The bright sorrel gelding has a silver-gray mane, tufted heels like a Clydesdale, a deep brown tail, and a small white diamond on his forehead that peeps out from under his silver forelock. He has a habit of snarling against the bit, drawing his teeth back and throwing his neck against the reins. He rails against the constraining force of the bridle. His eyes gape and flicker, darting left and right in a constant hyper-awareness of his environment. As E. trots him in a circle, he presses outward against the reins, his neck arced and taut against the leather straps. The tension created by his reactionary pull makes his body lean outward as horse and rider circle, as a child leaning out against the centrifugal force of a merry-go-round reaches out to feel the wind slip through their fingers but is gripped on the other hand by the stabilizing force of the spinning metal- leaning outward, but being pulled in a forward circle. His body is grudgingly following directions, but his mind, his spirit, are fighting.
The fields stretch from horizon to horizon, forming a sheer, vertical plane interrupted by so much as the stacatto zip of a cell-phone tower, or the repetitious blips of cobalt blue tarp-covered cotton bales. Summer is early planting season, and the fields are barren- still furrowed and brown, without so much as a seedling to color the landscape. The stark horizon creates a vast stage that frames the gelding’s battle, visually cueing me as to the minuteness and futility of the horse’s private struggle. Take it easy, man. Relax into it. Feel the comforting presence of guidance, of routine.
His haunches shimmer and his silver hair rustles, glistens in the sun. A field of silver-blue grass ripples and sighs. Juniper trees stand prim like the royal guard, delineating the edge of the field with their voluminous greenery. His hip muscles ripple and bounce as he trots, jerkily- jolting and balking every few strides to fling his head up, let out a whinny, and shake his lips in the air. R. watches, reticent. The brim of his hat is set low, his eyes downcast.
the spiritual plane
Duke is a gaited Tennessee walker. He’s black and white-patched, with a black-and-white mane and a solid black tail that falls in gentle waves. I snag his red-and-green striped halter from a peg in the tack room, then walk out across the far south corner of the pasture to catch him where he’s munching buffalo grass. He’s a little frisky today, and arcs his neck a few times to shimmy his lips around in the air and blow air through his nostrils as we walk back to the barn. The halter is handsome and very much polo-style on his black-and-white nose. I curry-comb him in circles, working the dirt out of his coat and soothing him with a gentle touch, a little scratch behind the ears. I see he’s been taking dirt-baths- he’s got a few crusted patches of dirt on his haunches. I take extra time to work the crusted dirt out with a dandy-brush and a curry-comb, so that when I put the saddle on, he doesn’t have something trapped underneath that might irritate his skin.
Once he’s clean and well-groomed, I pick up his saddle blanket from the tack room, and hoist it onto his back, placing the center of the blanket evenly on his spine between his withers, with the back of the blanket centered on his hips. Next I grab his saddle. I’ve been riding the same saddle on him all summer (a modified version of a traditional Western- with a lightly padded seat, a front pommel, a cantle, and a 3-point girth rigging), so the stirrups are already adjusted to the length of my legs. I hitch the chest-strap, girth, and right-stirrup over the saddle-horn, then place it on my hip, twist back to get some leverage, then hoist the saddle over the saddle blanket, making sure to center it on the saddle-blanket. I get his bridle from the tack room- a black bridle made of biothane (not leather like a traditional bridle), which is a leatherlike material that stays supple without being oiled- making it a gentler and more comfortable material for the horse as it lays across the his face. The bridle has silver conchos that sit below his ears, and a tassel at his forelock. Duke takes the bit easily, without chomping at it or trying to spit it out.
