How to Treat a Horse by Kitty Liang
When we ride horses we like to go slow. It’s not because of the mud. The horses are well trained. Mine is a smart Chestnut Mare who has had her moments around the barrel.
Toes up, heels down, hold it gentle like you’re standing on a cookie, cowgirl. He tells me like I don’t know, and I let him. He likes to strap fancy spurs to his boots, but he never kicks his horses.
A long time ago there was a gold haired boy who pulled the harness on his pony a little too hard. He made sure that boy knew firsthand the taste of a horse bit. Last year at the Houston Rodeo he pointed out the boy, all grown up, sitting tall on a heeling horse in a button down shirt and a buffalo Stetson.
You just can’t go wrong treating a horse right.
Sometimes my mare veers off the road to graze, with me still on her. I really shouldn’t, but I let her. When he laughs his dimples show up. They remind me of joyful little cups. He says, Damn chestnut mares, you just can’t tell a redhead what to do. I put my hat on him, then put it back on myself. Despite his puzzled look, I’m not going to say: It’s really childish, but it’s a thing that doesn’t belong in conversation. Not the kind we have, anyway. Maybe you’ll figure it out someday, knowing all those things about horses and their feelings.
We meet on Saturday afternoons for the lessons. I bring my own horse so I don’t have to groom one of his for half an hour like he requires me to. His horses are too spoiled anyway. We never have enough time. When it rains we hide out for a while. He shows me buckles with his name engraved. He polishes them with his fingers, but it’s more like a caress. There’s only one way to touch something that no longer belongs to the present.
When he’s too proud to say anything, the way he greets me is simply with a tip of the hat. During the day I am alright, but at night when the inevitable whiskey washes away that gesture in my mind, I am left in an empty room. I often think of him saying: You can’t panic or be frightened on a horse. Horses are mind readers. They know your darkest secrets. He reaches over to comb my horse’s mane with his fingers, his boots almost touching mine. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. I secretly wish my mare would kick him where it matters, him and his gelding. I wish he would get so far away from me that all he gets to see are his horses, but from the look in his eyes I know he’s already there.
This Saturday he’s teaching me the sitting trot; next Saturday he says we’ll try a little jog, that is if the weather allows it and if his longhorn cow doesn’t calve. If she calves, he’ll have to be there for her no matter what. She’s a first time mother. Or maybe, we should just skip the lesson altogether since the rodeo is coming to town. He’s sure that there’s someone who wants to go to the rodeo with a pretty girl like me, isn’t there?
Maybe, maybe not, I wouldn’t know. The only thing on my mind is that, hopefully, the rodeo gets so crowded that he doesn’t see me and my mare in perfect unity, flying around those barrels, trailing behind us a cloud of dust in the shape of a three leaf clover. He’s right, though, I can’t go wrong treating a horse right. I can’t go wrong, loving a horse.