I've got a horse but I still think of him as a pony. He certainly acts like it. Red, named for his sorrel color, is no longer young and he's far from old. That's part of the problem. He's getting too old to train, but he's too young to saddle. I don't want to bridle the spirit and he certainly isn't ready for dog food. I've got to do something. And quite honestly, I'm afraid to.
I had hoped for the element of surprise. I opened and closed the wide swinging gate without a rasp of the wood latch or a squeak from the old iron hinges. Of course, when I turned around, there was Red. His ears were the tallest question marks you ever did see, twitching like antennas.
I shook the bridle as a welcome or a warning; I wasn't sure which. The coiled rope, hanging on my shoulder, dropped into my right hand. The pasture was wide, corralled by a whitewashed fence. Scrub oaks framed the tall yellow grass against a baby blue sky. A plein aire painter working sets for Paramount couldn't have made it more beautiful. The rent on the spread was more than I could afford but it was cheaper than the damage to a stable. I had tried a couple, but Red would kick the place up and rile the other boarders. I guess we both have '86' tattooed on our foreheads.
I've known Red since he was born. As a matter of fact, I brought him into the world. Red was born dead. Only his front legs had made it through the birth sac and he couldn't get air. I should have named him Blue. The event had all the drama you could want. A chubasco had blown in late that night, exploding with thunder and lightening. The hard downpour had washed out the road. There was no point in calling the vet.
I tore open the placenta. You can't really give a colt mouth to mouth--at least I didn't want to try. Instead I rubbed him and rubbed him until my arms were screaming. Then with a wheeze and a snort, the pony burst alive. He bolted up, tumbled to a fall and rose again like he'd been practiced. That horse and I have history.
Red has a fierce color and a fiercer demeanor. He's big for a quarter horse, standing 16-2 hands. In the middle of his forehead, there's a white diamond. If you smudge it with a wet thumb it makes into a star.
I don't know what horses think about or if they can even imagine, but I always felt that Red had stories and ideas in his head. Maybe he dreamt about charging with a light brigade or winning a Derby. I'm quite sure that he never thought about building a railroad or pulling a prairie schooner into new territory. That horse was too damn lazy. And mischievous.
When he was three years, I started to train him. We developed a trust. In a small pen, we did the groundwork with a halter. Then with the longe line, we worked from a jog to a lope. We changed our direction. He was learning. I could tell he was having a ball--until I put a saddle on him. Actually, the saddle was fine. We just couldn't cinch it on him. It's not like the horse was resisting or bucking; it just couldn't be done. That's when I knew Red had a sense of humor. When you tried to cinch the saddle, he would shimmy to the left or dance to the right. Or the bridle would suddenly fall off. Or he'd whip around and nudge you away. Or you'd get slapped, no, teased with his tail. It was all very comedic, very loving, like a pranksterous little brother. He was messing with me and everyone else who tried to make a respectable riding horse outta him.
I don't know. Maybe it's not Christian nor American, but indulgence and satisfaction just aren't supposed to be allowed. And I allowed it. That horse was having so much fun and I was so amused, that I just stopped trying to train him. I liked to sit back, pop a beer and watch him run around the pasture. He was so goddamned pretty, so graceful. It was a treat to behold. Hell, I'd take a nap in the sweet sunshine and that horse would snuggle up beside me like a dog.
But time and circumstance change things. Clouds swell off to the East, building and forming into a spring storm heading West. I couldn't train Red the civilized way. And much to my admonition, I moved to break him in the old way, from the Old School. If I wasn't so hotheaded at the time, I woulda thought otherwise. But I did.
I threw my rope around his neck and dug in my boots. I musta been upright for a minute and a half or two before he dragged me a couple of football fields. You'd be surprised what a little gravel can do to your dental work. But at some point I got my stance up and I brought him down. We slapped a bit into his mouth, a bridle around his head and a hard-cinched saddle on his back. And I rode Red. I rode bucking, fighting Red. On. And on. And then I felt him go. I felt that spirit break. And I started to sob. I couldn't do it. I could not do what it takes to break that horse. I could not; I would not break that spirit---because that's how you break a horse. You break their spirit, their life, their being into submission. You wear them out. You ride until they can move no more. And then you own them. And I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I couldn't destroy anything so pure and well intentioned.
We've spent the last few years staying lazy. Out of guilt, I've overindulged that horse. Red picks the carrots out of my back pocket. He finds the molasses cookies or the sugar cubes wherever I can hide 'em. He takes that snout and nudges me to his every whim. All to my delight. He runs and bucks and bucks, amusing the hell outta himself. And me.
Here I stand. I jingle-jangle the bridle in my left hand. I shake the coiled rope in my right. I square my shoulders because I finally and really have to mean business. Red, I gotta break you into something, more.