Down for the Count

(“These were “owners,” not necessarily to be confused with horse people.”)

I passed through a student’s kitchen to grab a drink of water, and the visiting house cleaner stopped me to ask a question. Driving through the neighborhood earlier, he had noticed a horse lying flat out in a pasture by the road. He had gone a little farther and then, worrying, had turned back to see if the horse was okay. By then, he was standing and grazing, but his question was “Is this normal behavior?”

I applauded him for checking and, of course, assured him that everything was fine. His concern reminded me of another incident back in the day. It was the better part of 50 years ago, and on Sunday mornings I used to hang out with an ex-racetracker who ran a layup farm. We’d sit by the fire, drinking instant coffee sweetened with canned milk, and he’d regale me with stories from his days on the track. Sunday was also the day when the owners of the horses he cared for would occasionally appear to see them. These were “owners,” not necessarily to be confused with horse people.

I was in the process of turning out a young thoroughbred in a 50 foot square paddock when, coincidentally, the owners pulled in. They emerged from a long black caddy, attired in a most unsuitable way for a barn visit— he in a cashmere topcoat and fedora, houndstooth checked bellbottoms (Remember, it was 1970) and shiny, tasseled loafers … the big-haired, made up wife/babe in her mink.

As they picked their way through the mud and slush towards their horse, I unclipped the shank and stepped back. With a snort and a buck, the colt turned himself inside out and flung himself on the ground, legs in the air, scratching his back. Owner and wife/babe shrieked in unison, thinking their $50,000 investment was committing suicide. They, too, had never seen a horse lie down or roll. They didn’t know it was possible! The house cleaner’s reaction had been a little more understandable to me. He, at least, had not spent what was then a small fortune on something he knew that little about.

I suppose I should be more forgiving. I remember even farther back to a time before I had any relationship with horses at all. I was in high school, just old enough to drive, and I had gone off to visit my little girlfriend who, unlike suburban me, lived out in the country. We were strolling along—probably holding hands in an innocent sort of way—and down the road came a horse. No tack, no halter (though at the time I would not have recognized one anyway). Just a horse.

Nowadays—or even just a few years later—I would have slipped my belt off, slung it around the horse’s neck and figured out where he came from. At the time my young lady said, “What shall we do?”
The best I could offer at the time was the tentative and meek suggestion, “Maybe he is supposed to be here…” In retrospect, as oblivious to equine realities as the guy in the bellbottoms.