Sunday, July 20, 2008

Horse Stories/Mort/Chapter 3

Three Things

My horse wouldn't stop. Ever. We jigged sideways from the second I crawled up, his head tossing, his tail wringing, until I would give up and let him go. Then we flew.
I could steer him, but there was no slowing him down. He would whiplash his head like a coyote in a trap,and growl low in his chest at the least pull on his reins.
My father had taken pity on me, and borrowed a saddle. It was a huge, heavy 1890's beast, with a deep seat and a cantle high enough to whack me in the small of my back when Mort bolted into the blue. I was embarrassed by it's old, out of date look, and comforted by the deep security of a saddle made to really ride in.
I felt the same way about my horse. He was the most beautiful horse in the world. We ran across the fields, and through the trees like Flicka, or Fury. Mort was everything I ever hoped for in a horse and more. I felt wild and free riding him, I was happy. The three things I had been chasing my entire life. The three things I am still always on the hunt for.
Until I tried to stop him. We stopped when Mort felt like it. My best friend Karen's house, the boarding stable in the park, the arena where we held our club's gymkhanas, and back at our barn, that was about it.
I would take off from my barn on an early Saturday morning, riding the 7 miles to drill team practice. By the time we crested the hill at the big arena Mort would be leaping and straining against the pull of my hands on that brutal chain mechanical hackamore. We would blast past the girls in the drill team, their horses standing quietly, companionably, in a well behaved group, waiting to start practice.
I would set my feet in my giant stirrups, yank desperately at one rein, and slowly start to turn him as we disappeared down the trail. Finally, after lining him out, we would charge past again. Usually on the third or fourth pass, he would stop.
I was horrified. And angry.
The girls in the drill team never said much, they would sneak secret looks to each other, at my foaming, bloody chinned horse, my ancient saddle.
I would glare at them, wild eyed, manure stained from cleaning my stall before I came, my crazy hair blowing around my head. I hated their clean clothes, their horse trailers, their well behaved horses. I hated their silent opinion of my horse.
I was the only one who knew how sure and strong he flew down the rocky trails of the park. He never missed a step, never stumbled or hesitated. I was the only one who understood how safe I was on his back. I was the only one who knew how he hated the restraint of the reins. He didn't want to be bad. I didn't know how to make him be good.
Their smug smiles stopped me from asking for help.
Our drill team leader, Mark, was an old, world weary cowboy. He was a retired rancher who owned the boarding and rental stables in the park. He bred fine appaloosa horses, and was an important man in our community. He had been there, done that. He had taught me to ride.
He had never said a word about my choice in a horse.
He took me aside for a minute at the end of drill practice.
"Having a little trouble keeping Dunny reined in there."
I stared down at my saddle horn. I wanted to tell him I was doing just fine thanks. Having spent our hour long drill practice controlling Mort by jamming his head into the butt of the horse in front of me made me hold my smart mouth tongue.
"Might want to put a bit in his mouth."
"I can't. He's all scarred."
My secret was out. Mort's tongue had a healed tear that went clear across his tongue. It was deep enough to fit my pinkie finger. He had thin white scars on the corners of his mouth. They ran back almost a half inch on both sides. The inside of his mouth was lumpy with scar tissue.
He had scars on his nose, and poll, and jaw.
My hackamore was continually opening up the damaged tissue on his jaw.
I couldn't stand the thought of being laughed at for buying this damaged mess. I couldn't bear the weight of somebody telling me my horse wasn't repairable.
I dropped my head further between my tight shoulders. I clenched my fists, and got ready to fly away into the park.
"Why don't you come to the stable after supper. We'll see what we can rig up for this boy."
That night I made it back to the stables before dark.
Mark helped me fit Mort with a solid, medium port bit with a roller.
The port gave him tongue relief, the roller gave him a way to vent his anxiety, the solid shanks gave me something to hang on to.
He wrapped a leather chin strap with some electrical tape, to ease his raw jaw, and showed me how to properly fit it.
There was no judgement in his eyes, no lectures, no extra advice.
"Thank you." I managed.
"See you Saturday." He said.
We flew home on our fourth 7 mile trip that day. I still couldn't stop him.
He didn't toss his head. He didn't growl. He came down from his usual dead run to a ground covering lope. The cool evening air blew through my sweat crusted hair. I sat back in my saddle, safe between the high cantle and swells. Something had shifted. We were free. We were not quite as wild. We were happy.
It was a start.


