Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mort/Chapter 4

Mort Hugs
It was hard to see in the near light just before dawn. Dead weeds poked through the snow, breaking up the stark, gray on gray horizon.
Squinting into the shadows of Mort's shed, nothing moved. No hungry nicker greeted me. No sign of his fuzzy black face hanging over the top rail. The gate to his corral yawned open. So was the gate of the horse who lived next to him.
I stumped through the snow to the back pasture fence. The barbed wire gate lay flopped in the snow. Two sets of tracks headed in a straight northeast line. Mort had escaped again. As usual, he had taken his best friend Sandy with him.
Settling my wool hat snugly over my ears, and grateful for it's itchy warmth in the snot freezing cold, I headed back to the barn for a halter, Mort's bridle, and a can of grain. With luck, they would have stopped to ravage a suburban rose bed along the way. They might still be close enough to catch before my parents noticed I wasn't back in time for school.
If not, the horses would already be at Mort's favorite hangout. The drive-in at Barnes road. That would mean a five mile tromp through the snow. Or sitting in the car with my silent, stewing father. It was never a good idea to make Dad late for work, especially when I was late for school too. His frosty malevolence made a five mile hike in sub zero temperatures seem absolutely heart warming. Invigorating, even.
I had found out the hard way why Mort was kept in a six foot, padlocked run, at the boarding barn I had originally kept him at. He could get out of anything. He could open latches, undo wire, push out corral boards. He would gleefully jump over anything under five feet, and crawl under anything over three. He could untie knots with abandon, and whip through every snap known to man. He would lean on T-posts, tip toe through downed wire, and roll under anything but a five strand fence. If all else failed, he would simply kick things down.
A nearby family had let me board Mort at their barn. A few sheds, some haphazard corrals, and ten acres of field, were mine to share with another girl from my neighborhood. We paid a whopping $5.00 a month for the privilege of keeping our horses within walking distance of our houses. It was great, but it was impossible to convince Mort to stay there.
Not that he wanted to go back to his old stable, mind you. He seemed perfectly content with his little shed, a pasture buddy, and plenty of room to run. He just liked to cruise the neighborhood. Usually in the wee hours of the morning, with friends. Mort wasn't content to simply let himself out. He would let out whatever horse he was currently living with also.
A two a.m. phone call from the local police let me know I had bought the next Houdini within a week after moving to our new barn. I got to know the late night CSPD well that summer. I spent a lot of my riding time replanting flower beds and tamping down divots in the neighbors lawns. Mort became infamous within weeks.
This time I was a mile down the road when my Dad pulled up along side me.
"Lose something?"
"I'm following their tracks." I kept my head down and studied the trail like Dan'l Boone.
"Get in." Dad said. "I think we can still hunt them down from the car."
The sarcasm was hard to miss. The snow was at least a foot deep, and the renegade hoof prints were about jumping out and tripping me.
Once again, we found the horses at the Barnes Road drive-in. Mort had a fascination with the horses that lived in the pasture behind it. It had become enough of a routine that the owner had caught them for me, and had coffee waiting for both me and my Dad.
Mort hollered when he saw me, and as mad as I was, my heart lifted to see him. He was a study in contrasts. His white star shone out of his black face. His woolly dun body was zebra striped, across his shoulders, down his back, up his legs. He looked glorious against the snow.
I went up to him, and he wrapped his neck around me, in his "Mort hug". I buried my frozen fingers in his shaggy coat and leaned into his warmth.
The thin, cold sunlight was creeping across the fields when I swung up on him bareback. We started across the prairie in Mort's huge extended trot, back towards the barn with Sandy towing like a tug boat.
"Hurry up, you won't have time for a shower before I take you to school!" Dad shouted after me. "I'm not giving you an excuse for being tardy either!"
Great. Sister Mary Pious was going to have a field day with this one. One more day being late, smelling like horse, and having hay in my hair. Detention city, here I come.
But the prairie skies were open in front of me, my horse was snorting like a happy freight train, and I was riding, instead of going to History class. The world fell away.
Sandy gave me a yank, and as I turned to pull her back, I saw my Dad and the owner of the pasture standing in the snow laughing. My Dad shook his head, and the steam from his refilled coffee curled around his hands.


