Wally’s a familiar sight to the locals. He’s hard to miss with his white face, four high stockings and abundant hindquarters. Most folks see him cruising alongside the main street in town, his head low and the reins slack, as if he’s out for a nice stroll. Occasionally someone in a car or truck will slow down, lean out the window and say something like, “Your horse is so cute!”
Unbeknownst to his fans, Wally’s veneer of coolness quickly crumbles the moment he crosses paths with a specific type of horse. Typically it’s a hyper-animated stallion that’s prodded into a high-stepping prance by a rider wearing hefty roweled spurs and wielding a braided rawhide whip. Though I regret stereotyping, Wally’s reaction is undeniably consistent. He swells with machismo and swaggers like a prize fighter. It happens whenever he encounters a revved-up stallion ridden by a charro.
It happened again just the other day. Wally and I were almost finished with our ride. We’d schooled a long time in the arena and were cooling off by wandering up and down some quiet streets. As we turned the corner I heard the staccato rhythm of hooves rapidly slapping the ground. Then Wally saw the group of riders. He studied the horses, fixating on the lead stallion: a gray Andalusian with a cresty neck.
The fellows were friendly enough, and smiled as they passed by. I nodded hello, but immediately diverted my attention to my chunky Paint gelding who’d suddenly morphed into Wally the Wonder Stallion. Despite his arthritic hocks Wally began to prance like a circus pony. Even worse, his gait took on a lofty suspension, so there was an inordinate amount of hang-time between the moment he lifted a hoof and the moment it found earth once more. Plus he began to snort loudly, in abrupt bursts of crackling exhortations. Twice I felt his tail, held aloft like a flag, snap against the back of my jacket.
It was the closest I’d ever come to riding a piaffe… aboard a fire-breathing dragon.
Though the charros rode blissfully off into the sunset, I was left behind on the trail, trying to contain a 12-year-old gelding who’d rediscovered his testosterone. Maybe Wally was struttin’ his stuff to impress that gray stallion. Or perhaps the mini-parade of posturing and movement had tapped into a reserve of energy Wally had been reluctant to reveal. After all, from Wally’s perspective excess energy could result in more arena work, heaven forbid!
Regardless of the cause, I had to come up with a plan. Otherwise Wally was going to explode in five directions at once and I had no intention of participating in a one-woman rodeo.
Fortunately we were only a few yards from a trail that snaked its way up a rather steep hill. So I aimed my prancing Paint in that direction, sat back against the cantle of my western saddle and kissed him forward. I made sure there was enough slack in my reins so there wasn’t any question in Wally’s mind that he was to proceed onward. Though there were a few stiff-legged vertical hops at first, Wally soon took on the challenge and bounded up the trail like a Rolex three-day eventer. As for me? I put my faith in that old adage we all learned as kids: When in doubt, go forward.
About a third of the way up the hill Wally had run out of steam. Now his nostrils were flaring because he was huffing and puffing. I pulled him up. He turned his broad white face around to stare back at me, as if to say, “I forget now. What was it that I was so excited about?”
I gave him a pat and we turned and walked back down the hill, toward home. And just in case I kept surveying the trail ahead of us, on the lookout for prancing stallions.
Back to Life with Horses