We walk along the side of a caliche road. The caliche was likely mined from a pit proximal to our land- D.’s caliche pit that I used to watch the mining operations at as a child. Duke’s feet have been sensitive since he was shoed, and he likes to walk on the softer tufts of silver-blue grama grass at the side of the road than on the rocks. Duke used to be down in central Texas working as a field trial horse, and before that he was somewhere like Iowa- he’s been a field trial horse all his life. The rules in the field trials say that a horse has to walk in the competition, so the field trial competitors fudge the rules by getting a gaited Tennessee walker and entering it in the competition so that it can compete at its signature “running-walk” gait; the walkers can compete at a faster gait, while still technically falling under the category of “walking”.
The running-walk is a 4-beat gait (each foot hits the ground individually), as opposed to a trot (a two-beat gait with diagonal shoes hitting the ground together). It’s faster than a regular walk, in part, because the horse oversteps its front footprints with its back feet by 6 to 18 inches- giving it greater forward volition with each stride.
We walk out to the far pasture, which is expansive, topographically even except for a few gopher-holes, and lined in juniper trees, that have “berrylike, bluish, glaucous, and bloomy cones at the tips of their shoots”, as one botanical writer describes them, and bud with little slate-blue berries. The trees were originally planted as a pioneer-engineering technique, to divert wind from the field- to create a living barrier to disrupt the gusting prairie winds that can whip across the land, carrying fertilizer and pollutants, and whipping the dirt into dust-devils when the groundcover and rainfalls aren’t sufficient to keep the earth in its place. The juniper barrier is surprisingly effective, especially if you ride along the edge of the field by the trees, but West Texas is interminably windy in a way that no tree can change.
I knudge the horse a little with my knees and let out the reins to let him hit his gait, which is smooth as a glass sea- it feels like you’re ice-skating across the prairie. A trot can jangle your booty in the saddle- especially if you’re riding a tough leather Western saddle without padding- but riding a Tennessee walker at their gait is like riding a Cadillac. We have a good vibe and he is sensitive to the slightest gesture I make, the gentlest guidance. I feel his feet as though they were my own, and I trust him. The sky is bigger than big- a world of expansive cerulean that neither begins nor ends. Clouds don’t pass by, but hang- as if painted, or hung like ornaments. The slightest waver, the slightest flutter, of a cluster of side-oats or a juniper branch against this landscape becomes of ultimate importance- sublime with its languidity and ease of motion, and with the narrative import that the smallest gesture of the prairie has for the fabric of the ecosystem as a whole.
I loosen the reins a bit and we take a long, straight canter across the field. His feet whirl and hit the ground in 3/4 time- an easy lope that frees my mind. At this pace you have to be one with the air and the land, as well as with your horse- minding your trajectory for stones or soft patches of dirt, and at ease with the air as you float a bit above the saddle, anchored by your feet in the stirrups, your knees around his girth, and your connection with the horse. The intense material awareness of the earth and leather coupled with absolute spiritual freedom as we canter across the prairie soothes me deeply.
It’s a plane of unity and bliss.
somebody to lean on
Took Duke out today to ride-along with the sorrel Pancho.
E. catches him while I catch Duke, and we saddle up. E. has an elaborately tooled leather saddle made by Alan Durham, which she slings over Poncho’s saddle-blanket. She had met Alan Durham through her friend and mentor Leo, from the racetrack. Alan started out as a cowboy on the Matador Ranch, and worked there for decades. They called him “Bull Durham.” Word has it he was pretty scrappy, and hard-headed in a fight. He eventually opened a saddleshop out by Matador, and E. spent many afternoons hanging out in the saddle shop shooting the breeze. He would take anybody’s order, but he’d only make the saddles he wanted- which makes the gift he made for her especially remarkable: a hand-tooled saddle, a pair of chaps, and a collar piece with her name engraved. Durham had been friends with another, older leather-tooler named Schweitzer- whose signature motif was a “poinsetta”, which E. says looks an “awful lot like a marijuana leaf.” Durham’s signature motif was an acorn and oak-leaf, and for E.’s saddle he interwove the two motifs, to make a “poinsetta” pattern with acorn-and-oak-leaf accents.
