Authors: Jennifer H. Lyne
I sat in the armchair by the wood stove. Wayne put another log on the fire and lay back down on the couch.
“Ruthie's daddy said Donald used to hit his girlfriend when he lived over in Elkins,” I said.
Wayne's neck snapped around so fast that I almost jumped out of my chair.
“Earl said that?”
I nodded, scared. Was it really such a surprise? I couldn't make myself tell him the rest.
Wayne took a deep, long breath. “I tried to tell her he was good-for-nothing. But she don't listen,” he said.
Right about then I wanted him to say that he would go over and take care of that son of a bitch.
“You know, Sidney, it might be time just to let your mama go.”
I sat there, biting my lip, trying not to say anything or cry, and he fell asleep.
BOUT THREE HOURS
later, I woke up and Wayne wasn't there. I jumped up and looked out the window, and he was standing by the riding ring. He'd rigged up lights to illuminate the ring in the dark. It was a heck of a splice job, with wires sticking out and lights teetering on ladders.
I ran outside. “You're supposed to be in bed!” I said.
“Now we're a twenty-four-hour facility,” he said proudly.
“You're going to electrocute all of us.”
“We can train in the dark, after work. Get the horse used to lights.”
I looked at him.
“I made a couple calls,” he said.
I wondered what he was up to. Beezie didn't have any eq horses, and she wouldn't let him borrow something half-baked to take to the finals, just on principle. But he had a network of moonshine buddies, horse traders, mule skinners, farriers, tree pruners, blacksmiths, bricklayers, roofers, cattle farmers, deer hunters, bear hunters, fiddlers, banjo pickers, trout fishermen, you name it. And then there were the good old boys who did just about everything. It didn't matter if he'd talked to them in the past twenty years or not. He could call old So-and-So and talk for half an hour, then ask, “Do you got old So-and-So's number?” and he'd be on the phone with whoever he wanted in a day or two.
We went back to the house as it was getting dark.
“You wearing your heart monitor?” I asked.
He pulled up his shirt and showed me the wires. “I'm the electric horseman.”
We fell asleep by the wood stove.
EADLIGHTS FLASHED BY
, and I woke up and looked out the window. The car passed. The clock said 2:45. I closed my eyes again.
I didn't know how much time went by. Then bright lights flooded the room again.
Wayne woke up.
A pickup truck pulling a cattle trailer came crunching down the driveway, its headlights bouncing off the mist and sending the cat tearing under the porch.
Wayne got up and looked out the window. “There he is.”
“You're having my fancy horse delivered in a cattle trailer? Boy, you sure know how to impress.”
But Wayne was already out the door.
A big man got out of the truckâclean coveralls, round face, beard. Hunting season was coming, and the hunters had stopped shaving.
“Howdy there,” he said.
“Sidney, this is Chew-Gum.” Sure enough, he was chewing gum. “Chew-Gum's from over in Lewisburg.” West Virginia. The Other Side.
Chew-Gum looked at the lights Wayne had rigged up. “Boy, that's some contraption you got thar.”
“You can see, canchyee?” said Wayne. Chew-Gum's thick accent was catching.
Wayne looked at his watch. “You sure ain't in no hurry, Chew-Gum.”
“Sorry 'bout that. Had to replace the carburetor on the truck. Had the horse all loaded up and ever-thang.”
“What you waiting for? I want to see the horse.”
Chew-Gum unlocked the trailer and swung the door open. He climbed in, went around behind the horse, and pushed the horse off the ledge, like he was unloading a steer. No fancy ramps here. The horse jumped down. He was a big, light bay with two white socks, shaggy around the feet and ears, and sweaty. He had a friendly face with a white strip. Equitation horses were usually solid colored without any white even on their feet, so as not to distract the judges. He was not broke, no way, and I knew he was no equitation horse.
I knew it would be like that. I knew it. But I hadn't known it would be quite this bad.
“This here is Mystical Tour. After that old Beatles song, “Magical Mysteryâ”
“I know,” I said.
“This here is the great-great-grandson of Secretariat. But they lost his papers.”
“Bullshit,” I muttered.
“He's one hundred percent sound, levelheaded.”
