Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

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.


  1. I can remember mornings like those! Thanks for taking me back down yesterday road with you--::SNORT::SNIFFLE::SLURP:: Lol, no, no, I'm not emothional at all when I think back to those days...;)

  2. Merry Christmas Mugs! Thanks for all the great stories.

  3. Awh...this brings back memories of the disappointment of not getting a horse for Xmas...I am so glad for you that you have that memory!

    Now that I have my horses, I don't need anything else to be happy...

    Have a Very Happy Holiday!


  4. Wow, that sounds so familiar. :) Merry Christmas, Mugs, hope you and your family have a great one!

  5. I spent every Christmas morning of my childhood sneaking a peek out of my window at the front yard before heading down to open my other presents - because my mom had told me that if she could ever afford it, there would be a horse waiting out there for me. There never was... eventually I stopped looking.

    One day I will buy my own dang horse... until then I rely on the kindness of others (and my money!).

    Man, this has me kind of teary eyed. Maybe because I was just coveting a sweet grade QH mare who is the spitting image of my old favourite pony... except taller. I want a pony for Christmas, dammit!

  6. You know in all of the stories you have told us about Mort I believe this is the first time you have told us about those sweet moments when he let you know how glad he was to belong to you.

    Those are the moments that last a lifetime.

  7. If Mort taught me anything, it was to not take a horse's behavior personally. He liked me. We were as close as you can get in a human/horse relationship. He also had no problem putting me in the dirt. All of his behaviors came from learned responses and I gradually learned how to change them to fit my needs. Probably the most valuable lesson a future trainer can learn. As a kid, I just knew I had the best friend a lonely, geeky girl could hope for.

  8. What a great Xmas story. Its especially meaningful to those of us who read yyour blog, and know who the characters are. And guess what? I did that sleigh bell thing, too, at a team roping I went to on Xmas Day many years ago. Uhmmm, some of the other rope horses weren't crazy about those jingling bells on my horse. It was pretty funny. I'm not sure their riders thought so, though. Oh well. I was young.
    Merry Christmas, mugwump, to you and yours!

  9. Merry Christmas to you and all the readers. Thank you for sharing your story. It made me all choked up on this christmas eve day!

  10. Thank You for a wonderful Christmas Story ala Mort.

  11. Makes me want to rush home and give Mocha (and Stormy and Libby the mule) a big kiss on the nose!

    Have a great Christmas everyone!

  12. Merry Christmas Mugs!

  13. OMG! You made me cry and now I have to go meet with my boss....


  14. Merry Christmas Mugs.

    Thanks for the Happy Tears, and the Fond Memories.
    You were one lucky kid.
    Beautiful written story.
    So glad to have found you.

    sheesh look how LONG the word verification word is, okay, here goes
    hiesperc/now its verperie, stupid 'puters..
    Could ya please turn off the word verification thing, as a present to this reader?

    Happy New Year!

  15. Merry Christmas Mugs!

    I'm so glad I don't live where it freezes any more. Those single digit temps and below got really old.

  16. Beautiful. I'm with you there every step of the way. I loved how you described the coolness of his hair with the warmth underneath, the frozen mash mixed with his warm breath.

    So many people who don't share this passion really don't know what they are missing. :-)


  17. What a great story Mugwump, I really enjoyed reading it :) Mort reminds me of my own pony, except much younger. I imagine she might have been like that fifteen or twenty years ago!

    Hope everyone of you has a very merry Christmas! (Or whatever you happen to celebrate!)

  18. I hungered for a Christmas horse most of my childhood. And now I have 2 horses, one was for a Christmas 7 years ago, and one was for my 53 birthday. So there is hope!!! And it is sweet, even now. In someways better, because I would sacrifice a lot to keep my horses, but my parents never ever understood. Now I have more control, and feel more secure that they will be mine as long as they are on this earth. Merry and Happy to all! And thanks Mugwump, for the advice and stories.

  19. Beautiful.

    Thank you and Merry Christmas.

  20. Merry Christmas Mugwump!

    Here in sunny South Africa it is the middle of summer, so no snow and ice. I'm going out now to give my horse some love and carrots.

  21. Mugs - This is the first time I've commented, but I love your blog. You're a talented writer. And horsewoman. This particular entry got me wondering -- do you remember how you got into horses as a kid? Pre-Mort, how did you know you wanted a horse (and, if you'd known then what a "passion" was and felt like, that horses were your passion)?

    For me, I was lucky enough that my parents got a couple horses when I was very young, although we had to sell them when I was 8 because my parents divorced. I was an only child, and I remember nearly every morning getting up with the sun and going out to the pasture just to be with the horses. After we sold them, I remained obsessed and rode whenever I could (which wasn't much) and finally was able to take lessons while I was in college. Now, as a 31-year-old re-rider, I'm completely obsessed (in a good way). Getting back into riding and horses 1 1/2 years ago has been life-changing for me.

    I also love your comment about not taking a horse's behavior personally. I bought my own horse 5 months ago. I swore I would never own a TB, but here I am with a 12 year old OTTB who behaves himself under saddle (most of the time), but who's grouchy and borderline mean on the ground. (For example, I hear the worried moms of little girls at the barn tell their girls not to walk past him in the cross ties!) I know he likes me, but it's as if tolerating affection (let alone showing it) is really difficult for him. He grew up on the track, and I don't think he's ever had his own "person", ya know?

    Anyway, I could go on forever about him, but I just wanted to say your blog really speaks to me in many different ways. I look forward to every new entry.

    Merry Christmas!

  22. Happy Holidays, everyone!

  23. horses of the head, hand and heart

    merry merry
    gp in montana hoping the white stuff will just ease up a bit !

  24. Very nice story, Mugs!

    Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

    I have ALWAYS loved horses and most Christmases I get horse related stuff, books, t-shirts, bits, boots, buckets, saddle pads etc. Even as a little girl, before horses, I got horse toys and books. But I never did get a horse for Christmas although I usually had horses in the barn.

  25. Great story and well written, as always. How I longed for such a Christmas.