Thursday, January 31, 2013

Of Horses

Though he liked the horses, they didn't like him.

It was written in their eyes, where those dark, hypnotic orbs would look into his own and strike terror into him. He wanted to like them, but they were against that idea, did not want to reciprocate.

When the horses watched him, their ears also went straight back, melted into the backs of their heads, became one with their manes. There was evil in the appearance of those steeds.

For the most part, they ignored him. He wasn't a rider, he never groomed them, never brought them apples. He was there because his sister rode them, and so it was her that they loved, not him.

He didn't want to be there, but his mother would drop him off with his older sister, who loved the horses so and took the lessons. He was there to keep her company. Make sure that she was safe.

With those horses, she was safe as could be.

He would watch her ride around the corral during the hour that she had with the instructor. She was a good rider who became one with the horse, moved in rhythm through the trot, the canter, and over the jumps.

She was a born rider.

He, on the other hand, had never climbed atop a horse. He would follow her into the stable, stand to the side of the paddock as she equipped the giant creature with tack and harness, with padding and saddle. He walked with her, at a safe distance, as she lead her mount out of the barn and into the corral, and he would stand on the outside of the fence as his sister had her lesson.

This was the routine for an hour and a half, twice a week. One weeknight, after dinner, and on Saturday afternoons. Fifteen minutes to prepare the horse, one hour to ride, and fifteen minutes, at the end, to unshackle the horse and groom it. Three hours a week of his life, devoted to hanging out at the farm while his sister rode one horse and the others stared at him, plotting against him.

One Saturday in the summer, the horses carried out a plan to terrify him. They waited for the right time to strike, and they chose the day that he decided not to follow his sister into the barn, decided not to stand aside and smell the wet straw and dung. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, with the odd, lazy cloud above, lounging carelessly above, so he decided to wait outside, to stand by the coral, soak in the warm sun, and wait.

The unbridled horses saw him approaching, and they moved in a group to the far corner of the corral, their ears pressed flat against their necks. In the corner, they stood, nuzzle to nuzzle, as though in conference. There where grunts and mutterings, and every once and awhile a head would look up and turn toward him, the dark orbs watching his every move.

With the suddenness of a thunder clap, the horses bolted, in one movement, in one direction, in a full charge. Though a rider would never take a horse to a gallop in this enclosure, the horses moved freely, unrestrained.

He didn't know what to do, and so he did nothing except stand, motionless, in fear. He didn't know how many horses were charging towards him. Maybe five, maybe six, maybe a dozen. All he could see were heads, bobbing up and down like an out-of-control carousel, the dust kicking up around the multitude of hooves.

These horses are going to hop the fence and trample me, he thought. And yet he could do nothing. His limbs were paralyzed, his feet frozen to the summer grass. His eyes were locked on those dark orbs, could not even close.

But the horses did not leap, did not trample him. As they neared the fence, every one of them pulled up, came to a sudden halt. Only the front two horses, the ones leading the charge, the ones staring him down, made contact with the boards that separated them. They did not crash through. They merely stopped at the fence, let their muscular breasts slap the boards, causing them to roar like canon fire, to tremble more than the boy himself.

And he, by now, trembled fiercely.

The horses, their work done, gaily trotted back to the centre of the corral, pretending like nothing happened. When his sister would emerge with her own ride and the instructor, the penned horses would deny everything.

And still, he liked the horses.

But he would never be alone with them again.


  1. I kid you not, horses treated me the same way: I was walking in a field (on a public path) with my mom, and they came charging over. I was terrified and jumped in the brambles. Naturally, they stopped before the bushes and didn't come that close, but I freaked and wouldn't walk through fields with horses in them.
    Never mind fields with cows...

    1. In 1995 or '96, my wife and I did a 60-km hike from a provincial park to Kingston, ON. Several times, the trail took us through farm fields. In one such field, several horses approached us and crowded around me. My wife had to wade through them and take my hand. She calmly said to them, "it's okay, he's with me," and they let us pass.

      I shit you not.