by Lesley Scott
A retired Belgian Horse gives a gang of kids an important lesson.
|If Wishes Were Horses
The early morning sun glinted off the puffy drifts of snow. The neighborhood was quiet at six o'clock this Saturday morning. The snow dowser almost had the streets scraped. Winnipeg, Canada could be beautiful whether it was snowing or blooming. In the meantime, the huge gold and white horse was restless and pacing up and down her pasture fence. She stood near her water trough, just waiting. When she saw Jimmy, she set loud friendly whinny. He was always kind to her and told her some of the best stories. "I hope he heard me calling him," She kept waiting.
The terrain was flat, and three local boys could see the deamy whole town, pristine white, and a big old horse with her head on the fence in the foreground. The mare loved watching everything, as she had nothing better to do. Winter had just started to grip the landscape with icy fingers. It is hard to imagine so soon this year,The would be heading down on a sled when snow was piled higher.
Three boys and a large horse would never forget this day.
Jimmy, considered the sensible one of the three, asked, "What are we planning this time?" He jumped up in too quickly with excitement and slipped on the built up ice on the back steps, bumping his rear on the slick walkway. He brushed the snow and ice off and began to explain his idea for adventure. Usually, it was Chad, the stocky blonde kid, who had all of the good ideas. He just couldn't come up with anything this time. He had just crawled out of bed at the sound of his friends, throwing rocks at his window
Tommy, the oldest, fifteen years old, considered himself the ring leader. The others always ran their ideas past him to be approved or disapproved. Tommy was about five feet and eight inches tall, the other two were close to the same height. But Tommy would never back down for a fight and usually came out ahead. The other boys usually went along with his plans.
Also called the shy one by the girls at school, Jimmy offered something new to the three of them,"We are going to ride Mr. Dann's horse, Sophie," They didn't notice that she bounced up and down, trying to encourage those silly boys. "She probably won't hurt us," said Jimmy, "She likes me because I scratch her and give her treats. It will be easy for me to handle a friendly old horse that has never been neglected or abused," he told the guys, "She always stands at the fence waiting for me when I am walking to the school bus."
Jimmy was a kind and gentle youngster and loved all animals. He always wanted to see a real alligator, but no chance of that in Canada. He wanted to ride Sophie at the first chance, and here it was, for real. He grew excited and wanted the others to see him, at least, sit on Sophie's back. She even stood close enough for Jimmy to slide over.
"I'll bet I'm a friend to Sophie! I'll sit on her back, watch," Jim carefully sat on the fence, all the while petting and talking to Sophie. Finally and slowly, he slid up onto Sophie's wide back, to Sophie's delight. She was a large palomino, blonde colored like taffy with a white mane and tail and huge feathery feet
She was such a sweet heart. Sophie, a Registered Belgian mare, who stood six feet tall at the shoulder and weighed 2200 pounds, "Wow!" Chad quietly remarked, "I can walk under her belly." Sophie, like most draft horses, had a sweet temperament and loved everyone. Sophie had never set a foot down on anyone or tried to kick or bite. As a rule, draft horses are born with a sweet attitude.
Jim remembered a poem he learned from a book he couldn't remember:
The old brown horse looks over the fence in a weary sort of way.
She seems to say to all who pass, 'Well folks, I've had my day.
I am simply watching the world go by, and nobody seems to mind.
They are dashing past in their motor cars,
a horse who is old and half blind.'
Sometimes a friendly soul will stop by the fence as her tired old head
rests wearily on the top most bar and a kindly word is said.
Then the old brown horse gives a little sigh as she feels a tender touch
of a hand on her mane or her shaggy coat
And she doesn't mind so much.
So if you pass by the field one day,
just stop for a word or two
with a horse that was once young and full of life like you.
She will love the feel of your soft young hand.
And I know that she will say,
'Thank you, friend, for the kindly thought for the horse who's seen her day.' "
Jimmy wondered if he remember right. The old poem always made his eyes water. He was truly an animal lover. He had seen caribou, moose, and other native wildlife. Jimmy belonged to animal organizations like "Greenpeace,"and the "World Wildlife fund." He spent a lot of time signing petitions, writing letters, and "spreading the "Word." Animals deserve a good quality of life like all "Earthlings," he was known to say.