E. had a fine-looking pair of Schweitzer tapaderos- a gift from Leo. She took the Schweitzer tapaderos in to Durham’s saddle-shop to have them refurbished. The saddleshop was always in a state of chaos, with tooling materials, leather, and finished work strewn around- but when the crusty, older cowboys would come in off the field, they’d spot those Schweitzer taps a mile away, light up and say, “those schweitzer taps for sale? where’d-you-get-them-can-I-buy-them”.
Leo had helped Durham make her chaps- he cut the leg part out of leather. He sat at the kitchen table, chewing on a big ol’ cigar, then pulled out a pair of leather shears about a foot long. He looked her up and down, still gnawing that cigar, then cut that leather in one sure swoop, without so much as drawing a pattern. He drawls, You know, you don’t have to measure things. You just have to be sensitive. E. says, I think the world used to be that way, more.
Leo’s mind tricks
Leo could embarrass you too though, (oh my word)- He’d traded horses for a lifetime, and he could shave off every last cent on a horse-brokerage that could possibly be shaved off. Leo and E. pulled up to a fellow’s barn for one trade, where he intended to buy a saddle. Showing off his powers of persuasion for her, Leo examined the saddle, then started ambling about, picking up every single thing in the place to look it over, then steering the conversation back to the saddle. The fellow wanted about $900 for that saddle, but they left paying about $200 for it. “By the end I was thinking just give him the money so we can leave, it’s embarassing to watch this poor man crumble.” She laughs.
Leo’s judo chops
Leo had wrestled, back in the day, and he knew pressure points. He had tremendous hand and arm strength, because he braided twenty stock-whips a day. (“That whip i have? She gestures toward the corral. Leo made it”). Even though Leo was old and fat, he could give somebody one of these (gestures a judo chop). He could just walk up to them and drop ‘em right to their knees. He would periodically use that on somebody who was getting too sassy in the barn; he’d lure them into a meandering conversation about martial arts, then be like, hey, what is that judo stuff? then once they were totally caught up in the conversation he’d say, say… is it like this? then chop them right in the belly.
Anyway, Pancho’s looking fine and well today in his Durham saddle. I guide Duke over and have him stand like a blockade while E. mounts Pancho, so he doesn’t freak out. We amble down the caliche road out to the back pasture, then cut across a field to the red pipe gate. Duke loosens a rock out from under the gate with his shoe, making the gate impossible to close. We leave it to fix on the way back. Pancho’s doing okay, a little frisky- but E. says that without a companion he’s “pretty much a rodeo.” Right now he’s taking cues from Duke and chills out enough to go for a long running-walk down to the dead tree. We think Pancho’s a Missouri Foxtrotter- he’s gaited, but he isn’t a Tennessee Walker. I always thought there was only one breed of gaited horse, but E. says there’s a bunch of them “out in Appalachia”, where the breed is only prevalent in “your holler and the one over”. (Holler’s old Appalaichan talk for a little township in the valleys between the Blue Ridge Mountains).
We pass a ranch with a small llama, which is floofy and extravagant like a Barbarella prop or a Beverly Hills foyer-chair. It makes a nutty alien face. Llamas tend to creep out horses, and they creep me out too. Pancho is surprisingly chill about both the llama and the neighbor’s center pivot, but gets a little spooked by some cows. Cows are always standing around looking mopey and a little blue, standing like statues and regarding you plaintively with their saucerlike eyes. We walk by and let him apprehend the cows with his left eye, then turn a circle and let him apprehend them with his right eye. E. says, horses have to learn everything with both halves of their brain.
As we ride we talk about the symbiosis of all the systems of the body, the starkly elegant color palette of the prairie (deep terra cottas, turquoise blue skies, the deep jade of a tumbleweed that hasn’t yet uprooted to tumble), the Texas and Native American ceramics and jewelery-making arts that mimic the palette of the land, and how soft, warm, and dry, the underbelly of a horned toad is as he sits in your hand. I love her. I missed her so much. I missed the endless sky. I missed the horned toads and the beautiful dirt, and I missed my home. I don’t want anyone to change.