“You're telling me this is an equitation horse?”
“Well, here's the thing, Sidney. This horse will jump any dang thing you put in front of him. We done tried it. He jumped over a tractor. He just loves to jump. And he ain't got a wee-kid bone in his body.”
Chew-Gum said “wee-kid” instead of “wicked,” so he must have been from down near Clinch Mountain. A tractor? He was lying and I knew it. Wayne kept a stone-cold poker face and chewed on a toothpick. I could see he wasn't buying this one bit, either.
“I seen him jump out of the field,” Chew-Gum said. “He sprang my pony and they ran all the way down to Route Twelve damn near Piercys Mill before I caught them. But here's the main thing. He's a smooth ride, got the easiest jump you ever sawâa little flat, maybe, so he wouldn't make a jumper. He's got a rocking-horse canter, and he's got a background as a show hunter but no papers. Wayne tells me you're looking for a equitation horse, a horse that you can count on and that makes you look good. Well, here you go.”
Good equitation horses went for around a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And here I was looking at something off a cattle trailer without any papers. Maybe we'd fix him up and sell him. I ran my hands down his cannon bones, feeling for splints or anything else.
“Oh, he's sound,” Chew-Gum said as I looked at the bottom of the horse's hooves and in his mouth. He had a bad wolf toothâa useless tooth that about half of all horses get right next to their premolarsâbut we could pull it. He seemed clean otherwise.
“Trot him out for me, Sidney,” Wayne said.
I jogged alongside the horse away from them. Wayne studied the horse's trot. Then Chew-Gum trotted him so I could see.
“Well, he ain't lame,” Wayne said.
“Of course he ain't,” said Chew-Gum.
Somebody had to ask. Better if it was me. “You didn't give him anything, did you?”
“Hell no,” he said, offended.
“He paddles with his front left,” I said to Wayne. Paddling is what it's called when horses overcompensate for being pigeon-toed.
“A little? He paddles like a duck,” I said.
“Probably his shoes,” Wayne said. He picked up one of the horse's hooves and inspected it. “Hey, you got this horse shod to plow a field or what?” he said to Chew-Gum.
“Yeah, I threw on some big steel shoes I had. Not the best, I reckon.”
Wayne thought, chewed on his toothpick. “His heels aren't trimmed evenly on his front left. I reckon that's why he's paddling.”
“Yeah, I reckon.” Chew-Gum eyed Sub, who was standing in the paddock half-asleep. “I'll give you a thousand for that pinto.”
“He ain't for sale,” said Wayne.
“So, what do you think of this fella?” asked Chew-Gum, nodding toward the new horse.
“We'll try him out for a week.”
“All right. But don't turn him out in the field with anyoneâthey'll be mincemeat by morning.” We said goodbye, and Chew-Gum got into his trailer and left.
“He was lying his ass off,” I said.
“Don't worry. I known him all my life.”
“That's what I'm afraid of,” I said.
Wayne shook his head. “A thousand dollars for Submarine. That boy's so cheap, he wouldn't pay a nickel to see Jesus Christ ride a bicycle.”
I put the new horse in a stall and gave him a flake of hay.
“He paddles like a duck,” I said. “He's got a wolf tooth. No one's seen him jump. His head is so high, he'll give you a bloody nose if you're not careful. This ain't the horse.”
“Not if you talk about him like that,” Wayne said.
“You're the one who always said, âYou can put your boots in the oven. That don't make 'em biscuits.'”
Wayne put on his heavy blacksmith's chaps and grabbed a set of farrier's pliers. He picked up the horse's front left hoof, pulled the shoe off, started to trim and file. “We'll see how he goes with some better shoes.”
I looked at the shoes he was going to use. “Where'd you get those?”
“They were throwing them out at the barn.”
He handed one to me. “Feel how light they are.”
I felt the shoe. Light as a feather. “Throwing them out, huh?”
“And they got ridges on them so he don't slip. Probably cost a hundred bucks each. Hey, how's that tooth?”
“We need to get it out before we can put a bridle on him,” I said. “That must hurt, rubbing up against the bit.”
