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The Racking Horse
A horse is worth more than riches.
The first time Bart told me about his horse Dude, I knew their bond had been something special. But I never suspected that Dude would deliver a wonderful gift to me.
Growing up on a 100-year-old family farm in Tennessee, Bart loved all animals. But Dude, the chestnut-colored Quarter Horse that Bart received when he turned nine, became his favorite. Years later when Bart's father sold Dude, Bart grieved in secret.
Even before I met and married Bart, I knew all about grieving in secret, too. Because of my dad's job, our family relocated every year. Deep inside, I wished we could stay in one place where I could develop lasting friendships. But I never said anything to my parents. I didn't want to hurt them. Yet sometimes I wondered if even God could keep track of us the way we moved from place to place.
One summer evening in 1987, as Bart and I glided on our front-porch swing, my husband suddenly blurted out, "Did I ever tell you that Dude won the World Racking Horse Championship?"
"Rocking horse championship?" I asked.
"Racking," Bart corrected, smiling gently. "It's a kind of dancing that horses do. Takes lots of training. You use four reins to guide the horse. It's pretty hard." Bart gazed at the pasture. "Dude was the greatest racking horse ever."
"Then why'd you let your dad sell him?" I probed.
"I didn't know he was even thinking about it," Bart explained. "When I was seventeen, I started a short construction job down in Florida. I guess Dad figured I wouldn't be riding anymore, so he sold Dude without even asking me. Running a horse farm means you buy and sell horses all the time, and that's what Dad did.
"I've always wondered if that horse missed me as much as I've missed him. I've never had the heart to try to find him. I couldn't stand knowing if something bad..." Bart's voice trailed off.
After that, few nights passed without Bart mentioning Dude. My heart ached for him. I didn't know what to do. Then one afternoon while I walked through the pasture, a strange thought came to me. In my heart, a quiet voice said, "Lori, find Dude for Bart."
How absurd! I thought. I knew nothing about horses, certainly not how to find and buy one. That was Bart's department.
The harder I tried to dismiss the thought, the stronger it grew. I did not dare mention it to anyone except God. Each day I asked him to guide me.
On a Saturday morning three weeks after the first "find Dude" notion, a new meter reader, Mr. Parker, stopped by while I was working in the garden. We struck up a friendly conversation. When he mentioned he'd once bought a horse from Bart's dad, I interrupted.
"You remember the horse's name?" I asked.
"Sure do," Mr. Parker said. "Dude. Paid $2,500 for him."
I wiped the dirt from my hands and jumped up, barely catching my breath.
"Do you know what happened to him?" I asked.
"Yep. I sold him for a good profit."
"Where's Dude now?" I asked. "I need to find him."
"That'd be impossible," Mr. Parker explained. "I sold that horse years ago. He might even be dead by now."
"But could you . . . would you . . . be willing to try to help me find him?" After I explained the situation, Mr. Parker stared at me for several seconds. Finally, he agreed to join the search for Dude, promising not to say anything to Bart.
Each Friday for almost a year, I phoned Mr. Parker to see if his sleuthing had turned up anything. Each week his answer was the same: "Sorry, nothing yet."
One Friday I called Mr. Parker with another idea. "Could you at least find one of Dude's babies for me?"
"Don't think so," he chuckled. "Dude was a gelding."
"That's fine," I said. "I'll take a gelding baby."
"You really do need help." Mr. Parker explained that geldings are unable to reproduce. Then he seemed to double his efforts to help. Several weeks later, he phoned me on a Monday.
"I found him," he shouted. "I found Dude!"
"Where?" I said, wanting to jump through the phone.
"On a farm in Georgia," Mr. Parker said. "A family bought Dude for their teenage son. But they can't do anything with the horse. In fact, they think Dude's crazy. Maybe dangerous. Bet you could get him back real easy."
Mr. Parker was right. I called the family in Rising Fawn, Georgia, and made arrangements to buy Dude for $300. I struggled to keep my secret until the weekend. On Friday, I met Bart at the front door after work.
"Will you go for a ride with me?" I asked in my most persuasive voice. "I have a surprise for you."