I think about all the people I saw dying on the streets of LA, and I wonder who their families are, where their home is. I think of my friend Nick’s mom, and I think she would have liked to comb her boy’s hair, tell him some stories, wrap him in a warm sweater.
music of the prairie
Went riding today in the back pasture. The sky had some small cloud patches- an ethereal swath on the west end, and small little cottony poufs that hung regularly spaced and stock-still over the east end. I was thinking, a gallop sounds like a bugle or a french horn, while a walk sounds like a drawling harmonica. You think of a riding-song, with a bugle that has a sort of pulsing melody that drifts over the rest of the song- maybe a gallop has a 4/4 melody at about 120 bpm; whereas a walk has a noodly but regular type of drift, like a Dylan ballad (so different from the pounding 140 bpm techno-house of a rave, which to me reflects the more dystopian qualities of an accelerated, fast-paced life in the city). It’s like the way the Native and jewelery arts of Texas too mimic the palette of the land from which they came. As we ride along, I think, I too am an articulation of the land and the world in which I was raised, and an articulation of the family who gave me life- with an additional little kazing of personality that makes me myself.
the bullsnake in the tack room
Well. You know, I guess there’s always mice around barns and such, and I’d heard some guy say there was a bullsnake that’d hide in the tackroom, and scare the daylights outta you every once in a while- ‘cause you know they look a lot like rattlesnakes. The bullsnake was in there ‘cause there were mice and rats. Mr. Durham said, it was a real problem- as a saddlemaker, you just end up replacing stuff that’s gotten chewed up. But he says, one guy solved that problem. what? really? yeah, he said, skunk oil. If you catch enough skunks, get their scent gland, and collect all that oil- well, then that guy treated his saddle with skunk oil. And you know, nothing ever chewed his saddle. What did that smell like? Wasn’t it awful? and Mr. Durham said, well, you know? It was a way-out-west kind of smell.
a bullet to the belt buckle
Well, everybody at the racetrack had heard the talk that this guy’s wife was having an affair with the leading jockey. So one day, the trainer’s pulling out of the track as the jockey’s pulling up. So, the trainer pulls over to the bar ditch on the side and gets out to have a talk, beat the snot out of him- whatever. So, the jockey gets out of his car, and shoots the trainer. No nothing, just boom. He knew what was coming. The trainer’s a big strong guy, around 6 foot; the jockey’s a strong guy, but about a foot shorter. But instead of killing him, that bullet hits his big cowboy belt buckle, and the belt buckle deflects the bullet into the trainer’s hip. So he walked on crutches for a while, but after that he got along fine. The conclusion everybody drew from that is that, these jockeys, they're all drug addicts and alcoholics and all, and if somebody just ain't scared of dying, they’re pretty dangerous.
100 miles in a day
So, Mr. Durham- longest he ever rode was a hundred miles in a day. They started at a lake over by Reiss Airforce Base and rode down toward Lamesa, switching horses every couple horses- riding with a whole herd, so the cowboys could switch off. That was while he was working at Matador Ranch, or maybe just doing a day’s work delivering the herd for somebody- but that was real unusual. Even back then.
Bill Due was a palomino horse, and he would run, as Leo said, straight as a string. He wasn’t a thoroughbred, so he ran short quarter-horse races. He would only run straightaways- that was just his M.O. So in one race, they were coming down the straightaway, and the girth broke on the jockey who was riding Bill Due. That guy didn’t lose his cool; he just started gathering up the girth and pad and everything (carrying all the weight he’d checked in with ), so he wasn’t disqualified, and he won the race.