  1. I love going back to your childhood, it's kinda like time travel. Another good one Muggs. Thanks for being one of the great storytellers =)

  2. Awesome. I rode my horse to school once although it was during exams and I didn't have one. I also drove my horse to school to give my one horse crazy teacher a ride.

  3. I was just riding Mort back to the barn. :( My Dad took me to school, where I got a weeks detention for being late. It was worth it though.

  4. You are a great writer! I loved this post. Not least because Jackson, the horse I owned as a teenager, escaped from just such a neighborhood corral and ran amuk (with his pasture pal) on a golf course, and I had to pay for every divet that critter put in the very expensive greens. You don't know how good you had it!

  5. I have a houdini of my own, but he's 38 and starting to retire a bit from it. His specialty is in latches and knots. I loved this story. Heartwarming seems sappy but it fits. You made me smile.

  6. Gosh, I just love your writing! I love your descriptions, like the "snot freezing cold" and your dad's "frosty malevolence." You paint such vivid pictures with your words, that I can picture everything as if I were there and feel all your emotions. I was hoping for more of the Mort story just the other day.

    Thanks again for this lovely story and your great blog. I've really been using your advice and inspriation and making headway with my old, spoiled gelding!

  7. Hey Mugwump, thanks for stopping in over at my blog, and leaving your thoughts! I have been reading you from the start here as well, and have enjoyed every post of yours. Keep em coming! ;)

    Oh- and stay tuned at HorseFeathers... plans are in the works to bring that big mare home to the east coast! Now cross your hooves for us ;)

  8. First time commenting, but I've been reading your blog since the start. You do a wonderful job of story telling and teaching at the same time. Love your blog, keep it up!

  9. Another Fugly visitor -- I like your writing about training, but this is great!

    I boarded a white mare with a lovely bay gelding who sounds like your Mort. The gelding had to go and he took his ladyfriend (my mare) with him on many occasions. To the point that the gelding's owner and me would get calls -- 'hey, the brown and white horse are in my yard!' One of us would go round them up and bring them home. They never went far, usually to a nice garden, and once, to an elementary school with a newly planted lawn *sigh*.

    Well, don't plant new grass where horses can smell it!

    Both those horse are now over the Bridge, waiting for us and no doubt trying to figure out an escape route ..

    Keep writing!

  10. I haven't posted before but..... Mugs, I have to say, when I saw another "horse story" today I honestly felt a moment of true excitement. Like the kind where your heart flurries making you remember to breathe and you lose focus for a moment. I, so far, love all the topics you write about. The training is very useful and full of insight. In my mind these "horse stories" are training related as well. Not just stories. But nonetheless, you do tell them in a different manner. I absolutely adore them. Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

  11. I'm with everyone else here... been reading you from the beginning and check in several times a day to see if there's a new post about Sonita or Mort. I can't wait to read the next installment of Sonita! And your stories about Mort remind me so much of my childhood days in a small one-horse (mine!) town. Keep it up!

    I'd also love to talk to you someday and get your advice on training one of the SWAP mares that I rescued. :)

  12. They truly are something, aren't they? Thanks for sharing Mort, Sonita, and all the rest with us!

  13. Excellent storytelling! I think you were discussing a while back where your stories might fit in the book world. I'm thinking, as a past librarian, there would be a market for the YA (young adult, usually 13 to 17 in the book world)girls, the ones you have shared about your teen years. I know when I was a teen I would have eaten these kinds of stories up because they put me right in the story with you and of course the horses are great. I'd be thinking, "I sure would like to have been her!" Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  14. HA! I have to say... I love a horse with character. You want to kill them sometimes but you can't All because just something about their mischevious nature, and their look that just makes you laugh when they get caught getting into trouble.

