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mare was terrified. She quivered whenever I came near her. Every bone protruded
from the ragged brown body. She looked like a filthy gunny sack full of
Did I want her? My teenaged eyes saw only promise, but this animal would
need more than food; years of abuse would have to be overcome and she would need
to be completely retrained.
She trotted willingly into our borrowed trailer, my first glimpse of her
quick mind. She saw a way out and she took it. Swaying weakly, she fell several
times but endured the trip home. Once there, she took up residence in the corner
of her stall, hindquarters toward the door, ready to fight as mares will —
with her hind hooves.
We brought food. Hay, oats, pellets, mash…throughout every day, we fed
that horse. She learned to face the door, to look for us, and eventually to beg
like a spoiled child. She made faces. She waved with a forefoot. She made
hilarious noises, and when we laughed, she seemed to laugh, too. Her shaggy
brown fur was replaced with a tight, sleek, nearly-black mahogany coat.
I walked her, like a dog, through our neighborhood. She would stroll
peacefully; then, without warning, she would explode in a terrified fury. I
quickly learned to dodge the flying hooves and wait for the storm to pass.
People driving by would laugh at me, but they couldn’t see the whip scars on
I soon noticed that she seemed to be reading my mind. I would go to clean
a hoof and she would be holding it up. She seemed to know where we were going
before I did. She often broke out of her stall and would unfailingly find me
wherever I was.
We communicated with eyes, with touch, like best friends.
In spite of her tendency to spook, I started to ride. In the gathering
light of every morning, we galloped through the fields bareback. Then we stopped
using the bridle. I just “thought” where I wanted her to go.
had never trained a horse in dressage, the classic “high school” of horse
training. She had barely been trained at all. It just happened to us. She had
the quick mind of a scholar and the lithe body of a dancer. She cantered with
her precise, measured steps, changing leads with every stride. She glided
sideways, pirouetted around one hoof, and trotted in the ballet-like passage.
All she asked was that I would teach her more.
I look back from middle age and wonder if I would give such
a horse a chance now. I fear that, with my adult wisdom, I would not.
have lost the hope and the foolishness of childhood. Because of that simplicity
of youth, I once owned a beautiful and talented Tennessee Walking Horse; more
than that, I found friendship with a unique and delightful creature.
Sally Gosen Case is a freelance writer living in a rural part of the
coast. She writes nonfiction which is mainly about living in the country.
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