Friday, September 03, 2004

Wily Horses and Designer Tee Shirts

I remember the day, a number of years ago now, when Paula pulled up in front of the barn in the Chevy pickup, horse trailer in tow. We had a farm in Bullitt County, Kentucky at the time and she was returning from an auction at which she had made a purchase that was to have a profound effect on our lives for many years to come. She was high bidder on two horses. Or more accurately, she had bought a mare with foal. I'll never forget the moment she led Susie down the ramp - with tiny Sally at her side. Susie was (to this day) the most beautiful Arabian I had ever seen.

For those not familiar with the breed, the Arabian has various strains. The classic Arabian is of "Egyptian" bloodstock. Egyptians are relatively small with slight, less pronounced features. We owned no Egyptians. The horses Paula purchased, raised, bred, trained, and sold were either of "Polish" extraction or were "Russian." Susie was Russian, which meant she was larger, longer, more muscular, with a more pronounced "dished" forehead, chiseled features, more angular neck and body, and she had the largest black eyes I've ever seen on a horse. She was gorgeous.

Sally was a miniature of her mother, both being chestnut in color and having somewhat similar markings. To look at her, Sally would take your breath away too. And the two of them together made you want to stop what you were doing and stare in awe at their beauty. The memory of seeing Susie running across the pasture with little Sally at her side is seared forever in my mind. 

I should mention at this point that "Sally" and "Susie" were not their pedigree names. They had official sounding names that I don't remember, but you could imagine. Being an Arabian, Susie's name was probably something like Abdullah Bin Quanza al Dubaba. That was the way you were supposed to name them - in Arabic fashion. 

Sally had only one attribute that her mother did not possess. Susie had the best disposition of any horse we ever owned. Sally was a man-hater. At least I'm sure she was a Jerry-hater. I swear from the day we met, she hated me. And the feeling became mutual. By the way, Paula and I never agreed on what we were going to call her. All the time we owned her, Paula called her Sassie; I called her Sally. Had I known, I would have called her "you wench," because that is (sort of) the name I most often used when around her.

As I remember now, it began when we were giving her her shots. Foals, like human babies, have to go through a vaccination process. Paula's role in that process was to administer the dose; my role was to control the animal. Or in Sally's case - to hang on for dear life as she threw me against stall walls, as she collapsed to the floor, as she tried to leap into the air and gallop off to God knows where, as she tried to reach around and take a chunk out of me with her teeth. Now I feel the need to say that I was very good at my assigned task. I dealt with horses a lot bigger than Sally and not one ever got away from me. But Sally was the worst - by far - at getting her shots. And she weighed all of a few hundred pounds.

Personally, I don't understand to this day why she hated me. After all, Paula was the one who stuck her with the needle. All I did was grasp her halter with one hand and her tail with the other and to try to stop her from hurting herself - or us. I wouldn't ever wish Paula any harm but, come on. The thought, God help me, went through my mind more than once, bite her for Christ's sake! Stomp on her, why don't you?! Every time we administered shots, I came away bruised, covered with stall shavings, sweating profusely, and mad as hell. And she always had this look that told me, "I'm still growing. Next time I'm going to make you bleed."

That was her attitude the whole time she was with us. I'd walk past her stall and she would look at me and flatten her ears. For you non-horse persons, that is what you might call a red flag. The flattening of ears is a signal to you that what is about to happen, if the horse gets its way, is going to be unpleasant in the extreme. And if I went into her stall to feed her, I had to always be sure that we had some distance between us. Paula blamed me for Sally's attitude - I didn't give off the right vibes. And she was misunderstood. I needed to be more calm and non-threatening around the little darling. I don't think so. I had only one life and I was not going to sacrifice it - or any portion thereof - to this horse. So we had a relationship that was much like that between the U.S.A. and Soviet Russia in those days. Call it peaceful coexistence. We tolerated one another, knowing that at any moment, our worlds could collide.

And then one day, a few years after Sally came to torment us, joy came to the Fuhrman farm. Paula had found a buyer for Sally. I'll not get into the details regarding how open she was with the new owner when it came to explaining Sally's disposition. In fact, I didn't even ask if she had told the man that Sally was a she-devil. All I knew was that Sally was leaving and that the beer was going to taste mighty good that day. 

Shortly thereafter the time came to load her up in the trailer and take her to her new home in Indiana. Now, Paula and I had, with a great deal of effort, trained Sally to "trailer." We had done this because we had decided to take her on the show circuit and, therefore, had to haul her around in our horse trailer. Loading and unloading horses are sometimes a problem, especially for the more nervous and excitable horses (that would be Sally). But she eventually got used to it and didn't give us much of a problem loading and unloading. But it had been many months since we had worked with her on walking up the ramp and into the trailer and, on this day, Sally decided that she was not going to go easily.

It started out well enough. Paula had let the ramp down and had armed herself with a handful of carrots - bribery works on most horses. But not Sally. Not this day. Paula was up in the trailer and held the lead rope while I was off to the horse's side so as to keep her from breaking loose from Paula's grip or from doing something stupid that would get her injured. Paula is very patient with her animals and on this day she worked for the longest time trying to coax Sally up into the trailer. The horse would put her two front hooves on the ramp but, on every occasion, she would freeze and ultimately back down and off the ramp.

I don't have Paula's patience. I started gently nudging the horse, thinking that that would convince her to scoot on up the ramp. Not. I stepped up the pressure by putting my weight into her and pushing, but she was far too big for me to move on my own. So, purely out of exasperation, I did something that Sally didn't appreciate. And that she would make me regret. I swatted her on the butt. With the open palm of my hand. As hard as I could. 

Oh, I should introduce another term that you may never have heard before. It's called "cow kick." Experts will tell you that horses have two ways of kicking the stuffing out of you. As follow:

Kicks can generally be classified in two ways, the rear kick and the "cow kick." The rear kick is self evident. The cow kick is a strike forward with the hind leg. If you are behind the horse you could receive a rear kick. If you were standing alongside him at the rib cage, you could receive a cow kick.
I had myself covered when it came to the "rear kick." And I thought I was well enough to her side that I was safe from the aforementioned "cow kick." Wrong. So very wrong. Her left rear hoof caught me square in the chest and sent me flying. It happened so quickly, I never saw it coming. Or at least I don't have much of a recollection of it. I do remember though that all the wind had been violently expelled from my lungs and I found myself on all fours gasping for breath. I wanted to shout, "you wench (or something close to that)!" But all I could say was "hguhgg." 

Paula showed her normal sensitivity to my injury. She was still holding the horse and saw me struggling for air and aimlessly crawling across the lawn. Quickly evaluating the situation, she shouted, "get the whip!" My ribs are broken. My lungs are broken. My heart had to be broken. I had only moments to live and she says, "get the whip." The thought crossed my mind that I wanted to reassign my pet name for Sally to Paula but instead I simply replied, "aghgrrauhg," which, translated, meant, "you get the goddam whip!"

So Paula placed the lead rope in my hand, strolled into the barn, and emerged with the whip. As was her wont, Sally took one look at the whip heading her way and said, "OK. Time to go." And she lumbered up the ramp and into the trailer. By then I had recovered to the point where I could breathe and even stand. I staggered over and raised the ramp behind her and secured the trailer. 

My thoughts of Sally, now that a few years have elapsed, revolve around glue factories, Jimmy Dean sausage, and dog food. Comforting thoughts they are. Bye Bye, uh...wench.