Friday, March 26, 2010
What is it about horses? All my early favorite stories were about them. "Black Beauty", "The Black Stallion", "King of the Wind". There were Misty, Silver, Trigger, Fury, Flicka, and many more. All through my childhood I yearned for a horse. The closest I ever got was Brighty. Brighty was a donkey. I loved him, even though he wasn't a horse; even thought he once tried to scrape me off his back by rubbing up against the granary, and then threw me and stomped on me because I wouldn't be scraped off. Most of the time he was very sweet, and we ranged allover the 160-plus acres upon which we lived. He only shucked me off into a prickly-pear patch once. But he wasn't a horse. No matter how hard I squinted, his most prominent feature was his pair of jack-rabbit ears.
Brighty and I lived on an egg farm in the Texas panhandle. Our place had 2000 hens, 40 acres of wheat, 40 acres of grain sorghum, 40 acres of barley, and 5 acres of tomatoes: In the winter we would pasture a couple dozen horses belonging to a friend of my step- father on the grain-stubble. I didn't get to know them well. They were stand-offish. And anyway, I wasn't allowed to "fool with them." But I used to watch them graze for hours at time.
Twice every day these horses used to amble up to the equipment yard where the stock-tank was, and get a drink. The last to come up were always a matched pair of wooly, liver-chestnut, Shetland ponies. Their charm, if they ever had any, was lost on me.
They were ornery. One of them was just plain diabolical. You could walk right up to them, they didn't mind. It gave them the perfect opportunity to either tear the buttons off your coat, or take a chunk out of your arm. But the meaner one had a real talent for trouble.
Each time the herd made the trip up to the water-tank, "Diablo", as I called him, would hang back with his brother while the big horses thrust their muzzles into the cold water and began to drink their fill. Then "Diablo" would sneak silently up behind a thirsty mare or gelding, bite the hell out of his or her flank, and slip quickly around to the other side of his victem.
The bushwacked horse would throw up its head, squealing with pain and rage, ears pinned, eyes rolling, and tie into the horse standing nearest its bitten side. There was always a scrap, and "Diablo" would watch it with evident satisfaction. Then, when it was all over, and the herd began to amble back out to the grazing, he would have a nice, big drink, and follow them out.
The only horse in this group whose real name was known to me was an Apaloosa mare, a red chestnut, with a white, chestnut-spangled blanket, and long graceful legs. Her name was "Lacy Britches." She was almost as friendly as "Diablo." If you tried to approach her, she would put down her head, and wheel around, doing her best to kick you into next Sunday. Then she'd go off, squealing, bucking, crow-hopping and wringing her tail.
Once under saddle, she was reputed to be the best cow-horse in the county, but you had to get aboard first. "Lacy Britches" made that pretty interesting, and once you were there, you better know your business, because she was a professional, and did not suffer fools gladly. Mostly I admired her from a distance.
I did get to ride her once, though. For a minute.
The guy who owned these critters, sent his son out to check on them. He arrived with a brand-new braided-leather hackamore bridle, and with the aid of a bucket with a few handfuls of sweet-feed in it, caught "Lacy Britches", and rode her up to the stock-tank. I had been watching all this with great interest. I wandered over, and keeping a respectful distance from the mare, made some complimentary remarks on her appearance. He asked if I wanted to ride her.
How could I say no? "Lacy Britches" looked about as tall as the windmill, and as safe as a Saturn rocket, but my eleven-year-old tomboy pride wouldn't let me refuse. I was considered something of an expert on horses by my schoolmates, and riding the infamous, widow-maker "Lacy Britches" could only enhance my image. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and said. "Sure!"
"Lacy Britches" was in a foul mood. "Lacy Britches" was always in a foul mood. I got a leg up from the guy, gathered the reins, and looked between the monster's ears. The young man stepped back, and the mare turned her head just enough to be able to see me, pinned those ears, and bowed up her back. We remained like that for a few seconds, and then I decided that I had better take charge of the situation, or she certainly would. I got both hands into her mane, and clapped my heels into her. She squatted down and took off like a scalded cat. It was a short ride.
Earlier that day, and unknown to me, my stepfather had strung a double-strand of smooth fence-wire across the yard where the stock-tank stood. It was about thirty feet from the tank, and about eight feet in the air. At any rate I knew nothing about it until a couple of seconds after "Lacy Britches" erupted across the yard. She ran under it. I, alas, did not. It caught me just under the chin, and due to the fortunate absence of a saddle, peeled me right off her back. I landed on my butt in the dirt with two handfuls of Appaloosa hair.
"Lacy Britches" was greatly perplexed. She forgot herself to the extent that she turned to see what had become of me, but soon recalled that she had a reputation to defend, and clattered off, dragging her reins. By the time the young man caught up with her, she had stomped on and broken both reins of his nice hackamore. I amazingly was unhurt.
The other horse that stands out from that time, lived across the highway. I discovered him quite by accident. He was lying on his side in a field of wheat stubble. He was a sorry sight. Once he had been pure white. Gaunt and filthy, his rough, shaggy winter coat did not hide his ribs, which looked like a picket fence. His hooves were grotesque, having grown out and curled up at the ends.
He lifted his head a little when I came near. He tried a feeble whinny, but it sounded like the rattle of the dry wheat stalks in a hot summer breeze. I noticed that he had eaten every scrap of forage in a circle around where he lay. I wondered how long he had gone without water.
I began to cry, and ran home to tell my Mother. She called the police. Before long, a horse-van appeared, and as we watched, they winched him into the thickly bedded interior of the van. We were crying, sure that he would die. But he didn't. Months later my Grand-uncle drove me to the place where he lived. He was up on his feet, and they almost looked normal. His coat was soft and clean, and there were no ribs to be seen. He was munching hay contentedly. He didn't know me, but I didn't mind. I just stroked and petted him while he ate. His name was Lucky.