The Horse and Other Ways to Die

John W. Pinkerton

In the animal kingdom, the horse is ranked from sixth to ninth in intelligence depending on which study one examines.  Personally, I think all studies overate the horse’s intelligence.

We, my family, never owned a horse, but there were horses in the neighborhood when I was a youngster, and a particularly depraved young man who lived nearby more than once came by our home with a spare mount on which he invited me to die.

I suppose the reason I view horses as evil entities lacking intelligence is that they, along with my debauched friend, tried to kill me and, obviously, failed.

I leaped at the opportunity offered by the depraved young man to ride one of his horses: after all, he was a neighborhood kid about my age; what evil could possibly lie in his heart?  Without instructions I immediately mounted the steed: I had seen cowboys ride horses on the silver screen many times, and, consequently, I was a fearless lad.

For twenty minutes or so the ride was uneventful: my horse simply followed his at a pleasant, leisurely pace, but when we got amongst a stand of oaks, my “friend” sharply struck his steed in the flanks, and my horse, not being a fellow who thought for himself, was away to the races.  All was fine until my right stirrup gave way, and I was hanging on to the side of the horse as the trunks of oaks passed within inches of my head.  I was not amused, but I was pleased when his horse stopped the mad scramble through the trees.  I righted myself in the saddle, and we returned at a leisurely pace back home where I dismounted and thanked him for the opportunity to die.

A couple of weeks later, the depraved young man returned to offer me another chance to die.  He assured me that he had properly repaired the miscreant stirrup.  Of course, I took him up on the offer.  Once again he drove his horse to a hard gallop, and my unworthy steed responded.  This time the other stirrup gave way, and I was set free from the beast.  I did a 360 and landed on my backside.  Not pleasant, but it didn’t kill me.  I suspect my “friend” was more than a little disappointed.

I didn’t catch on the first time my “friend” tried to kill me: but, not being totally dimwitted,  I concluded this fellow was actually plotting my death.  It just didn’t work out for him.

I just realized that this essay is as much about attempts to kill me as it is about horses.  This got me to thinking of a plot to kill me when I was in the service.  I’m sure the Ruskies were plotting against me even as I slept in my barracks, but this plot was much closer to home or at least barracks.

One morning as I snoozed beneath my bunk awaiting the morning work call, I overheard some section mates discussing with disgust my dissolute behavior when consuming alcohol.  For soldiers to be critical of someone’s dissolute behavior, they must have viewed it as pretty extreme.

I surprised them by sliding from beneath my bunk to confront them with, “Drunk or sober, I’m smarter than anyone else in this room.”  As you’ve probably already surmised, this was probably an error in judgment. 

It seems that this had particularly enraged a rather large Irish lad from California.  I knew this because I accidentally overheard a conversation which included the fact that the mad surfer was going to throw me out of a window: not a good thing: large open windows, four floors to the concrete below.

Being that I was still in my bulletproof days, I was unafraid and due to excellent hearing, well prepared.  It happened that later in the day we were assigned to our barracks to shine boots and brass.  Ah, the perfect opportunity for my unworthy adversary.  As the six of us polished away on the brass and boots, I placed myself on a stool before a large open window pretending to be absorbed in polishing a boot but secretly keeping an eye on the fellow who planned to toss me out the window.   Each time he leaned forward preparing to rush me, I casually repositioned myself in a more defensive position.  We went through this dance several times each time he leaned forward.

Chow time arrived and the opportunity was gone.  After chow the rather large, disgruntled Californian and I went out for an evening of carousing.  He never mentioned the incidents of the day, nor did I.  We really got to be close friends, kind of.

As for any other desires for me to be unceremoniously dispatched, I suspect there may have been one or two, but, as luck would have it, none came to fruition.

Back to the horses.  The last time I rode a horse was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Keith, a friend from high school and college, decided he wanted to go horseback riding at a rent-a-horse stable.  Although I wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospects, I went along for the ride.  I’m sure that Keith had no plot to kill me that day, but the horse the stable manager chose for me definitely didn’t care if I lived or died: in fact, I think he preferred the latter.  I suppose I ticked the nag off by urging him to move a little faster than a second class snail.  Tired of my insistence for more speed, he headed for the woods and low hanging limbs, a trick I’m sure he’d used successfully before to unhorse his riders.  Almost to the tree limbs, I yanked back on the reins forcefully enough that he knew I meant business.  We did one of those Lone Ranger two-hooves-rearing-in-the-air-snot-snorting stands before we reached those deadly tree limbs.  Old paint wasn’t happy, but I was alive.

Over the years I have assiduously avoided horses and calling people less than bright.  So far it’s worked out pretty well for me.



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