The Horse Whisperer — With Pointy-Toed Boots!
Daryl Gay's Life On The Back Page, April 2005
The outfitter and I were talking hunting out west when he made the mistake of mentioning horses.
“Certainly. Can’t get around on a ranch this size without horses; nothing like ’em.”
“Don’t you have trucks or four-wheelers to take hunters to their stands?”
“Naaahhh, we like the traditional ways; the creak of the saddle, the smell of leather and sweating horses.”
The chop-chop of Medevac helicopters, the acrid odor of alcohol as I’m being swabbed for IV’s by sweating EMTs…
Let us go back a few years and hopefully you will be better able to understand my predicament…
My cousin Larry had a horse. Sort of a cross between a Kentucky thoroughbred and an elephant. And a wolf.
Most horses are measured in “hands.” Larry’s must have been measured in “forearms.” One red-letter day during the 10th year of my life, my dad came to the conclusion that I needed to ride this creature. It was one of those decisions made on the spur of the moment, and since I was standing too near him to run, there was no getting out of it.
He was my cousin, but Larry, holding the reins, was 10 years older and a grown man, so he set out to issue a list of warnings about “Lightning” and his idiosyncrasies.
“Watch your knees, because sometimes he’ll whip his head around and take a nip out of you. If he tries that, just slap him upside the head with the reins. He may want to run a little then, and if he bolts, just hold on to the saddle horn and pull back on the reins. He’ll run out of steam eventually and trot back to the corral here. If he gets a little ornery and bucks, talk ugly to him and hold on. He’ll tire out and calm down sooner or later.”
None of these suggestions sounded likely to work before I was either bitten, trampled or tossed to Glory, so I quickly came up with a better idea.
“Why don’t you just loan me a pistol, and if he starts any of that, I’ll shoot him between the ears?”
Larry reckoned that wasn’t such a good idea, and from the glare I got as he suddenly whipped his head around with teeth bared, neither did Lightning.
“WATCH IT!” Cuz yelled, but my knee was already folded neatly along the horse’s backside before he could even think about taking a chaw. And that’s when it happened.
I felt a VERY solid “whump” somewhere around Lightning’s hindquarters, and he almost went to his knees. Every iota of air left his lungs in what would have passed as a screech if horses could screech, and his eyes crossed, then rolled all the way back in his head. He simply stood there, shuddering from nose to tail and trilling like a flute player.
Both of us were wondering what had happened when dad moseyed around from the rear of the horse and took hold of Lightning’s ears, pulling his head down until they were nose to nose, then quietly speaking to him.
“Now that I have your full attention, horse, let me explain. I just put one of these pointy-toed cowboy boots right where your Monongohela meets your Allegheny, and if you ever again attempt to bite anybody, I’ll use the other one. I rather doubt that you can run very fast or do much bucking right now, but should you take it in your knuckle head to do so before being asked, the procedure will be repeated until you are convinced that I am right and that you will never have grandchildren unless you change your ways.
“OK, son, you can ride him now.”
I’d heard that tone of voice before, and knew better than to do anything other than ride. Him. Now.
But not knowing exactly where the starter was, I simply said, “Let’s go.”
Lightning v-e-r-y slowly turned his head three-quarters of an inch in the direction of my left kneecap again and whispered, “Yes, sir; whatever you say, sir.”
Believe it or not, that’s exactly what he said. Falsetto.
Then off he walked, kind of spraddle-legged at first and with a series of very deep breaths and a couple of “oooohhs” and “aaaaahhhhhs,” but perfectly in tune with every command I gave him.
Many years later, I decided to make the big trip out West. The drive was grand, and so was meeting my host, guide, cook, wranglers, etc. But those wranglers appeared a rough lot, with a little smirk about them, and I pretty well figured out that my reputation with the boss had preceded me.
The first afternoon, they called me out to get acquainted with my horse. I happened to notice that ALL the hands were around, and whatever work was going on had come to a standstill.
“OK,” I thought, “I’m to be the show, and we’re gonna make or break this trip right here.”
The horse was led out to a smattering of barely-muffled laughter, and he was the second-largest stallion I had ever seen. Truly, it was nothing less than amazing how much he resembled Lightning.
I walked without hesitation up to the horse. Name of Thunder.
“Thunder, eh?” I whispered, pulling his head down to eye level by the ears. “Don’t happen to have any kinfolk back East, by chance, do you? Say, big horse name of Lightning?”
Thunder didn’t say anything, but I could tell I had his rapt attention.
“Just so as we understand one another, be informed that I am not at all peta-litically correct. For this hunt, all I brought was these pointy-toed cowboy boots that belonged to my dad. They’re scroonching my toes up something terrible, and I have an awful urge to haul off and kick something HARD! Ever heard of boots like that?”
Thunder tossed his head vigorously up and down, and his eyes crossed before widening to the size of saucers.
We got along great on the trip, and I even bagged a nice buck shooting with the saddle as a rest with nary a flinch. Nobody who witnessed this could figure out how it was accomplished, nor did I bother to tell them. And just in case you’re ever in camp, keep it to yourself, will you?
Some day, I might need that horse-training job they offered…