On the road

I walked Lucy’s horse Birch down the highway to school today. Probably not my brightest moment. Birch is a big boy, probably 900-1000 lbs. He’s very gentle, but he’s scared to death. Of everything. I knew this, of course, but hadn’t realized quite how scared, or how nerve-racking it would be to handle on the open road.

He’s 23 years old, I’d thought. A sweet old man. How jumpy could he be? The answer: pretty jumpy.

I used my lead shank with a chain and wrapped the chain over his nose, but still he was arching his neck tensely, blowing out his nostrils, gazing around in wide-eyed alarm. For the first half mile he danced like a Lippizanner: trotting anxiously at a walking pace, his fetlocks like springs. What’s THAT! he’d spook. “Just a storm drain,” I’d say soothingly.

Birch scorns the cows but suddenly the thought of parting filled him with fright. He kept bugling and neighing frantically long after Katika’s moos had faded behind us. Seeing his skittishness, cars and trucks were giving us a wide berth; as they were passing at 55 mph, we both still flinched. But it wasn’t the vehicles he was really afraid of. It was being alone.

I was aware that I had stupidly committed myself to a big risk. Despite the chain, if he’d reared and taken off, I couldn’t have held him. But it was too late to turn back. To calm him I kept up a steady murmur. “Whoa, whoa… What a good horse. You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re great, you’re safe,” I crooned, over and over. “I’ve got you.” Unfortunately the latter phrase immediately put me in mind of the line in Superman, when the man of steel catches Lois Lane as she’s falling from a skyscraper. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” he says calmly, hovering in mid-air. “You’ve got me!” she yelps. “Who’s got you?!”

God knows, I thought grimly.

Luckily no trucks let off their air brakes as we passed the narrow sections of the highway with metal guard rails. After twenty minutes of steady murmuring and a death grip on the chain, we reached the school. It was 25° and my back was wet with sweat.

Birch is on campus for the spring so Lucy can ride him after school with the drill team. She will love it. However I think at the end of the term I will borrow a truck and trailer to take him safely back.


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