Walking into the barn, Tom, brushed back his brown curly hair and, spied a dusty wicker basket buggy with large wide red wheels. It was most likely an antique. "Hey, it would be more fun to hook her up and drive around the large pasture," he suggested. Everyone agreed. This will be their best adventure. Chad, only thirteen, was tall with hair down to his collar, felt excited. He was ready. What would they do next? They pulled the old harness from the tack hook where bridles and other tack were stored and organized.
The harness was dusty and starting to wrinkle. All three boys were embarrassed to let each other know they never hooked up a buggy, or even ridden a horse. That, of course, would make it more of an adventure. They picked up the harness, laid it on the floor and were lucky enough to get it right. Putting it on would be next. Everyone was unsure of how the harness would fit. But it wasn't too hard to figure out how to put the harness on Sophie and buckle the integrated pieces.
Sophie fidgeted, excited and pleased. She had been stuck in this old barn and pasture for a long time. Mr. Dann was a kind man and she adored him, but why didn't he take her out anymore? He used to take her to parades and other functions like horse shows and gave buggy rides for special needs children."Oh well, today is the day!" Sophie told herself. She wanted some adveture and some attention.
She was growing impatient, waiting for those idiot boys figure out the harness. Wait! It appeared they did get the harness straight. She was beside herself with anticipation. It had been a few, or several, years since she was hooked up and driven. Sophie hoped the boy driving had gentle hands. The snaffle bit would surely cut the sides of her mouth if he pulled too hard on the reins.
She stood still, with the occasional kiss to Jimmy to make him smile. She even guided the boys as they harnessed her up. They tied sophie up while the boys turned the cart up to her rear legs and she backed right in between the shafts. Tom, Chad, and Jimmy helped each other finish the job and everyone couldn't wait to go outside in the ten acre pasture. The snow in the paddock, was in patches and was piled up high. But Sophie knew to avoid such traps. She didn't get to be twenty years old by being foolish.
"You go first Jim, this was your idea. You also said the old girl was your friend," Chad snickered, with a snort. Jim thought, as he timidly climbed up into the ancient buggy and gingerly picked up the reins that passed through some round hardware rings on the back of the harness, for more control, "This is going to be a snap!" He wasn't too sure, but the others need not know. He felt that Tom and Chad may not be as calm as necessary to drive a buggy.
At last the boys stood back, admiring their accomplishment. It wasn't as much work as a little scary. Sophie looked gorgeous, all hooked up to the antique buggy. No one had a camera. Damn! They will all have to remember this with pleasure and talk about what happened. Sophie would never forget this outing, either. She was ready to take the boys for the ride of their lives. She was exceptionally intelligent and knew she was in control because she was the larger one of the gang. But she would behave herself so the boys would take her for a long ride.
It's a shame no one had an idea what was to come.
Sophie was twenty years old, which isn't that old for a well cared for horse, she wanted to have some fun like she used do with her owner. Mr. Dann was a sensitive and kind man who she did love and she missed him riding and driving her in the neighborhood and on trail rides.But lately, he felt both of them should retire. He couldn't sell her, since she'd been with him since she was a wobbly, leggy filly. Maybe things would change. It happens.
Mr. Dann didn't spend as much time with her other than to feed her twice a day and give her a pat on the nose.He did brush her on occasion, though. Oh, how she looked forward to mealtimes. She was always hungry, in spite of the grass in the pasture, but she was more delighted to see her kind master as he scooped her grain into her feedbox. He always gave her a kiss on her prehensile nose and scratched her ears when he brushed his dear old horse. She loved her owner and would do anything to please Mr. Dann. Maybe today, he would notice that she was still young enough to ride and drive.
Enough of looking back. Now, Sophie getting antsy, and could hardly wait on those knuckleheads to finish. "Where were we going? What has Mr. Dann told them about taking her out for a joy ride?" The mare asked herself. Sophie, always obedient and responsive, was so happy to be out of the barn and small pasture, she wanted to go, and right now. It didn't matter if they had permission. What could happen? She would be careful, she promised herself.