    They melt your heart, teach you patience and real unwavering, unconditional love. Your stories, especially Mort's, I think I love SO much because it takes me back to being innocent and just to the bare back, deep rooted reasons I love horses. You portray a girl that just loves her horse so purely. It always leaves me wishing I had one as a kid the way you did and thanking heaven I have access to the character I do now at 25! :) Great story mugs! Can't wait for the next.

  15. Mugs I love these stories. and it makes me feel like I am back home in the freezing cold. Its facinating to me to read about the place I grew up...They should have kept that drive in!

  16. Your father reminds me of my own. Mad at the extra effort but more than happy about the partnership, and life experences that horses were giving me. He aways said that the back of the horse was safer than standing around in a mall.

  17. At least he seemed to be doing it on purpose. Theres no shame in losing the fencing/enclosure battle to a worthy, determined opponent. What I cant stand are the horses (read: geldings) who take down our hotwire by the following oh-so-refined process: reach under for grass, shock yourself, look startled and confused, repeat.

  18. laura-do you think our horses were smarter then, or were our fences that crappy?
    esquared-I'm a little sappy sometimes
    redsmom-Thanks! I'm glad it helps
    mrs mom- love makes us do some whacky things, I hope it works out
    wvfarmgirl-ask away, it gives me stuff to write about
    kaptkaos-my little barn was at Maizeland and Academy, across from Palmer Park, where the Mcphearsons lived. Ring any bells?
    gillian-I never did get Mort completely contained, but everybody knew who owned him
    Thanks to the rest of you, this writing is great for me too.

  19. WOW! Now how come I'm all teary eyed and chuckling like no one's business? What a vivid story about a horse with a determined mind. My favorite kind.
    My voice joins the ranks chanting, "Book, book, book".

  20. Oh, the picture reminded me, the back girth (cinch?) on a western saddle, how snug should it be? I see on mort in that picture its at least flush with his barrel. We've been leaving ours loose, you can stick a fist in it (but hopefully not a hoof!)
    While I'm at it, whats it for? People have told me that its to keep the back of the saddle down. Is that a common problem?
    I was raised english all my life, I actually only learned how to put on a western saddle about two years ago. I like it though, its like a dressage saddle on steroids.

  21. I love that everyone grew to recognize him and just sort of rolled their eyes when he got out again!

    He just sounds like one of those horses -- can't live with him, can't live without him.

  22. Loose back cinches is a big problem!

    They should be flush with the horses barrel, not tight, and connected to the front cinch (there is two rings on your front cinch) so it can't slide back or get snug around the stifle and cause a bucking problem.
    It's to keep the saddle from popping up too much. Prevents saddles from whacking the horse on the back as they are limited to how far they can lift up.

    I watched my good friend learn that lesson when I was young. He was warming up his normally unflappable mare. The back cinch was loose and not tied to the front. His mare slipped, he was pitched forward, the back cinch slid back and as he was pitched forward the movement made the back of the saddle pop up and in turn made the mare buck once and bolt because the back cinch tightened right by her back legs. He fell off, the mare came back to him but lesson learned, don't have a loose or untied back cinch.

    Another time was at a trail ride and a guy got hung up on a tree because his back cinch was too loose. Luckily he was on a pretty quiet horse that just stood there as we broke the branch off.

    Another post, another.

    Oh and book, book, book, book!! Or atleast a few posts!

  23. I found your blog about 2 weeks or so ago and have just finished reading all of your blog from start to finish.

    What an awesome read!!!!

    I read a lot of books and your stories are amoung the best. I believe that any horse lover would enjoy your stories, not just the young but the young at heart as well.

    Your training tips and insight into horses are well written and explained in "normal" language that everyone can understand regardless of their level of riding experience. It is rare to find an excellant story teller and trainer all rolled into one.

    So please don't stop. If I was ever to become an addict, it would be to the next installment on the "Mugwump Chronicles".