Back when Leo was racing around New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, back when horseracing was like football and the press would report every little thing, everybody knew that Leo had a gallop boy who was going to work a horse for the first time that morning. Really gonna work him- which means running all-out. Signal Time was a real reliable horse-he’d pull up after the workout when you asked him to. They were supposed to work him at 5am that day, and everybody knew about- all the press would be there watching and taking notes. So Leo went down and woke up the gallop boy at 4am. The boy said it’s too early, but Leo replied, we’re doing it now before the press gets here. So, they take him out for a gallop. Signal Time hits that turn and starts to run, and the gallop boy’s out there hollering, Signal Time no, please dont run, please, please!, and Leo walks out and says, now aren’t you glad I came to get ya?
a fancy hat
Leo promises me that this is true- so, he had a horse who was pretty rowdy in the barn, and one day some lady with her big gray hat and her snooty ways and all came by; (Mom, would you say that the lady with the gray hat was “high-falutin”? Yes- you could say she was high-falutin’). Leo says, don’t go by that stall cause that horse’ll get ya. And the horse grabbed the brim of the hat in his teeth, pulled the hat down and broke the crown of her fancy hat as he pulled it down to her neck, and was pulling that hat around before Leo came over & saved her.
the sorry guy who stole my sawdust
This is a Leo story- the 2 previous ones were Mr. Durham stories. So, the sorriest guy at the racetrack (and if you’re the sorriest guy at the racetrack you’re pretty bad, ‘cause you gotta lotta competition for that title). But that’s what he was. He sent the racetrack flunkie over to our barn to our brand new load of sawdust. See, you’d get this big dumptruck full of sawdust, and you had to wait forever for it, ‘cause everybody wanted sawdust. And you needed it for the horse’s bedding. and whoop, there it went, over to Dave what’s-his-name’s barn. Naturally, I was hopping mad. And of course, so was Leo. Leo’s comforting words to me were, well, even the sorriest son of a bitch knows when he’s done wrong. you gotta know that inside, that he knows he’s done wrong. one of these days we may get a chance to set things right. Months later, I drive up to the barn, and there’s a load of sawdust. I hadn't ordered it. Leo, how’d you get a load of sawdust? Well, that week Leo and Dave what’s-his-name were talking, and he wanted to borrow something- which of course means you’ll never see it again. and Leo says, it’s a sorry thing to steal from a little girl like that. Elaine says, “and that’s how Elaine got her sawdust back”.
elaine, my name is cactus jack
oh, lordy. (laughs). so i go out to the barn one day- we’d been waiting for Blackie (the idiot mare who ran up and kicked Go Little Rocket in the pasture), she was real pretty, Blackie - we’d been waiting for her to foal. Leo takes me back to her stall one afternoon and says, Elaine, my name is Cactus Jack. He had this pretty little bay foal- a colt. She said, how’d you pick that name already? and Leo says, I can just tell- he’s gonna be some trouble. Hmm. okay-
cactus jack gets his feet trimmed
Well, Cactus Jack was trouble alright. He had more joints in more directions than the average horse. There was nothing gentle or loving about him- he was as lovable as a cactus. and real hard to handle- or do anything with. Eventually we had to trim his feet, so we waited ‘till we got Frank Butts (that’s b-u-t-t-s) to come out, and we were going to trim Cactus Jack’s feet. and (you know that thing you can put on a horses front lip to pinch it?) So, we twitched his lip. Leo had his ear pinned down and was pinching it, and we had him pinned up against the wall of the stall. Leo said to E., you get back there out of the way. The horse-shoer was working on one of his feet, and Cactus Jack just managed to explode in a big ol kick- emptying everything out of Leo’s pocket when he kicked. I mean, four legs went in four different directions- and that’s Cactus Jack. We finally managed to get his feet trimmed, but I mean it was wild.