The time was now. Jim, who had no fear of the sweet mare, picked up the reins carefully and clucked to her, "walk." She understood him and walked ever so quietly and calmly into the bright sunlight all hitched up like in the old days. She decided she wanted to speed up just a little, only just a little. She held the bit between her teeth so Jim had no more control. She started to trot a little, not too fast. She didn't want to scare the boys so she could spend more time outside of the barn and needed the exercise, as well.
"Are we having fun?" The boys all nodded to each other. This was real live fun. Jim said to her in a calm voice, "Slow down sweetie, we will be in big trouble. Please slow down." This time, Sophie responded. All three of the guys began to wonder if they were entirely in control at any time. Though trying not to appear nervous, Sophie picked up on their uncertainty.
Driving a buggy is difficult and can be dangerous, like driving a car. One has to pay close attention, and know what to do if the situation gets out of hand. She would never hurt anyone. Sophie, known to be obedient and loving to everyone never caused any problems. Like all animals, she understood humans when they talked and could pick up on body language. If they wanted excitement, then she would give it to them.
Sophie showed them her control again. This time, she galloped as fast as she could with the cart, her platter sized feet throwing big clods of snow on everyone. She didn't plan to run, it just happened.The boys were frightened, but handled it well, and bounced all over the buggy, she chuckled, "Ha ha, Ha," little chuckles the way a horse laughs. She made the most of the fun.
The boys knew the worst was not over and it wouldn't be good. Though it was still an exciting adventure, maybe they just should have only perched on her wide back. Too late now. Tom, Chad, and Tim were scared, but didn't admit it to anyone. Jim held the reins and tried to stop Sophie. He couldn't remember to say in a stern voice, "Whoa." Those hard clods of snow kept hitting him in the face. Sophie curled up her lips and smiled.
"Oh, oh! I think I feel a buck!" Sophie nickered.The ends of her ears touched backwards, she bowed her blonde neck and held her tail up high. Sophie felt so good, and getting ready to buck. However, with the buggy still behind her, she couldn't do any serious bucking. She never once bucked Mr. Dann, so Sophie hardly knew how to buck. This was her first real buck and made the boys freak out because of their lack of experience. They questioned their idea to take Sophie out of the barn. Oh well, too late now. The fencing, a little too close for comfort scared everyone, even Sophie.
Sophie the silly old mare, still in complete control let out another horse laugh. A large snow mobile drove by, making the usual noise and diesel fumes. She used it to her advantage and the big blonde mare pretended she had lost her mind. None of the boys could make a remark, they were so frightened and griped onto the sides of the buggy. Sophie's thoughts were of having fun and making the three boys look foolish. She would never harm any of them. She just wanted some fun at their expense. She needed some real fun!
Sophie spied Mr. Liston's rose garden with large trellis. The roses were dormant for now. Sophie sped up and was careless for a brief moment. She accidentally ran into the trellis before she could halt because the buggy weighed too much and she couldn't stop in time. It is difficult to maneuver the extra weight of the buggy. The cart turned over, trapping her underneath while those darn boys all scrambled out from under the edges on the sides of the buggy. Sophie kicked a few times to remind them she waited for them to come to her rescue. she wasn't hurt, but impatient.
Soon several neighbors and the young boys rolled the buggy from over the lucky, unharmed horse. She shook off the snow, wondering what had just happened. She could feel her legs, back and neck. Yep, she would live another twenty years. Sophie didn't even have one rose thorn on her body unlike the boys. They were all scraped up and were picking out some of the thorns.
She enjoyed her Saturday adventure, maybe they could do it again. Horses, like people, especially love an adventure. Getting stuck under the old buggy was a little scary, but that added to the excitement. Of course, the roses were dormant, but not the thorns. The soft petaled flowers would need plenty of water when the snow thawed.
Mr. Dann showed up all upset, yelled something unpleasant to the boys and ran to Sophie and looked her all over. The feel of his hands made her happy. He had stopped that much attention and more in the past year or so. Yet, when he held her face, his eyes softened when her took her big head in his arms. In that moment, Sophie knew he still loved her. Why did he discard her so? He obviously deep feelings for this old mare. He hadn't even kept her harness and tack cleaned, and never used it. What else could the lonely mare think?