  1. Wow. Tears in my eyes level. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Awesome Mugs! Just love the way your write and take us along for the ride. Seriously, the tears were right there. My blog entry from two days ago was about my first horse and our first ride together.... It was the same for me and Rocky as it was for you and Mort.... that wild and free feeling...God, I wish I could get again! A really, really good stop comes close but misses by a mile at the same time. I wrote about the tall skinny *itches today, check it out if you can, from the sounds of your other posts, you might get a kick out of it. PLEASE keep it up!

  3. :) thanks for sharing. You writing about Mort makes me remember a lesson horse my coach had bought at a sale. His tongue had been sawn in half. Although it never seemed to bother him we couldnt help but wonder why someone would do that to him. He was a wonderful horse that she used in lessons for years before selling him on to a student.

  4. Haha, that saddle reminds me of my first saddle. I see it sitting in the barn now and would never stick it on a horses back now but it is still a damn good comfy saddle for me.
    Hackmores are a nasty painful piece of equipment. I seen a horse that had his nose busted by one. When people see the bit less bridles I ride in and sell they automatically assume they are some sort of bridle like that.
    Wonderful writing, write more!!

  5. So cool!!! As usual, it's as if I was right there riding with you - I love reading your posts!

    Sydney, what kind of hacks to you make? Sidepulls? Mechanical?? I'm riding right now in a rope halter and quite like it, but I'm always interested in different bittless options! :)

  6. You have GOT to find a way to make your blog inaccessible to people who are at work. I look stupid sitting here tearing up. And of course it's your fault I have no willpower and open the site here....

  7. What a great post Mugs!
    I too have known the "shame" of not having "the right kind of horse". Screw them all, I still love the old girl! :)

    Where have all those wise old horsemen gone?

  8. MOAHCM: I found your blog the other day. :) Keep it up!

  9. loneplainsman: Nurtural bridles. I am their head coach. I am not going to put the link here because I don't like my threads hijacked so I wont do it to others.
    I spent a good majority of my university course studying bits and how they are used and how they affect a horses anatomy negatively. Through it I found a more harmonious way of riding, even though my horses are amazing with the bit they do even better in these bridles.

    Mugs: Just a thought on that sonita post when you were talking about the one horse outside the herd that is always looking for the saber tooth tiger in the brush and is always ready to react. Is it possible that an ex-lead mare can become that horse even if before she was confident?

  10. Are sisters who don't know anything about horses aloud to comment? I love this one, I remember you, and I remember Mort. The sweaty hair and watching you two take off for the horizon, this is my favorite so far - Amy

  11. There's nothing like the bond between girl and horse, even if it there's only one speed!

    I thought by the time I got to college I was past that whole "feeling like I didn't fit in". But unfortunately having a Morgan at a dressage barn brings it right back up again.

  12. sydney-I'm confused...I would think that an ex lead mare could become a sentinal...but I rarely see the mares fight for dominance. From what I've seen, if a lead mare loses out to a new mare, then she usually becomes #2.
    Also the thought in the book I read is that watchers are genetically wired to be just that what you meant? I'll definately bring tis up again, it goes with the Sonita story...