As he got older, we finally managed to get him to the horse-walker out there at the barn- what we would do is put his mother on the walker, and he’d follow. Then he was a little older again, we put him out on pasture. But by the time he was old enough to start working, we knew he was just way too wild. So, that’s when we found the sure-nuff cowboy, and the sure-nuff cowboy’s son.
cactus jack goes to the sure-nuff cowboy trainers
I don’t know how we caught him and put him in a horse trailer, but we did, and took him out to the sure-nuff cowboy trainers. And they even got shoes on his feet. They had a round pen with solid board walls that sloped out some at the top- giving the trainers room to work even if the horse was pulling up alongside the wall. The wall was ten or twelve feet high. We left him there and would check on him sometimes, and he was doing ok- they were riding him a little, working him. But one day he got loose, and ran through their whole place- ran through a barbed wire fence, took out every hot wire in the place. Pretty soon we got a call back to pick up Cactus Jack. Shortly after, Leo passed away suddenly. E. was left to sort things out and sell the horses after Leo passed. But, she even managed to sell Cactus Jack. She put an ad in the Thrifty Nickel, and got that horse sold. That was back when you called in ads by phone to the Thrifty Nickel, and the staff would misspell things, especially horse terms, in the most comical ways. A year after she sold Cactus Jack, E. got a phone call from the guy who had bought Cactus, and E. was afraid he might want to give Cactus back. But he gets her on the phone and says, I’ve just got one thing to ask- How did you ever get shoes on that horse?
on 41 coming up on tahoka highway.
Rain slicked asphalt borders ridged brown fields of fertile earth, and a heavenly sunset glows behind veils of distant rain. The sky is a cerulean expanse brushed with lighter, dusty swaths of pastel in giant arcs. Lower in the sky toward the horizon, a pale gold light asserts itself through layers of cloudcover, as a door to a wholly separate realm- which both reveals and conceals the place to which it connects us.
Went trailriding today out in the hill country at a horsewoman’s ranch. The difference between being a cowgirl or cowboy and being a horsewoman or horseman (besides money) is the difference between getting everything done and doing everything right. For example, a horsewoman always rides a finely-bred horse with beautiful tack, and a cowgirl can ride a bronco bareback- but both can ride. In every horsewoman, there is a bit of cowgirl- As this horsewoman says, “I’ve been riding since I was 12, but I didn’t learn how to ride until I was 40”. Horsewomen are a particular type of Southern gentlewomen who make their cosmos beautiful by embracing cowgirl culture and style with grace and elegance, and there is a network of horsewomen across the American South who trade horses and mules, riding tips and tack, recipes and vacation homes.
This horsewoman, P., has got a couple of pups- Ernie and Ernie Jr. They’re Jack Russell Terrier pups of scaling proportion, like canine Russian stacking dolls. Ernie Jr. could fit perfectly right in the perimeter of Ernie, and they look pretty gosh-darn near identical. E. rides Rockie, short for Rockstar- a Rocky Mountain Trail horse. He's a shiny bright brown gelding with big knees, a short back, and a beautiful, elegant face. P. rides a shiny black mule named Betty Lou Longears- an animal so pretty you could almost forget she’s half-donkey.
We amble up a caliche road past their cattle, and P. tells us about some of her friends who used to land their helicopter out in the field when they’d come to visit. We amble along past their llama- just as nutty, big-eyed and sci-fi as the ones back on the caprock. I take Duke for a run, and we make some circles in the meadow. We come along a creek and let the horses wade through- P. on her mule takes the lead, and they slog knee-deep through the water, gently checking beneath them for sure footing. Duke panics for a minute, unsure of his footing- but he watches Rockie and follows their lead, jumping out of the creek and scrambling up the rocky bank.
By the time we head back to her home, it’s late evening. The sunset is gentle, in variegating bands of blush pink, coral rose, and pale cornflower. The sun itself is a deep, flaming tangerine that melts a hole in the edge of the prairie as it passes by us to break dawn on new hemispheres. Crickets and cicadas create a tickly wash of white noise- wire brush on rice paper.