"I was a fool to ever put you by yourself again. Maybe you are not too old to do some of the things you used to do when we were together. I have been working on a plan for a while," Mr. Dann confided to Sophie after he led her back into the barn for breakfast, "We can go back to giving rides at fairs and on the weekends and even parades.
We could spend more time together. I miss you, Sophie! I promise I will brush you and take you out and keep your stall cleaned. I'm not young, but I ain't too old to take better care of you, my dear girl. I am retired, so I have plenty of time to spend with you, my dear Sophie. I promise to make it up to you, Sweetie." He wondered what to do about these mischevious boys now.
Tommy, Jimmy, and Chad had to pay dearly for this escapade. The first chore involved fixing the trellis, no television, no phone, no computer ordered all of their parents. The boys helped Mr. Dann with Sophie, cleaning out her stall and giving her fresh hay. He taught them a lot, talking as the boys cleaned leather. He and Sophie used to lead an exciting life and travelled all over the country. She used to compete and win "Pulling Contests" all over the country and in the US.
It appeared the adventure turned out well for everybody but the owner of the rose trellis. The boys made sure they did an extra good job repairing the trellis. On the weekends, Mr. Dann couldn't wait for the door bell ring and the boys arrived. He was lonely sometimes and welcomed the chance to have someone around.
Mr. Dann noticed Jimmy for some reason, who seemed to be different than his wild friends. He asked a lot of questions and learned about Mr. Dann and Sophie when they were young. Mr. Dann took Jimmy aside and asked, "Why do you and your friends do all of these bad things to other people, calling it adventure? Adventure is exciting, for the good, and not end up being punished for something you really don't want to do."
"I guess I have too much spare time, I want to have friends, and tell my other pals about our misadventures,"Jimmy hung his head, "I just want not to be bored. They tell me I have ADHD, whatever that means. I just don't think like most people. I like everyone I know, but I am not like them very much."
Mr. Dann advised the distressed youth that if he found some pencils and paper, he could write his own adventures. He told him, "Everything you will write will give you more control over your very own adventures. Just think of all of the adventures you can write about make up some more, and not cause anyone any harm or anger."
Jimmy became interested."I have always wanted to write." He couldn't wait to find that paper and pencils. He looked forward to writing stories. "I already have some ideas in my head," he told Mr. Dann, pleased to realize this young boy might have talent. Wanting to write is how an author starts out. He would be encouraging to the lad. Mr. Dann,once a decent writer, himself, could be handy and help Jim with his stories.
Jimmy smiled and finally knew what he wanted to do with his own life. He spent the winter and spring collecting stories and poems he had worked on about his family's quirks, his funny neighbors, the loveliness of the Winnipeg weather, even when it was cold. He wrote and wrote and read it all to Sophie and Mr. Dann. Certainly something had lit a fire under the boy.
Jimmy spent almost all of his time seriously writing and became a famous writer and lives on a farm with horses, donkeys, and mules. With all of his adventures hanging around Sophie and his other friends, he never ran out of material. Mr, Dann liked to brag to everyone that he knew Jimmy Walker, the author. Yep he he knew him quite well.
They always kept up with each other, even when they were in different countries. Sophie was thirty six years old and stumbled too much to be hooked up. Yet whenever Jimmy visited, he always sat on the fence and slid onto her wide back. He would close his eyes while he took in the dusky smell of his favorite horse and listened to the birds sing their songs. He felt like he was twelve again and Sophie, in turn, felt younger, as well.
Jimmy loved the man like a father and adored the mare who had given the push he need at the perfect time of his life. She felt the same about Jimmy, too. She showed her age, but she always loved Jimmy almost as much as she loved Mr. Dann. Jimmy loved his work, his family, his life, Mr. Dann, he adored Sophie, and still loved all animals.
He kept up his campaigns against injustice to animals. Only now, his voice could be heard more loudly since he was considered a celebrity. He even wrote books about whaling and the slaughter of baby seals, the injustice and public health of factory farming, only to name a few important issues. Progress is slow, but very possible if you are dedicated.
He owed it all to Mr. Dann and a large blonde mare named Sophie.