Clip Clops

In the early 1970’s my family was still adjusting to itself. My two sisters and I had been combined with our new stepdad’s own three and a half (the half one didn’t move in with us) daughters. He’d answer the phone “Roberts’ Home for Wayward Girls” on the few occasions he picked it up before any of us. We weren’t. Not yet anyway.

We were a mixed bag of Chicago suburb created young female personae half of whom were horse-crazy (my half) and the other not. Except for one. Laura. When our families first came together she and I were still young enough to be horses on weekends and after school. We’d gambol and cavort around our backyard pasture grazing the chives and noting longingly the progress of the apples on the little tree. We strove for accuracy in our assimilation of equine behavior so we’d do as much on all fours as we could. Because we had hands, not hooves, we traveled in imprecise muted strides. Until Laura had an amazing inspiration and invented these:
Our dad cut the wood and she nailed together a set of “clip clops” for each of us. You’d hold one in each hand and on your hands and knees at least your front end would travel in acoustically realistic style on sidewalks, driveways and throughout the house. Of course this was hard on the knees – and pants legs – but that was a hardship to be endured by we in pursuit of excellence. We worked on our gaits horking up onto our wooden souled clogged (in at the time) feet and clip-clopped hands looking very much like identical accident victims, but sounding like real ponies. In high school we would save babysitting and odd jobs money for the few times we could arrange to be ferried to Kurt’s Corral on vacation and let real hooves create the sounds we craved below us.

In 1973 we caught wind of an amazing equine sensation burning up the dirt around major thoroughbred racetracks. Laura became especially entranced. The Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont – she watched, listened to and read about them all. She taped his pictures up in her room and memorized his splits. She knew what he liked to eat, who gave it to him, where he consumed it and how he trained. If a young lady can fall for a young horse (and they do – all the time) – she did and was smitten. That summer Laura would hike up the rented stirrups as far as they would go on the worn dude ranch saddle and ride whatever quarter horse they gave her like she was exercising at Churchill Downs. Her new dream life.

Later she became a forester, married a disturbed Viet Nam vet and died of brain cancer before routine laminitis claimed the horse two years after that, on would have been her 31st birthday. This Monday, they’re filming some scenes at Keeneland for a movie about Secretariat. I’m going as a bell bottom bedecked extra because I still love horses and I’m still here. I’ll be the one trotting around in clogs.


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