“Holy Crap! Is this really happening to me? I have glitter on my hooves and I’m wearing a tutu! And now these kids are painting a rainbow on my hip. How did this happen? Don’t any of these brats realize who I am?”
The old leopard gelding in the crossties behind me nickers a small laugh. “Relax ,little guy, it will all be worth it. I’ve been doing this for years. Pretty soon we get what the kids call cake. It’s just a big mess of grain, carrots, apples, sugar cubes all covered in molasses. It’s amazing.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re being painted in camouflage and having tree branches stuck in your halter. At least you look tough. Do you see me?”
“Just the difference between boys playing horse dress up and girls. I’ve worn my share of pink ribbons over the years, believe me.” The old leopard tosses his head, which causes a branch to fall over his eye. “Tell me though, who is it you think you are?”
I guess I have a touch of little man syndrome because I’m only 14.1, so I stretch my head up and puff myself up as big as I can. “My registered name is Faithfully Dun, and I am an own son of Hollywood Dun It”.
Discreetly, I take a peek to see if the old guy looks impressed. He is now getting a garland of fake greens wrapped around his neck. His eyes are half closed…possibly because of the branch threatening to poke him. So I start in again. “I’ve won over $33,000. I was bred and born at McQuay Stable. I was shown both by Tim McQuay and Mandy McCutcheon. That’s being born into it, I tell you. I’m almost royal in my reining heritage.” The old fool hasn’t even flicked an ear yet.
“Tim showed me at the Futurity, and I scored a 224.5 in the second go.” I cock my head at him to see if he even knows what that means.
“Yea, and what did you do in the first go round?” he flaps his lips just a little.
Darn, the ancient coot does know something about the show pen. I shudder the skin on my neck a little to dislodge a fly. “Umm, well, I kicked out in my lead change…I thought it was a little celebratory move. It made me feel big!”
“How did it make your people feel?”
“They didn’t seem to think it was as funny as I did.” I admitted. “Then Tim’s daughter Mandy showed me. We were Reserve Champion at the Congress, and we won our class at NRHA Derby& Superstakes.” I hesitate and curl my lip into a small smile. “Although I remember I did play around in the first go and made Mandy so mad she didn’t even bother to put my boots on in the second go. But I killed it for her in the rest of the class. So, of course, she forgave me. They always do.”
“You seem proud of the fact that you misbehaved at times.”
“I am, it was fun. Bonnie Hippensteel, she was my next owner, said I loved to surprise her. I was either so good or so awful that she said I made her a better rider. I remember showing in Lexington, Kentucky in a big class. In the middle of our right circles, they started to pressure wash the upper level of the stands. That seemed like a perfect reason to go nuts, but then Bonnie closed her legs on me and asked me to go faster…that was kind of what I had been thinking of doing anyway, so it worked out great for both of us, and we won! Bonnie and I won a Reserve World title that year!” I snort for emphasis, which the two little girls painting me mistake for a sneeze.
“Bless you, Fletch”, they giggle and one grabs my halter and kisses me on the nose. Man, there was a day when I would have pulled back at that nonsense. But now I have to admit, these little people smell good and always have sticky stuff that needs licked off their fingers.
“So you were good?” the old gelding peers at me out of his uncovered eye.
“I was talented, and I looked so much like my old man that Tim took me to Breyer Fest the year they made the Breyer model of my dad and rode me around as if I were him. No one knew the difference. I was like a celebrity.” I start to paw, which causes a shower of glitter to cover the cement floor.
“Stop, Fletch. Now we have to put more glitter on. And let’s put some rainbow socks on your legs.” The little blond girl squats next to my front leg. I look down at the piles of ribbons, fake flowers and paint containers scattered on the barn floor around me. I can’t even choose which pile of weirdness to spook at, so I don’t bother. Plus, I can’t risk stomping that little idiot who is now sitting cross legged on the floor next to my foot.
“But were you ‘good’?”
I drop my head just a little. I know what that aged beast is really asking me. I roll my eyes a little to myself. Every horse in this barn knows how the old horse, Spec, is always “good”. Even the advanced riders, whose horses live on the training and show horse side of the barn, stop by his stall to scratch him or whisper to him. It seems like they all had a turn learning on him.
“When I wanted to be, I was awesome.” I looked straight into the soft brown eyes of the leopard, relax my neck down and blink slowly. “I was a punk occasionally. I don’t know why I thought I had to be mischievous sometimes, but I did. I always made up for it by being amazing at other times. It just kept it interesting for me. I guess I was really lucky that I always ended up in the hands of people who learned to appreciate my humor.”
“Humor?” Spec sputters, “You think it was humorous?”
“Oh, it definitely was. Once, when I was being shown by one of Terry Thompson’s non pros, I walked into the center of the pen and kicked out with both hind feet as hard as I could, before we even started.”
“That was funny?”
“Kind of, but the really funny part was I turned, looked over my shoulder at where Terry was standing on the rail and stared right in eyes, then I went on to have a perfect run. I’ve heard him retell that story a lot. He even thinks it’s funny now.” I shake as hard as I can, trying to get the tutu to fall off. I’m just glad I can’t see a mirror. I’m sure the sight of myself would cause a reaction I might regret.
“Can I give you some advice?” Spec asks.
“I’m pretty sure you’re going to anyway, so go ahead.” I answer him.
“No matter who you were or what you did before, somehow you ended up here as a camp horse. It’s going to be different than you are used to, but there is nothing better in this world than being loved and played with by a little girl or boy. It doesn’t even matter that they grow up, because there’s always a crop of new ones to adore you.”
“Is this what you mean by being adored?” I cringe as a rainbow colored boa is draped around my neck. The feathers tickle and I smile to myself. I’m probably reformed whether I like it or not.
“Come on, it’s time to go my birthday party.” Spec snickers.
I tentatively follow these two little girls out to a long table with a plastic tablecloth rippling in the breeze and five big flapping cardboard horses with each of our names painted on it taped to the side of the table. If this isn’t enough to turn me inside out, then nothing is. But Spec and the other three geldings are already tucked up to the table with their heads buried in big foil pans full of the most delightful smelling concoction….I’m tempted, but…I guess I can always spook later.
Follow Up Questions:
- What discipline do you think Fletch showed in?
- Who is Hollywood Dun It and how can we find out more about him?
- Who were the riders named in Fletch’s story and how can we find out more about them?
- Learn and explain more about the way a reining horse is scored.
- How many penalty points would Fletch have been given for his kick outs? Describe what a kick out is.
- What does the term Futurity mean?
- What does the term Reserve mean when used before Champion or Title?
- Have you ever thought about what stories horses might tell each other in the barn? Write down what you think your horse told his stable mate after your last ride together.
- Talk about the last time you saw a horse spook. Do you think a horse is always afraid of what he’s spooking at? How would you handle a horse that was spooking at something you were trying to ride past?
- Plan a “Welcome to our Barn” party for the next new horse that moves in. Write about the stories a new horse may tell his new stable mates about what he has done in the past.