After ostrich ride, one head ended up in the sand

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Some years ago, a county fair that shall remain nameless decided that it would hold an ostrich race.

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Some years ago, a county fair that shall remain nameless decided that it would hold an ostrich race.

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Now an ostrich is a very large bird. They make Big Bird look petite in comparison. An ostrich grows up to 7 feet tall, weighs up to 350 pounds and would make a heck of a football player. The folks at the Fair had no trouble finding ostriches willing to race. The problem came in trying to find ostrich jockeys. There seemed to be a definite shortage of people who were dumb enough to ride an ostrich.

Someone suggested me as a person who would be dumb enough to ride an ostrich. Okay, a number of people offered my name as someone who was way more than dumb enough to ride an ostrich. Or at least they felt I was qualified to attempt to ride an ostrich.

Now I knew a little bit about ostriches. I knew a few farmers who were raising them. I knew that leather from the hides of the big birds was used to make boots, jackets and purses. I knew that the meat made for good steaks. I had actually eaten beefsticks made from ostrich meat. I knew that their tail feathers were once used to make feather dusters and their eyelashes were used to produce delicate paintbrushes and makeup brushes. I had seen their huge eggs (big enough to be used for bench-pressing) used for carving and their legs made into table lamps. I had read that an ostrich could live to be 80 years old and that their feet could be used in self-defense to do more damage than Jean-Claude Van Damme in a bad mood. I also knew that an ostrich could run up to 50 miles per hour.

I appreciated people thinking about me for such an enterprise, but I wasn’t as excited as one might expect I would be about the opportunity to ride an ostrich. It didn’t help when one of the fair officials laughingly referred to the race as a suicide mission. I finally agreed to do the ostrich jockey thing when my wife told me not to.

I showed up on race day to get my instructions. I was wearing my &uot;Nearly Housebroken&uot; T-shirt. I was shown how to mount up. Any illusions I might have had of making like Roy Rogers and bounding into the saddle were quickly dashed. For one thing, there was no saddle on my ostrich. My steed did not even have a bridle. There were no reins. It took me but a short time to learn why we don’t see many people riding around on the backs of ostriches. I was amazed to discover that there are no controls of any kind on an ostrich. They are like the Yugo of the bird world. The ostrich has no steering wheel, no accelerator and no brakes. When you ride an ostrich, you go where the ostrich wants you to go.

I was told that my job as an ostrich jockey would be a simple one. All I needed to do was to hang onto the wings. It was just that easy. The race was only about 100 yards and I thought that I could hang on for at least that long. My heat pitted my bird and me against the ostriches ridden by two boys whose brains obviously hadn’t developed to the point where they would know better than to purposely put themselves on the feathered back of ostrich. I climbed onto the back of my bird at the starting line. I said a little prayer asking that neither my ostrich nor I be injured. I hated the thought of hearing my wife say, &uot;I told you so.&uot;

The starter fired his gun and we took off. I remember thinking that all I had to do was to hang on for dear life. I was amazed at the speed in which the bird took off. So amazed that I forgot about hanging on tight. I fell off, right onto some ostrich leavings. An appropriate place for a loser. I watched as the two young boys finished the race without any problem. The kids were smarter than I was, they had held onto the necks of the birds and not the wings. But I didn’t care. I was happy my career as an ostrich jockey had come to an end – ignominious as it was.

I had learned a valuable lesson. It is not the ostriches that hide their heads in the sand; it is those who ride ostriches who hide their heads in the sand.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.