  13. Sister- of course you can comment, but don't you tell or I'll have to kick your ass.

  14. Mugs: Well see this is how it goes. My mare Indigo, dependable, calm, very good street smarts. She doesn't panic at random things crashing or stuff being tossed her way. Shes pretty unflappable and pretty push buttony. I worked a long time to get her this way.
    When I got her she was introduced to the herd. She was always boss mare where she was before (shes only had now three herds in her life) this all changed because Suzy is the queen. What she says goes no matter what.
    The herd she was introduced to was mother, two daughters and one son. It's quite a different herd scenario (outside 24/7 like nature intended) and I spend hours watching them. The communication is different than other horse herds of any type, stalled or wild. Indigo dropped to the bottom of the totem pole and now is a sentinel of sorts. Shes kind of like the horse that doesn't want to get too close to the herd but wants them for protection. She does however use one mare as her bodyguard lol.
    I noticed when I first got her because I kept her separated most of the time due to fights she was really confident. She never spooked and was never in a hurry to get anyplace. Now that shes been in this herd scenario she gets real jumpy. She never bolts but she jumps at stupid things like bushes rustling and even though she would rather be with me than the herd (she always comes running when I call without doubt and is glad to come into the barn or follow me anyplace, on or off the lead) she, I am not going to say jigs because its not quite that but like speed walks, when she speed walks she gets more edgy and is always looking at things, constantly.

  15. What I love about this story is the way that a mentor can give us a hand and change things for the better. This comes up a lot in your life story with horses. I've had a few excellent friends help me along, and that makes up for all the bad advice I've been given.

    Poor Mort and his scarred up mouth. Heartbreaking.

    I know that feeling of inadequacy, and yes, jealousy at all the riders with more money, and good saddles, and horses that were, y'know, bought broke. I still don't have any extra money to throw at my horses. No matter how far I get with my own training I'll always feel like the kid bareback on the Shetland, but I'm okay with it now. I"m not ashamed of where I came from.

    What are your three things? Freedom, happiness and wildness?

    I can relate...

  16. Oh sniff. I'm teary again, darn it!

  17. Mugwump, I absolutely love your stories, and they're bringing back so many memories of my own!

    I had sporadic and infrequent riding lessons while growing up (one summer I spent a morning a week going to Congregational Church Vacation Bible School - I was raised Roman Catholic - because a neighbor would let me come with them while their daughter took riding lessons afterwards - my mother could barely afford the lesson, it was my "allowance" - and she didn't drive so it was the only way for me to get there).

    Then I found the old reprobate with the horses and ponies who'd let us ride them but only bareback. But I was riding, so no more lessons.

    Then I went to Mount Holyoke. Talk about culture shock: all these richbitch girls who turned their noses up at anything that wasn't a perfectly conformed hunter or dressage horse.

    They'd just gotten in a new batch of school horses, and one of them was so broad they didn't have a saddle to fit him. The richbitches looked at him as if he was a mutant. I volunteered to ride him bareback, which amused the instructor (Mr Moffatt, I'll never forget that name!), who called me "The Indian" the rest of the year. I was very shy, intimidated by the DQs and Equestriennes,and a bit embarrassed by the singling out, but I never felt he was anything but a kind man.

    Anyway, like Mort, this horse had a badly scarred tongue. In the first class Mr Moffatt used him to show something about the horse's teeth or something - anyway, he grabbed the horse's tongue and pulled it out.

    We all - including Mr Moffatt - were horrified at what we saw: it looked as if a bit had nearly sawed his tongue in half, with at least 3/4 of an inch deep gouge going from side to side.

    I was too clueless to know or notice at the time what Mr Moffatt did bitwise with that horse, but considering what his tongue looked like that was another one of those horses they just don't make anymore. He had spirit, but he wasn't mean at all. I enjoyed riding him a lot.

  18. Great blogs Mugwump! I'm glad I found them. Just got into blogs and I wanted horse related so tried yours from Equine Ink. I can really see myself in many of your posts. I wasn't fortunate enough to have horses when I was a kid so don't have that kind of history. However, I can sure identify emotionally with your story. Look forward to continue reading what you put out there for us! Thanks for sharing! If anyone is interested, I also started my own blog, Hoofbeats and Paw Prints, last week. Like I said, new to this stuff, so everyone will have to bear with me if I make mistakes. Mistakes=Learning from them.

