Sometimes You Bet on the Bay


One reader thought I wanted to be a horse.

 I don’t. 

I don’t even want to own a horse at this stage of my life. 

So, why am I writing this?

To alleviate sadness. Maybe it’s grief. Perhaps it’s a longing to feel as I once felt riding bareback around the orchard trees as though I was Slalom skiing. I was atop a perfect horse.

Years later, I can say with perfect confidence that Boots was a perfect horse. I thought he was then, but experiences with other horses have told me how accurate I was. I now see that Boots was what Pat Parelli would call a “Superhorse.”

He was only five years old when my dad bought him, so he couldn’t have had too much training. I was 12 and didn’t have much training either. Yet, we soon learned to be a team. He neck-reined, which means you could ride one-handed, and with only a slight turn of the wrist, with reins against his neck, he would turn on a dine. At the time, didn’t know about the horse-human connection. I had not learned what the more-recent horse gentler/whispers say that a horse responds to light pressure. A slight movement of my body would cause him to leap into a canter smooth as silk and would eliminate the bumpy trot.

Why in the world a prey animal (the horse) would allow a predator (the human) on his back is beyond me. 

 A horse bucks to get a mountain lion off his back. He shies, which can put him, in a split-second, four feet away from a harmful object. (A snake, maybe? Or a plastic bag. If you have ever ridden out one of those split-second maneuvers, good for you. It can put you on their neck, on their tail, under their belly, on the ground.) 

Last night my husband called my attention to an article on Firefox called The Horse human corporation is a neurobiological miracle. (He knew I was interested in horses and brains.) And what happened? I slipped into sadness. 

I grieved over selling Boots. I thought of the horses we have had. Then, I thought of getting Duchess, a 24-year-old Arabian 40 years after Boots. Duchess lived out her life with us, eased me back into riding, rescued a mustang, and raised two young fillies to adulthood. 

(Read, It’s Hard to Stay on a Horse While You’re Unconsciousness by Joyce Davis. Paperback only. Long title, but appropriate.) 

I learned from a horse named Dee that my daughter bought and ended up selling because she bucked. Dee tended to go in circles. However, I found that if I focused on something ahead, like a fence post, she would go right toward that object. Don’t tell me there isn’t a brain-to-brain connection between the horse and rider. 

A horse will do just about anything he can for you provided you know how to ask—there’s the rub.

Thanks to the horse gentler/whisperers, only recently have we learned some of the subtle cues a horse uses to communicate. Their very nature has allowed him to be a partner with humans.

A twitch of the ear can tell another horse to move away. A pressure as light as a finger on your eyeball will move a horse. Yet for eons, we have used ropes, bits, spurs, and whips because we thought that since he is big and powerful, we need to use force to control him.

We evolved as hunters and being a predator, we believe in using control. Horses evolved as flight animals. If it looks scary, smells scary, or is believed to be something scary—RUN.

Years ago, when the Hermiston Horse Auction in Hermiston, Oregon, was in Vogue, my second daughter and I loved going to their once-a-year big sale. We would drive the two or three hours necessary up the “Columbia River Highway to Hermiston, Oregon, stay in a motel, and go to the Auction. One year we accidentally killed a TV set by placing an ice cream cake on it. Sorry about your TV, guys. We sold Dee there to a really nice woman who would finally give her the home she deserved, for she had been alone for a long time without attention.

Once at the Auction, three guys and two Norwegian fjord horses put on a show. Norwegian fjords are striking animals, buckskin or cream with a dark mane and tail. Their distinguishing feature is a white stripe that runs the length of their mane. The horses are husky and small, so a rider can hop on their backs relatively easily. The fellows were playing musical chairs with the horses. As the horses were cavorting around the arena, one guy would jump on a horse, another would pull him off and hop on, three men trying to be that last man riding. So, it went with one jacket getting torn to bits and the bidding going wild. My daughter bid on one, but the price went too high.

Norwegian fjord. How did they roach that mane, usually the white stripe is down the middle of the black., Fancy slipping I’d say.

Thinking there was money to be made at the Auction, Daughter Dear bought a gentle little mare named Sweetie. Poor Sweetie’s feet had been so neglected that the Ferrier I called in for a trimming thought her legs might be permanently damaged. We boarded her at the Auction yard for a week until time to drive to Hermiston. I rode her between the stalls just to see how she handled. Sweet horse, neglectful owner.  

Sweetie sold at the Auction to a mother and daughter who were as tickled to get her as two kids at the ice cream store. A few months later, my daughter received a call. “Who was Sweetie bred to?” 

“What?” Well, Sweetie gave them a foal that day. They were over the moon.

 A horse can make you a gentler person if you watch and listen. Let your adrenaline go up, and the horse feels it. Be calm, and the horse knows it. I suppose part of my sadness came from realizing that people have yanked horses around—because they didn’t understand. This animal will do just about anything he can for you—provided you know how to ask.

My dentist boss used to say, “Horses smell.” I would say, “Yes, a dirty horse, or their yard. Not a clean horse.” I bet my boss bathed each morning and wore a deodorant. A real horse person can bury their nose in a horse’s mane, breathe deeply and relax into an “Ahh.”

Besides having my daughters, my most exciting days were getting a horse. The day my dad led Boots down the drive and told me to make friends with him is permanently emblazoned on my brain. The day I bought Duchess, I told myself, “I’m going to be happy every day of my life.” The day I bought six-month-old Velvet at the Hermiston Horse auction driving up my bidder higher than I wanted, everyone applauded. A cowboy told us afterward: “Watching you guys buy a horse is more fun than buying one myself.” The day I bid on six-month-old Sierra at the Burns Wild Horse Auction only to drive her 5 hours home then have the truck, and trailer jackknife on the hill brought my adrenaline up. With a mustang stomping in the trailer and knowing that if I lost a mustang, I must pay for its capture, I trudged up the hill, remembering what a horse book told me: “A horse is prone to stampede, especially a young horse.” I saddled Duchess, and after Husband Dear opened the trailer, Duchess and I stampeded up the hill and into the round pen with little Sierra hot on our trail. 

 Slip out. Close gate. Horse penned. Success.

What would I have done without Duchess? Trying to get that truck and trailer out of its predicament would have severely shaken up little Sierra. 

In my mind’s eye, I see Sierra and Velvet racing up the drive. I see Velvet taking a Lipizzaner leap off the embankment onto the driveway below. A freed horse is such fun. They would frolic around the house, run on the gravel drive, roll in the Oregon red dirt, then settle down to nibbling the grass around the house. 

“A horse, a horse, My Kingdom for a horse.”  Shakespeare’s Richard III

Point? That important things can change suddenly.

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