Wayne looked at the tooth and got me some pliers out of his tool bag. “Yank that thing on outta there. Real quick.” He grabbed the horse's top lip as hard as he could to distract him and braced himself against the wall with the other hand. The horse snorted and his eyes popped open wide.
“Got him?” I asked.
“Yep. Get in there.”
I reached into the horse's mouth, clamped the pliers down on the tooth, and ripped it out. The horse sat back on his haunches and slammed into the wall behind him.
Wayne looked down at the pliers in my hand with the horse's brown tooth.
The horse shook his head hard when Wayne let him go.
“You can rinse now, mister,” I said.
We decided to let him spend the night in a paddock by himself, resting and getting used to things. He'd be mad after having his tooth pulled. I'd get on him the next day.
He had good enough manners not to pull away from the halter as I unbuckled it. I turned him out in the paddock and he trotted away. We watched him sniff the ground and check out the other horses. “Wayne, you can't teach a horse to jump a three-and-a-half-foot fence in a few weeks and then compete in a national championship.”
“Sure you can.”
“This might be a good horse someday, but he ain't our horse.”
“We'll see,” he said.
I decided to sleep the rest of the night at home. Driving away from the farm in the dark, I looked at the horse one last time in the rearview mirror. He was trotting back and forth, trying to get out. I glanced at the road in front of me, and then I glanced back, and damned if that horse didn't jump a four-foot fence out of that paddock!
I slammed on the brakes and got out to see Wayne frozen in midstep, watching the horse trot to the barn.
“You see that?” he said.
“Yeah!” I said. “He snapped those knees up so tight, you couldn't even see his feet.”
I walked right over and caught him standing by the barn. We tacked him up, and I climbed on while Wayne set up a couple of fences. The horse tossed the bit around, waiting for it to hit his wolf tooth, and then he let it rest against the bars of his mouth and ignored it. I trotted him around, cantered him in a circle. You could tell that he was a little fresh and hadn't been worked in a while, but I just couldn't believe how smooth he was. I aimed him at a jump in the center of the ring and he cleared it with a foot to spare.
“Well, goddamn, Chew-Gum!” Wayne said, and laughed a loud “Ha!” that I hadn't heard in a long time.
We kept jumping. His jump was a little flat, meaning he didn't toss me out of the saddle too hard, so my form looked better.
“He don't even raise an eyebrow,” Wayne said.
“He ain't paddling with those new shoes, and he snaps his knees up real tight,” I said.
We kept jumping and, I swear, that horse just got better and better.
Finally we quit and let the horse out for the night.
We went inside, and I lay down on the couch and turned out the light. Wayne fell asleep by the stove. I looked out the window and watched the horse in the moonlight, shuffling around the paddock, and I hoped he'd still be there in the morning.
told us the new horse's barn name, we decided to call him Sonny after Sonny Osborne, Wayne's favorite bluegrass singer. The next day, I fired up the big Oster clippers, oiled the blades, and clipped Sonny from head to tail. That way, if we did wind up going to the finals, his hair would have time to grow in. If we cut it too close to the show date, he'd have clippers marks and would look ridiculous. As the strips of brown hair slid off, his cuts and scrapes looked a lot worse. I brushed off all the loose hair and rubbed mineral oil into the scars. Wayne and I decided to feed him a mix of protein sweet feed with some mineral oil for his coat and some pellets. No corn, though, or else he'd get so fired up that he'd jump over the damn barn.
Wayne went back to Oak Hill. I felt bad being left behind, and I missed talking to Wes. I missed Edgar and the other stable hands. Wayne told me Kelly was schooling every day for the finals, and she was taking three horses: Idle Dice, her gelding, and a new hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar Oldenburg equitation horse.
When I heard that, I went to Wayne's and groomed the heck out of Sonny. I pulled his mane, untangled his tail, and scrubbed him to within an inch of his life. I clipped his whiskers with the little clippers, trimmed his ears and around his jaw. I rubbed mineral oil into his eyelids and nose. I rubbed Hooflex into his hooves and wrapped his legs. And then, when I was done with Sonny, I started working on the other horses. I was determined not to let Wayne's horses look scruffy and neglected anymore. I even clipped Submarine and started giving him mineral oilâdon't ask me why.