Horse of Daydreams, Part 1 of 4

We’re now at Story #3, entitled Horse of Daydreams, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 4.


Backstory:

I have mixed feelings about horses. On the one hand, I have many fond memories of riding them. But on the other hand, these giant, four-hooved fuckers are dangerous.

My grandpa used to say that there are only two things you have to know about a horse: one end bites and the other end kicks. Wrong, Gramps. There’s a lot more to know than that.

A horse will stomp you, bolt, buck, and rear up. It will shy at the silliest provocation, sending you tumbling to the ground. It will rub your legs against brambly bushes. It will knock your head off, while passing beneath low limbs. It will jerk your shoulders out of socket, fighting the bit. And it will always test you to see if you’re really the boss.

If you go too rough on your horse, it will secretly plot to kill you. If you go too soft, it will overtly plot to kill you. You must earn your horse’s respect, while at the same time becoming one with your horse. Simpatico. But even then, it may kill you.

Horses are fucking quick. One moment you’re enjoying a nice, pleasant ride in the soothing afternoon sun, while your old palfrey is just plodding along. The next moment you’re sitting on your ass in a cloud of dust, while your nag is galloping off over the horizon.

I myself have been stomped. But that ain’t too bad. I knew a lady who was enjoying a fine ride one day, when suddenly her horse shied sideways. Off she toppled, headfirst onto a paved road. It knocked her doolally, and that’s how she remained from that point on.

Even pros aren’t immune. My sister is a renowned horse trainer, with a lifetime of experience at equitation. One day she was sitting in a sulky when bam! The pony that was pulling her kicked like a flash of lightning, connecting with her right hand. She’s had mangled fingers ever since.

I had a stepfather who was a jockey. His name was Britt Layton. You probably never heard of him, but he was a rising athletic star on the track, back in the 1950’s and 60’s. And off the track he gained minor fame, playing a bit part as a jockey in the movie, Riding High, starring Bing Crosby.

Sometime in the 1960’s, Britt was busting his ass on the back of a galloping thoroughbred, when his mount went down. As did other mounts around him. It was a pileup, a jockey’s worst nightmare. And he was left with serious injuries that he never fully recovered from. They should have shot him, the way they did with the horses.

Instead he was forced to retire. He could never race again. And that really got to him.

He reached for the bottle and held on tight, riding it as high as he ever rode a two-year-old. He became a washed up, pathetic alcoholic, eventually sliding down from the bottle and into a rehab facility for dipsomaniac former jockeys.

He recovered briefly from his alcoholism, long enough to marry my mother. But a few months later he returned to the bottle. My mom divorced him and he ended up back in rehab, where he died a few years later.

So not only will horses hurt you, but they’ll also ruin your livelihood, drive you to drinking, break up your family, and eventually send you to your grave.

And yet, I have some very fond memories of horses. My sister taught me how to ride, after she learned from Britt. And at eleven years old, I was helping out at a riding stable Britt owned. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was a dreamy idealist. And I had a lazy bone in my body as big as a Clydsedale. But I had to eat, and my sister was kind enough to employ me from time-to-time as a ranchhand. I mucked many a corral for her, and became an expert with the manure fork and wheelbarrow.

I also rode her horses, to keep them exercised and trail broke. And sometimes I rode with a young lady I was courting. We had a blast exploring the desert, and the rugged foothills below Mount San Gorgonio. Those are some of my favorite riding memories of all.

But I was lazy, and she sensed it. Smart lady. She didn’t want a deadbeat, unemployed husband, so our relationship never blossomed beyond horseback riding.

Some of the horses I rode for my sister were lazy also. They’d get barn sour, and I’d have to goad them to keep them from turning back and heading for their corrals. It left me wondering what the big deal was. Corrals are prison. Why would a horse be so determined to return to its prison?

And I wondered what horses did all day, while standing in their prisons. How could they enjoy such an existence? Seemed to me like the only thing they could do was daydream.

Daydream!

It occurred to me that perhaps that was the answer. The big deal about corrals was that they afforded lazy horses the time to daydream. I myself enjoyed daydreaming. And I was lazy. So why wouldn’t daydreaming have the same appeal to lazy horses?

This inspired the short story you’re about to read. But it wasn’t the only inspiration. My imagination was also prodded by a famous artist named Charles Russell. In 1915, Russell limned an oil entitled, “Meat’s Not Meat ‘Til It’s In The Pan.”

Meat’s Not Meat ‘Til It’s In The Pan. Charles Russell, 1915.

This painting depicts a hapless hunter, who rode his horse high up into the mountains, and shot a bighorn sheep. And that damned ungrateful sheep fell off a cliff and landed on a precarious ledge, just out of reach from the hunter.

My uncle had a replica of this masterpiece hanging on a wall of his livingroom. One day while I pondered over it, a lazy, daydreaming horse wandered onto the scene, and divulged the story behind the artwork. In stentorian voice, he described what happened before and after.

Here is the tale that horse told me.

(This has been a rather long backstory, so I’ll get to the main story, tomorrow.)


End of Part 1. Come on back tomorrow for Part 2, and the beginning of this tall tale.

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