Sunday, October 18, 2009
Rat was another horse that we had in our dude string that wormed his way into my heart. He was, by all accounts, well into his 30s. The years had not been good to Rat, but he was still a sweet horse. The cartilage in his ears had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer hold them upright all the way, so they just kind of flopped. His tail had thinned so much that it was wispy in every sense of the word. I wanted so much to put a pink bow in his tail and call him “Eeyore”, for that’s exactly who he looked like. He even moped around the pen like Eeyore. Well, until feeding time. In a wild herd, he would have been run out and left on his own to die at his age. However, domestic herds are a little different and Rat had learned a thing or two in his thirty-some years on this planet. There wasn’t a horse in the pen that could run Rat from his food, nor were there any horses that were dumb enough to try more than once. He could be as mean as a snake and every bit as quick when he wanted to be.
Because of his age, we only used him once or twice a week for kids’ camps, and never for more than an hour at a time. However, each morning we went to fetch horses from the pen, Rat was the first one begging to be caught. He knew that on days that he got to work, he got grain for breakfast, which in his little mind was a whole heap better than just hay.
Rat, when he was used for kids’ camps, always had to be ponied because he just was not going to listen to the driving directions from some snot-nosed little kid. The only way he’d go where we wanted him to go was for the wrangler leading the ride to drag him along. Now, Rat wasn’t a big horse, he may have actually been just a tall pony and sometimes his temperament suggested that he was a pony, but ponying Rat was always an adventure.
During one of the very few kids’ camps that I worked, I had the pleasure of ponying Rat with a little three or four year-old girl on his back. Rat actually behaved like quite a gentleman during the majority of the ride until he decided that it was time to go home at which point he dug all four hooves into the ground without warning and darn nearly pulled me out of my saddle. I was on Black Rufus, who on a good day, ran close to 1,100 pounds and Rat, with the little girl on his back couldn’t have weighed more than 750 pounds, so I half-looped Rat’s lead rope around Black Rufus’ saddle horn and put a little heel to Black Rufus. Rat dug in even more, shifting his weight to his backside. He was not going one step farther, no ma’am, unless that one step took him toward the livery. Black Rufus leaned into the lead rope and Rat pulled back. We had ourselves one heck of a tug-o-war going on. At one point, it occurred to me to back off on the forward pressure, but by that time, Rat had so much of his weight shifted to the rear that I was afraid if I did, he’d fall right on his butt.
I was stuck; Black Rufus, despite his size, could not budge Rat and I couldn’t back off for fear of Rat falling over backward. So I compromised, I kept the forward pressure so that Rat wouldn’t fall, but shifted Black Rufus in the direction of home, using Rat as a fulcrum point to just swing three steps to our right while keeping the pressure constant. But I had forgotten one very important thing: Rat had learned a thing or two in his thirty-some years. As soon as he realized that I was moving Black Rufus in what he considered the right direction, he relented and took a step forward, effectively releasing all of the pressure and almost causing Black Rufus and me to fall on our faces. From that point on, as long as we were headed back home, Rat behaved himself, but if we so much as thought about a different direction he put the brakes on.