She fixed us a beautiful dinner: sausage that she makes herself from pigs that she raises, humanely, a little sweet mustard, boiled beets with bleu cheese, beet greens sauteed in olive oil with lemon and pepper, kale chips (homemade and brought along by E.), and chardonnay. She tells us how she used to go sleighing at Christmas with her neighbors who had a big “people-mover” sleigh, drank schnapps, and would glide over the snow singing Christmas carols together. Sadly, those neighbors divorced and the caroling tradition fell apart along with their marriage. To keep the tradition up, she later ended up buying a cherry red sleigh with deep green velvet sleigh-benches. She says you can pull a sleigh with mules, real easy: these Amish mules learn to pull before they learn to ride, she explains. its a no-brainer.
Gordon & the fool dishwasher
One day, the old guy at the ranch across the way asks Leo to come over. He says, come over at this-and-such a time when the boys are gone. So, Leo gets over there and he says, what is it. The man, says, now you know what kinda horsemen my two boys are. This horse Gordon is too good of a horse to let those boys ride. You take that horse, and make a beeline outta that pasture, and be gone by the time they get back. Gordon was a biiiig stock roping horse.
Shortly after acquiring Gordon, Leo had been riding a different horse- some bronc that he was taking out of the pen for the first time- riding him through the *grand metropolis* of Dickens, Texas- and the guy who ran the restaurant there comes running out, waving his dishcloth at Leo. That freaked Leo’s horse out, and that bronc “broke in two”, and bucked all the way across the square back home.
Now Leo was hot-tempered, and had flaming red hair in his younger days, and wasn’t going to put up with that. So, he gets Gordon the big stock roping horse out and rides back into town, up on the wooden sidewalk in Dickens, throws open the screen door, rides that horse right into the restaurant, ropes the dishwasher over the counter, drags him out in the square on his lasso, then lets Gordon hold him while Leo beats the dishwasher up.
E. says, Leo, why have you never told me this story before??! and Leo says, well… it’s not very nice.
the sway-backed flop-eared superstar
Leo would play dumb with anybody. It was his entertainment, to see what he could get out of them, and to entertain himself with the lack of information they had. Once a year they had mule races at the racetrack, and people came in with their racing mules, from all over. It caused a lot of talk and gossip about prize money- like how much they were making, how much are you winning at the mule races, how much you spend on training, and all that.
We had an old booth-seat from our diner set up outside our barn door (we were livin in style), and we would sit there and talk while we watch the horses on the walker. Leo had this marvelous iridescent stallion- the color of The Flame from Walter Farley- except that he was sway-backed. It was kinduva fluke thing that he had that defect, but that’s why Leo had gotten to acquire this horse with great breeding. A couple doors down, Leo also had this nice mare- except that she was flop-eared. Her ears just hung down like a bunny.
So, all these people are in for mule race weekend, and leo was visiting with em and all that outside the barn from the luxurious locus of his repurposed diner booth, and when he had a big group standing around visiting, he said, I got y’all all beat. I’ve got that stud and that mare, and I’m gonna start breeding race-horses. They laughed and laughed, and he laughed along.
Bambi gets sold to the rodeo-jobbers
I don’t remember the whole story on Bambi, but she was crazy and un-rideable. And I think for some reason we finally had to put her in one of these dog pens out here, and she leaned out over the top of a fence and bit the top off a red oak- the red oak didn’t survive after that. Anyway, worst horse I’ve ever hd to sell. Worse even than Cactus Jack; he was wild and crazy, but at least you could put a halter on him. So, E. drops her off at the auction, and turns out Bambi brought in the best price she’d ever gotten for a horse at auction. So she calls the guy up to ask him about it, and he says, Oh, she went to work for the rodeo! The rodeo jobbers bought her. Who knew, the worse horse you ever had could bring the best price. So, Bambi’s a buckin’ bronco.
