had her correct last name and address, getting her phone number was a piece of cake.
I called her and we arranged a get together at her home.
Merry remembered things I had totally forgotten, and I had stories that had slipped her mind.
We talked about the old times for hours - why was my mom so mad when I bought that saddle? And remember the saddle pad that Merry was in cahoots picking out for my birthday? Of course, she told me about it, and it was an even bigger surprise when my mother announced that for my birthday the driving lessons they were paying for would be my present.
I ended up buying the pad for myself months later.
I had either forgotten or hadn't noticed that it wasn't just that Merry had played an important part in my life.
My parents and siblings had become her second family.
Before I realized it, I was running late and needed to return to my mother's house.
We've rekindled that cherished friendship, thanks largely in part to the Internet.
Two high school best friends brought together by their love of horses...
and yes, we did "clean up just fine.
" When we meet again, I hope we can saddle up, hit a few trails, complain about our husbands, relive our past and share our dreams.
© 2012 Kristie Allison