"Honey," Bart protested, "I'm tired."
"Please, Bart. I've packed a picnic supper. It'll be worth the ride, I promise."
Bart got into the Jeep. As I drove, my heart beat so fast that I thought it would burst as I chatted about family matters.
"Where are we going?" Bart asked after thirty minutes.
"Just a bit farther," I said.
Bart sighed. "Honey, I love you. But I can't believe I let you drag me off."
I didn't defend myself. I'd waited too long to ruin things now. However, by the time I steered off the main highway onto a gravel road, Bart was so annoyed that he wasn't speaking to me. When I turned from the gravel road to a dirt trail, Bart glared.
"We're here," I said, stopping in front of the third fence post.
"Here where? Lori, have you lost your mind?" Bart barked.
"Stop yelling," I said. "Whistle."
"What?" Bart shouted.
"Whistle," I repeated. "Like you used to . . . for Dude. Just whistle. You'll understand in a minute."
"Well . . . I. . . . This is crazy," Bart sputtered as he got out of the Jeep.
To humor me, Bart whistled. Nothing happened.
"Oh, God," I whispered. "Don't let this be a mistake."
"Do it again," I prodded.
Bart whistled once more, and we heard a sound in the distance. What was it? I could barely breathe.
Bart whistled again. Suddenly over the horizon, a horse came at a gallop. Before I could speak, Bart leaped over the fence.
"Dude!" he yelled, running toward his beloved friend. I watched the blurs of horse and husband meet as if they were performing in one of those slow-motion reunion scenes on television. Bart hopped up on his pal, stroking his mane and patting his neck.
Immediately, a sandy-haired, tobacco-chewing teenage boy and his huffing parents crested the hill.
"Mister, what are you doing?" the boy yelled. "That horse is crazy. Can't nobody do nothing with him."
"No," Bart boomed. "He's not crazy. He's Dude."
To everyone's amazement, at Bart's soft command to the unbridled horse, Dude threw his head high and began racking. As the horse pranced through the pasture, no one spoke. When Dude finished dancing for joy, Bart slid off him.
"I want Dude home," he said.
"I know," I replied with tears in my eyes. "All the arrangements have been made. We can come back and get him."
"Nope," Bart insisted. "He's coming home tonight."
I phoned my in-laws and soon they arrived with a horse trailer. We paid for Dude and headed home.
Bart spent the night in the barn. I knew he and Dude had a lot of catching up to do. As I looked out of the bedroom window, the moon cast a warm glow over the farm. I smiled, knowing that my husband and I now had a wonderful story to tell our future children and grandchildren.
"Thank you, Lord," I whispered. Then the truth hit me. I'd searched longer for Dude than I'd ever lived in one place. God had used the process of finding my husband's beloved horse to renew my trust in the friend who sticks closer than a brother.
"Thank you, Lord," I whispered again as I fell asleep. "Thank you for never losing track of Dude—or me."
Lori Bledsoe as told to Rhonda Reese
A Horse in the House
It was more than two decades ago, as Easter was approaching, that my family waited for Martha, our cream-colored Quarter Horse brood mare, to have her annual foal. All of us—my husband Arthur, our ten-year-old son Marc and twelve-year-old daughter Karla—considered the birth of a foal a big event on our farm in Mandeville, Louisiana.
That year, Martha was taking her time. She was already three weeks overdue. When my husband had to go away on business, I was left to oversee the birth alone. I spent many nights sleeping in the stable next to Martha's stall, wondering each evening if this was finally going to be the night.
On the night before Easter Sunday, Martha at last went into labor. When I heard her pacing restlessly, I got up from my folding cot and ran to her stall. Fifteen minutes later, she gave birth to a small golden-haired foal. Martha nickered once, licked her newborn foal and lay down to rest.
But ten minutes later, Martha was up and turning around again as though she wanted to give birth a second time. I couldn't believe it. Equine twins are rare, and from what I knew, when a mare carries two foals, she usually aborts them or they are born dead. But sure enough, Martha gave birth to another foal. This one was dark brown with three white socks and a big white mark on its forehead.
