This is a story we printed for the Christmas edition of my newspaper, on the equine page. Some of it might be familiar to some of you, but I think you might still get a kick out of it. Happy Holidays guys, talk to you in a few days.
I got my horse Mort in the spring of my freshman year in high school. He brought with him the weight of responsibility and a huge debt to my parents. There were six children in my family. We always had plenty to eat, clothes to wear and lived in nice neighborhoods. We had toys and bikes. But we most definitely didn't get horses.
In our family education was the highest priority. So we lived on a tight budget as my parents saved for college. They didn't buy us cars. For the most part they didn't send us to camp, let us learn to ski, or extend individual privileges. If they couldn't give it to all of us, then nobody got it. We were all going to be able to go to college. That was a lot. We were expected to work hard in school and get jobs if we wanted extras.
Then I got a horse. This took some major rule-breaking. I'm still not sure how or why I managed it. What I do know is Mort helped me learn to survive in a world I didn't understand. A horse at that time of my life made the difference between success and failure as I grew into adulthood. How my parents knew is anybody's guess. They were pretty smart sometimes.
When I got Mort there was some serious conversation. He was my birthday present for life. He was my Christmas present for life. I had to keep him in a self-care barn. I had to pay for his upkeep. If there was ever a question of neglect he was gone. I agreed to every restriction. I was getting my horse. I couldn't stinking believe it.
My first Christmas as a horse owner arrived. I sat with a stupid grin on my face as my brothers and sisters opened all their stuff. My mom kept shooting me these worried looks. I had gotten a bathrobe, but otherwise they had held true to their word. No presents.
I knew my mom was feeling bad. I felt just fine. With every present my siblings opened I thought, "I have a horse".
Finally they were done. My Dad grinned at me and said, "Might as well go get your Christmas present."
I pulled my jeans on over my pajamas, rammed my boots onto my feet and shot out the door, buttoning my coat as I headed down the frozen street.
I cut through a neighborhood side yard and slid over the Moline's back fence. I could hear them laughing in the house. I was glad they were having a good Christmas too.
I hesitated at the lip of the steep ditch which separated me from my pasture. I took a deep breath, measured my steps and ran through the cement culvert, carefully balancing my bucket of brown sugar laced hot oatmeal, carrots and apples. If I hit it just so and didn't hesitate I knew I could scramble across without losing my footing.
I stood up in the pasture on the other side and dusted off my snowy knees. My ears burned with the cold and I took off my mitten to rub at them, wishing I had remembered my hat.
Mort nickered, his star bright against his beautiful black face. His fuzzy dun coat glinted in the sharp morning light as he paced, hungry. I felt a catch in my throat as I stomped through the snowy field up to his shed.
I crawled through the corral rails with an armload of hay. I laughed and pushed Mort away as he tried to stick his head in the bucket of mash hanging from the crook of my arm.
"Wait you geek, get off me!"
I finally wrestled him off enough to set the bucket down in the snow. I carried the hay into his shed and dumped it into his feeder. He had finished his mash and was kicking the empty bucket around his pen by the time I chopped the ice out of his water tank.
I was slinging the ice out into the field when I felt his nose push into the small of my back.
"Oof!" I grunted.
It was a good shove. I turned to face him and cupped my hands around his muzzle. Mort’s warm breath covered my frozen fingers. I pulled at the mash covering his whiskers, it was already frozen at the ends.
Mort snorted and pulled his nose away. He stepped back into me and nuzzled under my hair, lipping at my frozen ears. I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face in his cool fluffed out coat. I dug my fingers into his warm skin. He tolerated me for a minute before he pulled away and went into his shed to eat his hay.
I leaned against the door and watched him in the shadows. The sun splintered through the chinks in the walls and streamed over him. Snow floated down and melted into crystals across his back. My heart beat in sync with the slow steady music of him chewing the sweet alfalfa hay.
I heard the sounds of sleigh bells coming across the field. I turned and looked outside. My friend Melinda was walking up to feed her horse. Melinda wrestled with her own steaming bucket as Shannon nickered to her. She saw me, grinned and waved two heavy leather straps covered with sleigh bells over her head.
"I thought we could tie these on our saddles and ride around the neighborhood!" she called.
Mort snorted and stamped behind me as he rooted in his hay. The steam from his breath whirled around his head.
"Merry Christmas!" Melinda shouted.
"Merry Christmas!" I hollered back.