‘Ride-a-buck” is a term that’s been all but erased from the Spokane Valley vernacular. Even though we no longer know what it means, we have the feeling it’s not something you’d invite the neighbors over to do.
Yet, down in the basin of Valley Mission Park on a Saturday threatening April rain, cowgirl Pat Terry was collecting $4 a head from anyone eager for a bareback lesson in forgotten culture. It was part of an annual play day for horses and mules.
“Ride-a-buck is the last thing we do on Saturday after we take the saddles off,” Terry said, speaking with a Western twang that evokes images of campfire coffee and beans eaten straight from the can. “What you do is you put a dollar underneath your thigh and try to keep it there while you ride bareback.
“If you have a fat -nough thigh, you can probably hang onto your buck,” she said. “But kids are more agile, and they can squeeze their dollar better.”
There was a time when a crew on horseback, riding bareback in Valley Mission Arena and trying not to let their dollars slip away, would attract a crowd. But the arena, it seems, also is slipping away, dying slowly from neglect.
There’s not a lot of ride-a-buck being played here anymore. The sand on the old horse grounds has been washed flat by a hundred rainstorms and is as unyielding to a boot print as concrete.
Here, old horse tracks in the hard soil seem ancient. Scattered about is some evidence of an equine’s sharp shoe biting through to the damp sand below, but these are the tracks of one horse, not 100, and mostly evidence of loneliness, not a thriving lifestyle.
The nearby stables were numbered 1 through 47, but only 16 are left standing after a fire Feb. 23. Investigators speculated the fire was either the work of an arsonist or was caused by a 3-ton pile of decomposing straw that got so hot at its anaerobic core that it burst into flames. Both scenarios hint at neglect.
Firefighters described the area as “prone to teen activity,” the kind of place where Interstate 90’s drone and the cold winter darkness can conceal the cherry ember of a cigarette. It is possible that someone standing in the courtyard, which all the stables look upon, abandoned a smoldering butt to court the wind.
Drive slowly down any Spokane Valley avenue between Wellesley and Eighth and it becomes clear why an outdoor horse arena made so much sense when Valley Mission was created 36 years ago. There are horse stables, barns and stock chutes dry as driftwood, listing in ungrazed fields of knapweed on almost every block. At the time Valley Mission Arena was built, you could see these structures from the road and most likely see horses grazing beside them.
Now dilapidated, the buildings are tucked behind layers of “progress”: split-level homes and duplexes sided with grooved plywood.
It hasn’t been legal to have a backyard horse in these parts for 15 years, when Spokane County banned everyone in Spokane Valley, except people who already had something in their stables, from owning farm animals.
Back then, people were just as likely to ride down Mission Avenue on horseback to get to the arena as they were to show up in a pickup with trailer in tow. Back then, when ride-a-buck started, Spokane Valley had its dollars ready.