Though Martha's foals were small, I was relieved that they were both alive and seemed healthy. It wasn't long before they wobbled to their feet and began pushing each other to get to their mother's milk. After the foals had nursed, I thought my troubles were finally over and I went back to the house for my first good night's sleep in weeks.
The next morning, the children and I let Martha and her foals out to pasture. We named the reddish-gold filly Amber and her darker sister Ebony. It was a delight to watch them trying out their legs and exploring the world.
But it soon became evident that Martha was having a problem accepting Ebony. When Amber ran, Martha cantered protectively after her, but when Ebony tried to follow them, the mare pushed her away. Then, to our horror, she kicked at the foal, striking her baby on the head.
Though Ebony was thrown off balance, she didn't seem harmed or fazed by the blow. In fact, she continued to run after the two other horses. But later that morning, Ebony began to have what appeared to be a seizure. Repeatedly, her legs stiffened, her body arched and she fell to the ground.
Each episode left her more weak and helpless. It was heartbreaking
to see her struggle to her feet only to fall down again.
In desperation, I called all over town to find a veterinarian.
I knew if Ebony became too weak to nurse, she would die. But it was Easter Sunday and the local veterinarians were either away or busy with other emergency calls. Finally, at 6 p.m. I managed to reach one. When I explained what had happened, he came straight over.
The veterinarian suspected that the kick to Ebony's head had caused a blood clot that was putting pressure on the brain. He thought that this was the reason for her convulsions, and injected her with steroids to help dissolve the clot. For hours, we watched over Ebony in the freezing barn, hoping for some sign of improvement. But Ebony stayed weak and helpless. Finally, it became so cold, I decided there was only one thing to do: bring Ebony into the house.
I padded the floor of my bedroom with pillows and towels and the veterinarian helped me carry the foal inside. He gave me some formula and told me to feed Ebony from a baby bottle. Then, having done all that he could, he left me alone with her.
Ebony had to be fed every twenty minutes. Between feedings, I lay on my bed, trying to get some rest. The situation seemed hopeless and my mind and body were heavy with despair. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally from the effort of trying to keep Ebony alive.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew I was suddenly awakened by a nuzzle and a soft nicker from a wet little nose.
It was Ebony. She had gotten up and come to my bed for her bottle. Though she still was weak, I was overjoyed to see her on her feet again. As I watched her suck greedily at her bottle, my fatigue vanished and I felt a wave of joy. Ebony was going to pull through and live after all!
Three days later, Ebony was running in the fields as strong and as healthy as any other foal. But when we tried to return her to Martha, the mare again kicked her away. It was clear that I now had another child—an equine daughter—to raise.
At that point, Ebony had to be fed every half hour. To make feeding
her easier, we kept her in the house, leaving the patio door ajar so she could
come and go as she pleased. Whenever she was hungry, she came into the kitchen,
nickering for a bottle.
My son Marc became her playmate. Every day after school, he and Ebony ran in the fields together. When Ebony tired of playing, she came inside and lay down on the living-room carpet to nap or watch TV. It seemed completely natural to have this large and rather gawky creature sharing our home with us.
Then, as Ebony grew older and even larger, we began to put her in the barn at bedtime and gradually reduced her bottle feedings. But during the day, she still had the run of the house. Like most toddlers, Ebony was curious and wanted to get into everything. She walked from room to room, looking for things to play with. One day, she found Marc's school report on the kitchen table and promptly chewed it up. The teacher said Marc's excuse, "My horse ate my homework," was a new one for her. Another day, I caught her gleefully pulling tissues from the box on my bedside table. What a mess!
When Ebony was three months old, we decided that it was time to wean her from the bottle and encourage her to become a horse. We took her out to pasture and left her to play with her sister Amber and our other horses. At first, Ebony protested. But she soon adjusted to her new life and happily settled into the herd.
For many years after her stay in our house, I still considered Ebony my daughter, even though she became a fine, healthy horse, well able to take care of herself.
That's why I was pleased to discover that the feeling seemed
mutual because if ever I left the door of our house open, guess who walked right
in? It startled our guests, but for us, Ebony would always be welcome—our
horse in the house.