Thursday, September 28, 2006
The Laughing Stock
“Ping’s been charging the gate…” stated the barn manager flatly as I entered the barn one evening, getting ready to perform my usual evening ritual of the cleaning of the stall. “… Have you ever seen him do this before”? She quizzes.
“Ah”, says I, “you are just bearing the brunt of one of Ping’s jokes…”
Pool Boy can be a real hoot, or a stinker depending on the situation, but even most of the stinker incidents are funny once time heals the wounds, both literally and figuratively speaking, giving you a bit better perspective on a peculiar incident and, of course, the bruise finally fades. His sense of humor took me a while to figure out. Is this just bad behavior or his way of frustrating me? I would wonder. But as it turns out Ping just enjoys jerking human chain whenever he can. In the morning or evening, depending on the time of year, after being turned-out, Ping and his posse of geldings tend to bunch up around the gate, milling about, waiting to be let into their stalls. If Ping hears his name, no matter where he is standing in the throng of horse flesh, he stops, looks at you, turns his rear toward you and proceeds to nonchalantly saunter away in a very disdainful manner, like he’s the most arrogant horse in the barn and is completely disinterested in you, the barn or his waiting meal. About 300 feet out, he stops dead in his tracks, wheels on his haunches, does a little rear and buck, and gallops straight at you like he’s demon possessed. Right in front of the gate he does a sliding stop and just stands there, with a look on his face that seems to say, what took you so long? Then he stands like stone, waiting patiently for you to nab his halter and lead him through the gate.
To the uninitiated, this behavior is unsettling, even scary, at times… will he come in or do you have to trudge out to the paddock through the mud, or snow, or rain? Will his crazy gallop toward you stop in time, or pin you against the fence rails or gate? Will he kick the slats out of you if he wheels and bucks back at you? All of these questions flash through your mind – filling you with a distinct unease – until, after the performance has been repeated about a dozen times, it dawns on you that he’s just jerking your chain - having a big old horse laugh at your expense!
Ping is boarded in a partial care barn. We take care of him every day, rain or shine and this day in day out intimacy has taught us all a thing or two about Ping and his sensibilities, or lack there of. Old Stable Boy has found out for himself about Pool Boy’s funny side.
When Ping is in the stall eating his dinner, my eager beaver barn help/husband isn’t about to let the horse finish his dinner in relative peace, before being led out to pasture. He’s going to wade right in and get that stall done. On the other hand, as far as relative equine newbie Stable Boy is concerned, working around a highly-strung thoroughbred while the horse is still in the stall is a situation fraught with peril. So, in order to keep the horse informed of his close proximity to four steel shod feet, Stable Boy has acquired the habit of chatting – albeit a very one sided conversation - with Ping while he works around him. Of course, some of Stable Boy’s soliloquy is not exactly flattering, or welcome, to ole Pool Boy. Maybe it’s the tone, or some weird type of animal/human telepathy, but Ping seems to gets the drift.
“Hey Ping, Immigration called. You’re on the next boat back to New Zealand.” Whiz, a shot of nose-propelled grain flies across the bow of the grain feeder. Of course, staying away from the grain end doesn’t help much either. “Hey Ping, the glue factory called. You’ve been rejected, but the post-it note people are interested! How about a trip to Minnesota?” Swish, Ping’s tail slaps Stable boy right across the face.
Other horses along my journey have had senses of humor as well. There was Beau, a chestnut thoroughbred that loved to play Toro with you in the indoor arena. He’d careen around until he’d run off some juice, then back himself into one of the corners of the ring and face you, snorting and dragging up dirt with a forefoot in a remarkable representation of a Spanish fighting bull – then charge you at a full gallop, only to swerve around you at the last moment. This game of chicken was repeated over and over until he’d had enough. Then he’d meekly walk over to you, wanting a scratch and treat.
There was Babu, another chestnut thoroughbred, who loved to take beginners for a ride. He was a wonderful old preliminary eventer I leased from my instructor. He was fearless, unless he had to walk near those nasty white painted rocks along the side of the road. But when it came to jumping he would try take anything he saw that looked interesting whether you were inclined to go along or not – a four rail oak fence, the edge of a quarry, or my personal favorite, the concrete side walls of the bridge between my house and the barn that crossed a 40 foot deep river gorge. Depending on his mood, I would dismount and walk him over this fine cross-country obstacle rather than lose my life in the river below. But to Babu, it was all great fun!
Babu took my low cross-rail jumping husband for a ride at full gallop straight towards the four rail pasture fence with me screaming behind him, “Sit up, sit up, for pity’s sake, sit up!!” At the last possible moment, Babu, knowing exactly what he was doing, ran out. Stable boy declined a ride in future.
Babu hated to be blanketed and there were occasions when I’d tuck him up on a cold winter night with a nice blanket, only to arrive in the barn the next morning with the air frosty and cold and Babu’s blanket lying in shreds on him and about him, pieces hanging - like a hula dancer’s grass skirt - from his back. No matter how tough the blanket, Babu was tougher and would manage to tear it to pieces. I’m still not sure how he tore the nice long, grassy shreds, but I think teeth, patience, and his sense of humor, played a significant role in the process.
My first pony, Peanuts (a black-point bay) would lead my father on a merry chase around the neighbor’s 200 acre crop field after she’d managed to squeeze herself through that tiny little gap in the pasture fence my father was sure she was too fat to get through. He’d chase her and she’d gallop just out of reach for hours, enjoying the whole game. It’s a good thing she didn’t speak English or she might not have been as pleased with his less than veiled threats about her next living accommodation.
So when the barn manager said, …well, at first he’s just standing there. Then he starts to walk away. Then all of the sudden he turns…
I just smiled, nodded, and thought to myself, now where have you been for the last thirty years?