Horses, Whiskey, Cousins and Cookies


The mixture of horses, whiskey and children most often represents a recipe for disaster. I mean, if my kids, when they were younger, told me they were going to take off on a night or two horseback adventure with a bunch of youngsters, saddlebags full of Vienna sausages, pudding packs, Coca-Cola and alcohol, with the only adult supervision being a bunch of grown men who had no problem downing copious amounts of Jack Daniels and coke, whilst providing minimal supervision, well I’d resolutely say “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?”

But, every summer I participated in just such an outing. Dubbed “The Trailride,” the Donica cousins anticipated this annual event with eager enthusiasm. Discussion, about which horse you were going to ride, where we would camp, which uncle would drink the most, highlighted the discourse among the kids in the weeks leading up to the occasion. For the most part, the Uncles were in charge of this event. None of the Aunts rode horses to the campsite; rather, they drove the supplies in for the evening and then packed up and went home shortly after nightfall, leaving a camp full of wild children and hollering men. I don’t know why, but give the Donica Uncles a drink or two, and they all started whooping like a bunch of banshees.

The annual affair began by leaving in the early morning and heading off on our horses into the wild Southeastern Oklahoma backcountry. Usually we numbered around ten to thirteen kids and five or so men. We would ride all day, only stopping briefly for lunch before saddling back up and hitting the trail again. We would arrive at our campsite around dinnertime and begin setting up camp. The bonfire would be lit, and Vienna sausage and marshmallow roasting would commence. The Uncles tended to the horses and then settled in around the fire and poured up their first of many whiskey and cokes. The cousins trekked between the swimming hole (we always camped near water) and sitting by the fire, listening to the men tell their stories. As the night wore on, the kids would break into the pudding packs and eat whatever other junk food happened to have been packed, before tumbling into their sleeping bags, exhausted and content. In my mind it remains a glorious memory!

When I started going on the trail ride at the tender age of five or six, the oldest cousin was only thirteen or fourteen. We would roam wild and free, no one telling us to be careful or not to drown. We were smart enough to be careful and as near as I can remember, none of the cousins had a death wish and wanted to drown. We looked out for each other and made sure everyone kept their head above water and that no one stayed under too long. We survived – better than survived – we lived the high life on those summer trail rides. We laughed til our bellies hurt; we skinned our knees; we at copious amounts of junk food; we were bitten by monstrous mosquitos; and, usually came back in a day or two covered in ticks. But we didn’t remember any of that. We only recalled telling ghost stories by the fire, sleeping under the stars, exploring some new corner of the earth. The ticks and mosquitoes and cuts and bruises were just collateral damage, to be expected when partaking of a new adventure.

I realize how fortunate I was to have experienced such freedom. All children should be so lucky as to have the liberty to explore, test, seek, adventure. Everyday, more studies reveal that curiosity drives intellect. Kids’ brains expand with each new experience. Mastering new skills without an adult looming large over their shoulder develops children’s self-esteem and competency. I often hear: “Our world is just too dangerous these days.” But sometimes I wonder if it really is more precarious, or is it the constant bombardment of the media with horror stories that makes it appear more dangerous? I guess I wouldn’t encourage letting your kids run wild with horses, rivers and whiskey; but I do recommend letting your children know the freedom of roaming in the great outdoors. Turn off the electronics and get your kids outside. Go to a park; sleep out in your back yard or in the backcountry. Let kids dig in the dirt, get a scratch or bruise and a mosquito bite or two. These are the adventures that build character and that will be remembered in the years to come. I know it’s hard to let kids go it on their own, but talk to your children about the dangers they might face and then, as they’re old enough, loosen the strings a bit and let them have a quest of their own with friends.

Even now, decades later, as I drift off to sleep I can still hear the rushing water, the chirruping crickets, the whispers of the older cousins and my Dad leading the Uncles in another chorus of “Buffalo gals won’t ya come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight. Buffalo gals won’t ya come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon…” I am thankful that my Dad facilitated these adventures. I’m grateful that he encouraged dancing by the light of the moon. I think experiencing such freedom (and living through it!) gave me the confidence to be the free spirit I am today. I lived large as a child, which paved the way to live abundantly as an adult!  

Let your kids have adventures. Teach them well and give them freedom. Keep Shining. Peace Out!

When your kids adventure out on their own, they need good snack food to take along with them. The following cookie recipe is completely plant based and gluten free. Kids of all ages will love them!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

8-Tbsp Earth Balance butter-substitute (I use the soy free version. This is an excellent plant-based, non-hydrogenated butter substitute.

2-Tbsp Vanilla

1-Tbsp ground flax mixed with 3-Tbsp water

¾-Cup coconut sugar

1-1/2-Cups Pamela’s baking mix (or you can use another GF flour, just add 1-tsp baking soda, ½-tsp salt, ½-tsp baking powder and 1-tsp xanthan gum.

¼-Cup ground flax seed

1-1/2-Cups mini chocolate chips

Cream the earth balance, vanilla, flax-water mixture and coconut sugar until well blended. Add the flour and blend well. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by spoonful onto parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 13 minutes in a 350-degree F. oven. Enjoy!


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