is it silver
Well, Leo had told me for a long time that he was looking for this belt buckle his friend had made- and if he found it, he was gonna get it out and give it to me. So one day when i get to the barn, and he says he’s found it. He pulls this buckle out of his pocket that was, well, it was just like a… that’s literally all it was. a buckle. It was about as big as a quarter, a little rectangle. I turned it over and over and over, and then finally said… is it silver? He laughed, pulled out the real belt buckle, and it was that real beautiful ornate buckle (you know the one? (I nod)). Leo would do things like that to test your interest and your character. He did that before he offered to teach me about horses. He’d talk to me, and then try to draw the conversation away from horses- but I’d always bring it back to horses, so he said he’d teach me. He had his ways of testing your character.
oh theres a hole in my finger
The other story he liked to tell about me, and he loved to tell it- well, I was trying to close the barn door and I pinched my finger in the door, and took the tip of my finger right off. I went in to wash it, and the tip fell off. I said, oh, there’s a hole in my finger, and then I fainted. So Leo walks in, takes out the “flesh blade” on his knife, then he said he, “cleaned out the dead meat”, then rubbed it out with alcohol (‘cause it was handy), and by the time I woke up he was getting the bandaids on it. And for about a year, you could feel that weirdness at the tip of the finger. After about a year it went away.
vet check on the prairie
They used to boost me over the barbed wire fence on this place back here (points to the back pasture)- that’s where we pastured our brood mares. They’d boost me over and say, bring em in, I’ll meet you at the pen. So I’d run across 30 or 40 acres of pasture, herding the brood mares and babies up to the corral. And one evening this cute little bay horse- Little Red is what we called him- he had this huge gash on his shoulder one day when we went out there. So Leo says, we’ll fix him up and it’ll be ok. Leo and I both had full time jobs and we couldn’t go out there every day- and we had horses at the racetracks besides. So Leo puts 10 ccs of penicillin on both sides of his neck and in both of his hips. Then he layered an oily antibiotic liquid with a caustic powder, and we put it on in layers on that wound. You probably haven’t ever had caustic powder on a wound, but it hurts. It keeps the body from making “proud flesh”- that’s scar tissue. It helps it just heal together. We came back a month later, and you could barely see a line where that wound had been. And it had been open this big (gestures hands in the shape of a potato)- into the muscle and everything. That was one of my earliest experiences with Leo of seeing him really heal, and use medicine. And when my little horse Geronimo was born, he had a lot of problems. His mother was a little older, and he was so squished in the birth process that his legs were paralyzed when he was born. So I milked the mare and fed him from a bottle the first 24 hours of his life. And Leo said, well, Elaine, he’s gotta get up and walk, or he’s not gonna make it. It’s time for him to live or die. Anyway, he gave that horse, that little day-old baby, 10 ccs of B12 and 1cc of amphetasol (that’s amphetamine)- like a racehorse. And I’m tellin’ you, that little horse got up and he was walking around that stall like his eyes were on stems.
Well about a week later, his kidneys were tied up. And sometimes, horses can have trouble with being unable to urinate- we called that their kidneys being tied up. Leo had given him lasics, which was a diuretic, but that still wasn’t doing the trick. So the next evening, he was still having trouble, and Leo says, I found this stuff, I haven’t used it in years, but that’ll do it. It was called Uralgia. It was a jar- you could kind of shake up the sediment from the bottom, and it smelled a little like turpentine. So Leo says, we fill up the jar lid with this stuff, and hold it on his belly, and hold it there as long as you can get him to stand still. It sounds like hocus-pocus or something, but I’m telling you, 30 minutes later, that horse peed a little lake in that stall and he was fine after that.
Between the B12 and the Uralgia, he was all colicky and constipated. They really need their mother’s milk at the beginning of life to move all the fecal matter through their intestines to get started. So that was the third time I’d had to go to the local pharmacy and buy *all* the enemas they had, and the pharmacist leans over the counter and says, ma’am, is someone having a problem. Well, Geronimo managed to dodge and live through all of them, and you know anytime he’d see me, he’d come running over as fast as he could. I’d holler, geee-ron-imo, and he’d just neigh and zip! come running right over.