I think that we’re all aware that horses are large and potentially dangerous animals. Even those of you who’ve never actually seen a horse are probably nodding right now. For sure if you’ve ever stood next to a horse you’ve noticed that it is quite a lot larger than you are, with muscles that simply dwarf those of a human, even those guys with the weirdly bulging muscles you always see on the Internet ads for some super new muscle-exploding pill/supplement (Those guys aren’t real, are they? I sure hope not).
Above all else, when you are in close proximity to a horse, it pays to be aware of where those hind feet are. This is because any horse, even an old, grumpy one, can, to use the technical term, kick the stuffing out of you in a heartbeat.
There’s two ways to walk behind a horse. One is to be so far behind the horse that it can’t reach you, no matter how badly it wants you to lose your stuffing. The other way is to put your hand on the horse, maybe say something gently to it so it knows you mean no harm, then, keeping your hand on its hindquarters, walk behind the horse very closely. The hand and the talking are so you don’t startle the animal since startled horses have a tendency to kick reflexively. The very closely part is based on the idea that if the horse decides to go ahead and kick you anyway, just out of general cussedness, it won’t get any real force behind the kick.
We kids were taught this at a very young age.
This is the story of how I forgot this simple, fundamental rule, and paid for it.
Naturally, it involves Lady, part horse, part evil (It’s worth your time to read the post about her now, as it will make this more enjoyable for you. Go on. I’ll wait.).
When I was a kid, I didn’t get friends out at the ranch very often. As in only twice that I can remember. First of all, I didn’t really have much in the way of friends to come visit, and second, we lived so darn far out of town that most people weren’t willing to go to the effort required to send their son out for a sleepover with the weird, skinny, little kid their son didn’t know all that well anyway.
But, when I was about 7 or 8, I did have a friend come spend the night once. This was a very big deal for me. He was actually pretty popular at school. If he had a good time I might see my stock rise and my whole future altered (Spoiler alert: it didn’t. I remained nerdy and outcast all the way through to the bitter end).
I wanted him to have a good time and go to school and tell everyone how awesome it was out there on the ranch.
Naturally, he wanted to ride one of the horses. What kid wouldn’t? Naturally—this being the early ‘70s, back before parents did everything for their kids—my mother left it up to me to arrange the horse experience for Jerry (not his real name, but good enough). Naturally, he would be riding Lady, since that was the only horse I was allowed to ride.
It took a few tries, but we got the saddle on her. Lady helped by not moving while we grunted and sweated and pushed that heavy saddle up on her back, instead of shying away like a normal horse. Lady was also kind enough to not bite either of us while we did this, which was a pretty big deal for her as I’m pretty sure biting me was about the last joy left to her at that point in her life.
At long last Jerry was up on the horse and the adventure could commence. I opened the corral gate and he rode heroically off into the sunset.
Wait. Scratch that. Lady was old. Lady was tired. Lady didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything that involved muscular effort. So Lady just stood there, head down, maybe sleeping.
“You have to kick her,” I told him. He tried. Lady ignored him.
“You have to hit her,” I told him, handing him a switch. Which Lady also ignored. No little kid with a skinny switch was going to disrupt her slumber.
Angry and embarrassed, I took her reins and led her out of the corral. I could see Jerry wasn’t enjoying this. He was going to go to school on Monday and tell the other kids and my whole future was going to be shot.
I led her away from the corral, got her up to a good cruising speed of about fifty foot an hour, told him to keep kicking her, and then turned her loose. She immediately came to a dead stop.
That’s when I lost it and forgot every bit of sense I had. I ran to the woodpile, grabbed a big, old chunk of wood and ran up behind Lady and just let her have it, right on the ass.
Whereupon she let me have both hind feet. Right in the stomach.
The next thing I knew I was waking up on the couch with Mom bent over me crying. Somehow I was okay, though I hurt everywhere.
I don’t remember anything else about Jerry’s visit except that it was the last one. All I really got out of it was a pretty wicked bruise for show-and-tell on Monday.
I do know this. I never ran up behind Lady, or any horse, ever again.