  19. smurfette-all those leaky little blue,my
    misadventures- It's a good thing I was too tongue tied to say anything to those girls of my youth-most of them were as messed in the head as I was, and some ended up being good friends down the road..
    plainsam, and scamp-It freaks me out how many of us have come across those brutalized tongues...what were they riding with?
    surprisewind- stop that! Turn off that computer! Shame! (snark)
    sydney-I don't have an answer for that one, but it sure gets you thinking doesn't it? I DO think your mare has lost guess is you'd want to ride her with the same patience you would a two-year-old,
    and let her regain faith in you, even though you're the same, her world isn't....
    heidi- there is always a mentor somewhere for everybody, it's a matter of knowing when they're around.
    I've noticed that they tend to help the poor, bareback riding, bridle macrame-ing, going to Bible Camp just to see the horses kind of kids the most too. :)
    I know I'm that way.

  20. Last year a friend of mine bough a pretty grulla mare. Right off they tried to work with the trouble with getting her in the bridle. Finally they checked out her tongue. I had a chance to view it for myself and it is was just like you all have said, as though someone had tried to cut it in half. Is there any way that what we are seeing could be a genetic deformity? This scar when clear all the way around and I have trouble figuring how someone or something could have done that. We had never heard of another horse with this so I was suprised that so many of you had. Makes you wonder.

  21. I just hope you're planning on compiling your 'Horse Stories' as a book. I also hope you'll sign my copy. :)

    I'm jealous because I wanted to be you SO VERY BADLY as a kid. The nice thing is, when you write, I feel like there I was. Very vivid and very wonderful. :)

    I'm glad to see your friend's progress is going better than expected and God bless ya' for shaving her stubble! That's a friend! I'll keep her in my prayers. :)

  22. And that scar, people do WEIRD things to horses' mouths to add brakes. My boss and I met a horse that was having some difficulty eating and was dropping food. We thought, okay, teeth. Er... how about a hog-type ring through her tounge? It had been there quite awhile too. Why? Only God and the idiot that did it know.

  23. I rode a horse with a roping tongue like that- nearly cut in half. He only answered to "whoah". You could sit there and haul back on the reins all day.

    I never owned this horse. He was in his early 20s when I met him. His owner at the time would let me ride him no questions asked.

    We'd get into the park and pick up a canter, and there he stayed. If I sat up into a 2 point position he'd gallop. He was tall and had the most ground-covering, rocking horse canter I've ever ridden.

  24. half assed- what's a roping tongue?

  25. My old vet once confessed that he'd just been out to Mr. Big Name Trainer's barn to sew a tongue back on. And this is why I'm training the VLC myself... Enough said.

  26. ack-sorry- took so long to get back..

    I heard "roping tongue" as just that injury everyone's describing- the huge scar across the tongue, as cut as a tongue can get before you cut it in half.

    The lady that taught me to ride when I was younger said it was from the "dude" roper types at smaller rodeos hauling on a horse's mouth.

  27. That was really touching.

    Reading about Mort reminds me of my beloved little pony, Dublin. I leased him for a year before his owner took him away and sold him.
    He bucked, spooked, bolted, and rushed jumps. Sometimes he would randomly spin around, just to try to unseat you.
    Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to lease him.
    I trusted him completely.
    I just knew, when I looked into his big, playful eyes, that he wasn't mean. He didn't ever try to hurt me, though he had plenty of opportunities.
    He was just bored.
    He loved me.
    I loved him back.

  28. I dont' know if you read old comments or not... but wondering about the scar on Mort's tongue. My mare has a scar across her tongue. She was born at my place, I sold her as a weanling & bought her back as a 3 yr old. She didn't have the scar when she left my place. Went thru 3 owners before I got her back. I envisioned some sort of bitting gone wrong. Is this true or could the cause be some sort of heinous training method?

    re your blog - recommended by a friend. I've been catching up on posts over the last few days. Enjoy your writing and your stories. And your way with horses.