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The Nag, the Cripple, and the Deaf Dog

In 1964 ,our family moved to the desert east of Tucson. It didn't take long for a "friend" to give us Taffy, a crippled palomino gelding. He had taught Taffy to jump into the back of a stake bed pickup. The repeated shocks of landing on its metal bed must have been what injured his left hind fetlock. When he joined our household he could barely limp.

Then my parents bought a stunted nag from Navajo country. Boy Horse was mud brown with a big nose, rat tail, and a short mane that frizzed upward. He was easy to ride if you didn't mind a top speed of one mile per hour. That beat Taffy, who was no bigger than Boy Horse and pure yard ornament.

Taffy and Boy Horse became instant friends. I became sullen. ALl thse years I had dreamed of our family having horses. Now we had -- those two.

One July morning I didn't close the corral gate fast enough. Boy Horse galloped through and disappeared over a hill. I ran after him. By the time I reached the hilltop, I couldn't even see his dust. Out there it was open range for miles in every direction.

I reported him to the Arizona Livestock Board. Soon a man phoned. A mud-colored mustang had turned up in his pasture. My mom drove me there, some five miles west. As we pulled up, a man was swabbing a mare's fresh cuts. He pointed to an alfalfa pasture. "He jumped the fence and beat up my Thoroughbreds."

A half dozen mares were milling about, looking anxiously at Boy Horse. Flies crawled on blood congealing on their manicured coats. Boy Horse was grazing. I walked over and scratched him behind an ear. I couldn't see any place that needed swabbing.

I saddled up and we headed back across the open range. Boy Horse tried to turn back, then took to bucking persistently. He must have loved that fresh alfalfa and being king over all those cringing mares. Finally I got off and dragged him home by the reins. Given that the temperature was, as usual, over 100 deg, this was no fun.

However, this was a turning point in our relationship. Now I respected him. Now I would ride him out to graze on the sweet grass where springs welled out of the Catalina Mountains to the north. When I'd show him his bridle, he'd rush over. We'd trot off bareback. I'd guide him just by thinking where I wanted to go and how fast.

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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.