The Horse That Laughed

When I was eleven or twelve, my “back doctor” and my mom decreed that I could not ride again until I was eighteen, for fear of back injury. (The ultimatum only lasted one summer, but that was enough). This was a terrible blow, made worse by the fact that I still spent every summer day at Cornils’ stables, mucking, feeding, exercising, grooming, saddling, watering and generally caring for the horses — but without any benefits.

That summer, however, there was a fat and sassy show horse named Kappi boarding there. He was beautiful: a splendid five-gaited dapple-gray, with black stockings, mane and tail. I don’t know who owned him, but I could not imagine leaving him alone at Cornils for a whole summer! Almost no one (except my friend Marjorie Clark — Roby’s niece), Ted Cornils, and a few others, was allowed to ride him. So he grew restless, cooped up in his stall all day, looking out the window at the distant pasture and woodlands and longing to run. We became friends in our mutual frustration, and I would sometimes buy him Cokes (they cost 5 or 10 cents and came out of the machine in small bottles) and feed them to him: I think he was addicted either to the sugar or to the cocaine that was probably still an ingredient.

I brought him apples and carrots, talked to him, brushed him, sat on his smooth back and we dreamed of galloping off into the sunset together. Sometimes I exercised him on a lead, but mainly at a walk or trot: not enough for him to burn off the oats he consumed.

Then one day I arrived to see him about an eighth of a mile away, out in the pasture. When he saw me, he began to toss his head up and down in an urgent, “get-your-ass-over-here-NOW” sort of way, while whinnying loudly to get me to move faster. I climbed over the high fence and began to jog out toward him. And this is where it got weird.

He waited until I was about half-way between him and the fence; and then he put his head down in a menacing way and came at me in a dead gallop. There was no way I could outrun him, but I tried to reach the fence before he did. I must have really sprinted (hell, I was only five feet tall and weighed 75 to 80 pounds!), but I made it as far as the fence and then turned face Kappi as he charged down on me.

Then, just as he was virtually on top of me, he reared up as high as he could and came crashing down — barely touching me — straddling me with his forelegs. His neck and head were thrown back and — yes, I heard it! — he was clearly laughing at me! There is no other word to describe the sound that came out of his throat.

I must have looked plenty scared: it was a great practical joke on me! He backed off and pranced around me, still laughing, while I pulled myself together. And then I thought of how I must have looked and I began laughing, too. I climbed up on top of the fence and he put his head in my lap, and there we were: two old friends sharing a joke.

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