|Beautiful Belmont, Part 28 -- The Horse Race.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 27 -- The Cider Mill.
I have never seen a better or more fearless woman horseback rider than our sister Lucelia. When a mere girl on the farm, she early adopted the habit of the boys of going to the field and, using the seductive influence of a stub of corn, tempted one of the horses she had picked out in the pasture. Without a halter, bridle, or saddle, she rode it at a headlong gallop to the stable, there to be fed, curried, saddled, and bridled, ready for a horseback ride to the city, or over the countryside. Possibly there is not a boy in our whole family who has not had a "neck-and-neck" half-mile dash at full speed on horseback with "Sister 'Celia," as we called her, in which she always managed to hold her own and frequently win. These races usually occurred from the pasture fields to the barn, particularly when a picnic was to be attended.
Lucelia was tall, slender, very agile, and absolutely fearless in horseback riding. The early fairs on Wheeling Island were held at the grounds of "the association" at the end of the old wooden bridge, which then spanned the back river at Bridgeport. The association, as one of the drawing features, determined to have a horseback race for women. Miss Sallie Van Pelt, Miss Josephine Frazier, and sister 'Celia were known as the three best riders in the neighborhood, and while there were other competitors, as was expected, the real contest lay between these three. On the day of the race they mounted their horses.
Before the start our sister spurted her horse up the track to test him. She quickly returned and, jumping from the saddle, said, "I'll not ride that horse in this race. I know what a horse is, and I am not going to ride one that will go to sleep in a race. Dr. Updegraff, will you let me have your horse?" "Most certainly," replied the gallant doctor, "but our aim is to provide manageable though fast horses, fearing you ladies may not be able to manage those that are more spirited. My horse is very high-strung and only men have ever ridden him in a race." "I can ride any horse a man can," our sister replied, "and if you will let me have him, I will risk the consequences." "Then you shall have him," replied Updegraff, and she was soon seated upon the fiery animal, which from the knowledge of what was to come, and the pride resulting from the championship of many a close contest, was already fretting for the fray and champing his bit in anticipation of the start. He really looked dangerous. The anxiety of the onlookers was apparent, and the misgivings widespread. The remark was distinctly heard from the grandstand, "That horse will kill that woman."
Sister 'Celia had the man at the horse's head lead him some distance back of the other horses from the starting point, as she saw he would make a rapid dash when he started, and she hoped to cross the line at a full gallup with the others. She planned to rein him in at the start of the race -- to consereve the strength of the horse -- and she knew her effort to do so would soon exhaust her strength and possibly cause her to lose the race in the final windup. But her strategy was good. The horses all crossed the line together and it was called a good start. All the riders except sister 'Celia plied their whips vigorously -- Miss Van Pelt and Miss Frazier being side by side in the lead, and riding their horses magnificently. The race required two circuits of the race track. They passed under the wire on the first round with Miss Van Pelt and Miss Frazier still abreast in the lead, with my sister a close third. The other two began playing the whips vigorously with a view to the final outcome. Up to this time our sister had not used her whip once. She sat straight in the saddle like a statue, as though she was a part of the horse she rode, and her face was as pale as death. Suddenly she relaxed and leaned forward close to the mein of her horse. With a firm grip on the rein in one hand, she lashed the withers of her horse with a fearful shower of blows from the whip in her other hand.
Everyone could see her horse had not begun to run until then, and that she had been holding him back. He shot forward like an arrow, and as 'Celia crossed the line, a winner by a full ten lengths, bonnetless and with her hair down and flying in the wind, the audience went wild. It was soon hushed, however, for the horse being fiery and not used to the whip, had been "stirred up," and he appeared to be running off. The cry went up, "He is running away! Stop him!" A skilled horseman shot out from the judges' stand and mounted his horse at the side of the track to catch the runaway as our sister came around a third time. The use of the whip and falling of our sister's bonnet had scared and frenzied her horse for a time, and he was indeed unmanageable. However, 'Celia's nerve never abandoned her. She held a firm rein as she passed the grandstand for the third time, and skillfully guided her runaway horse with a masterly hand between, and clear of the other horses. As the gentleman on horseback started from the grandstand to her assistance she cried out, "Let him alone! He'll cool down soon enough." At this the audience again went wild.
By the time the horse came around again he was more manageable and was taken in charge. During the whole race there was no more interested spectator than Dr. Updegraff. When our sister came in first he clapped his hands in great glee, and when she cried out to let her alone, he did it again. As she dismounted from the horse 'Celia said, "I want to thank you, Dr. Updegraff, for this race, for I owe it to you and your splendid horse." Dr. Updegraff replied, "He is truly a great animal, but you owe the race to yourself and your splendid and fearless horsemanship. Though really I was scared myself for a while. I soon saw you knew how to handle him, not only in a race, but when he is excited, and I knew what the outcome would be."
Our sister never forgot that race, but she always claimed it was the horse that won it, and that Miss Van Pelt and Miss Frazier were as good riders as she. Many pleasant memories of life on our farm with which she was connected were recalled when she was brought back from her beautiful home in the Shenandoah Valley, to be laid at rest in the family burial ground in the old Weeks cemetery.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 29 -- The Methodists.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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