Horse Shibboleth

My last piece on wild horses generated a lot of blow-back, including a comment (not published) by a reader who wished upon me certain death, preferably a slow death. That, together with other poisonous rejoinders, led me to think that henceforth maybe horses would be a good subject for me to avoid.

But, hey you bullies, I ain’t skeered. Anyway, I’m pretty sure them horse lovers ain’t goin’ to shoot my ass.

Today some things got me to reflecting on my experience with horses. Said experience is limited. I’m not very handy putting on a saddle or bridle or pack, but I can help.

My father bought two horses when we lived in Buffalo, Wyoming.  (You always have to say “Wyoming” after the name of the town, you know.) One, a bay gelding, was aptly named Blaze for the white blaze on his face. The other, a short-coupled (maybe part Belgian) black-as-coal mare, was inappropriately named Beauty. Think of those black horses in jousting tournaments; she was that beautiful.

Dad rented a 20 acre pasture with a tiny wooden shed; the shed had a feed room and a two-horse barely larger feeding room with a wooden trough for feed. Every day after school I either rode my bicycle or dragged my Radio Flyer sled (obviously depending on the weather) about a mile each way to feed and water the horses.

These horses were gentle, but I didn’t know much about that. Because my father told me: “Don’t ever get behind a horse because it will kick you.” That warning was engraved into my memory like every one of Moses’ commandments.

The problem: the feeding stall was just long enough for a horse to put its head in the trough without bumping its butt on the opposite wall. How is a fellow to put hay and then cake in front of each horse without walking behind at least one of them? And, of course, they were rowdy and enthusiastic from the moment of my arrival; they crowded the shed door and crowded the feed room door. I, remembering the dire warning, was terrified the whole time I was there. How long would it be before one of them kicked or stomped me into hamburger? Every day I got out of there was a miracle.

This only lasted four or five years. Since then I have ridden bareback with college girls, packed into the wilderness in British Columbia and Montana, hunted horseback for weeks in Wyoming, and let more than a few of them nuzzle me. I think I recovered from the trauma.

Take-away lessons: Parents: Be aware that categorical statements which you may understand are not absolute may be taken by your children to be written in stone. Horse-lovers: Try to be more tolerant.  (Yeah, right)

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Published on July 12, 2011

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