By TERESA BLAKE / Itawamba County Times
EVERGREEN — There’s a speckled hen with a few newborn baby chicks scratching around in Pat Huddleston’s yard. They don’t cower when his squirrel dogs come near, almost appearing to keep one another company. The cast of critters are all a part of Huddleston’s simple, country life.
Although he has great fondness for the four generations of pups that roam his place, his most prized companion stood beneath a nearby oak tree: a Poco bred Quarter Horse he calls ‘Cowboy.’
“On his papers, his name is ‘Mac’ but I call him Cowboy,” Huddleston said. “I’ve had him since he was 2 years old.”
Huddleston’s shiny sidekick stands 16 hands high. He’s bay in color, and his long dark mane is quite the contrast to the lone white spot on the opposite side of his muscular neck. He’s a beauty at only 9 years old. That’s roughly 27 years in human terms.
“There’s just something about riding a good horse down a country road,” Huddleston said.
The pair recently cut a trail from Huddleston’s Evergreen home to Ironwood Bluff. The round-trip trek took the two about 12 hours.
“He knows what I want. If I walk out and hang my water can on his side, he knows we’re about to go out on the trail,” Huddleston said. “If I have my rifle, he knows we’re about to go hunting.”
Huddleston said when the pair saddle up for some deer hunting, his powerful but good-natured friend never flinches when he fires his rifle. The bond between the two of them was built with hard work and patience. Unlike a lot of owners, Huddleston has never whipped his horse, nor has he spurred him. He doesn’t even use a bridle or a bit. He says it’s uncomfortable for Cowboy and puts too much pressure on his tongue.
“When I told my good friend, Bubba (Gary Sullivan) that me and Cowboy were getting our picture made for the paper, he bought him a new halter,” Huddelston said. “A halter and a rope is about all I use.”
The two have a gentle, unique understanding that was evident as soon as Huddleston stooped low and walked back and forth beneath Cowboy.
“You see, we trust each other. The more he likes you, the easier it’s gonna be,” he said. “When I started working with Cowboy, he had no boundaries. Now we understand each other. That comes from being patient.”
Cowboy swished his tail as Huddleston came from behind him and he quickly pulled his head back.
“Let me tell you — if you’ve ever been slapped by a woman, if that horse tail catches you just right, that’s kinda what it feels like,” he said, then laughed.
Despite the occasional toe-smashing by his horse’s hoofs or tail swish to his eye, Huddleston said his love of animals started at an early age.
“My grandpa, Buster Hursey, always had mules,” he said. “I started riding when I was about 8. You know, just old enough to get a good butt whoopin’. I’ve been hooked on riding ever since.”
The first horse he climbed on was named “King,” a white logging horse and gentle giant who belonged to the late Shelb Loague.
“I wanted to ride King so bad, and Shelb looked at me and said ‘get on boy,'” Huddleston said. “I did, and I was ruined.”
It’s the wisdom of the “Gunsmoke” watching old souls like Loague or his grandfather that Huddleston says he misses having around. The folks who worked hard, took care of their livestock. When they spoke, you listened.
“It was a simpler time and we had respect for them. Nowadays when kids get together they’re shooting at each other,” he said. “I miss the old days, and I miss that generation.”
Huddleston’s lifelong love of horses has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the downs were when his aging body hit the hard earth.
“I had a horse a few years back that had a lot of problems. He ran all the way to Hopewell. When I caught him and got on, he bucked me off and then started pawing me,” he said. “I was bruised pretty badly and had several broken ribs. Yolanda said that horse has to go.”
His girlfriend, Yolanda Calderon, put her foot down when it came to Huddleston’s well-being. The high-strung horse was history.
“He’s not as young as he used to be,” she said. “And that horse almost got the best of him.”
Huddleston credits her with helping him through that difficult time and other dark days.
Tragedy has been no stranger to Huddleston. He lost his daughter Myia in 1992 when she was only 17 months old, and then his wife, Ruby, in 2008.
Huddleston will be the first to admit his life was on rocky terrain for many years.
“I hit the whiskey hard for a long while,” he said. “It only complicated things. Then one day, I just rode off. I made up my mind I wasn’t coming back until I had dealt with some things.”
Purposeful in his intent to deal with the problems that plagued him, Huddleston packed some food, climbed on his horse and rode off.
“I know there were friends and family that were concerned and looking for me, but I needed to be by myself to deal with it on my own,” he said.
He was gone for three days.
“Being alone with a horse gives you a peace of mind, it lets you breathe and accept the things you cannot change,” Huddleston said. “I came back with a settled mind, a better man.”
He said he made peace on that ride, peace with himself, peace with God.
Nowadays Huddleston enjoys visits with his daughter, Paige, who’s a student at ICC and hunting with his son, Parrish, who coaches in Sentatobia.
He’s content watching the chickens scratch and the dogs roam beneath the shade tree with Yolanda. And saddling up with Cowboy for a ride down a country road.
It’s a simple, country life he enjoys.
“Sometimes I pull off my cowboy hat and pour water in it for Cowboy to drink,” he said. “I reckon that’s as close to ‘Gunsmoke’ as I’ll ever get, but I’m good with that.”
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