An Old-Fuckin’-Wives’-Tale

I bit my cuticles the entire drive up to the barn. I was late. Every minute that ticked by, I knew Hershey was painfully alone in his stall. In the pantheon of things horses hate, being left alone is at the tippy-top of the list.

Normally, there are four horses at the barn. When two go trail riding, the remaining two have each other. But recently the headcount had dropped to three. This morning, with two horses out Hershey was alone.

Norah, the Irish woman who manages Hershey’s barn, told me when I called that morning she and her sister were going riding. I should not fuss, she said. Hershey would be completely content.  To be factual, what she said was “fuckin’ pipe down” because Hershey was “fuckin’ fine.”

Norah, whose brogue is heavier than she is, has a favorite word. And it is “fuck.” I have discovered, however, her abusive language towards me is in exact inverse proportion to her treatment of my horse. She loves him, calls him “you beauty,” and, like a jealous mother-in-law, thinks I don’t deserve him.Hence her frequent comments such as…

“Where did you learn to groom a fuckin’ harse? Give me that fuckin’ brush.”

and

“You feed that harse too much fuckin’ sugar. Go out and buy him a fuckin carrot.”

and

“Loosen that fuckin girth when you get off the fuckin’ harse. Fuckin’ harse can’t fuckin’ breathe.”

In Norah’s mind, I am incompetent– or worse– and it is only through her constant intervention that my horse remains upright on four legs. I, of course, think I know best, having gotten along fine with Hershey and without Norah for ten years. I continue to do things “my way” despite the abuse. And so we battle onward.

I had not believed for a fuckin’ minute that Hershey would be fuckin’ fine alone in his stall. I ended the call with Norah, yanked on my riding clothes and sprinted to the car. Forty minutes later I was pulling into the barn driveway, rubbing a sore nail-edge. I opened the car door, bracing to hear Hershey’s pitiful squealing and stall kicking—signs of equine separation anxiety. All was remarkably quiet.

Inside, the barn was cool and dark and smelled tangily of glycerin saddle soap. Hershey’s head hung in classic horse-napping posture.

Was he drugged? Norah is not above using a little horsey-valium on problem equines.

Seeing me, Hershey pricked his ears and nickered for sugar. Not drugged.

I scratched the fat arch of his neck, then caught something in my peripheral vision.

It was a shape! A shadow! Lurking in the corner of the stall. I jumped back and gripped my hoofpick like a weapon.

The thing didn’t move. I gradually made out it had a head.

No, wait. Not a head, actually. Bristles.

It was a broom, standing on one end. In the corner of the stall.

How odd. Among other things, Norah is exceedingly particular about barn organization. “You hung the wrong fuckin’ pitchfork up in the wrong fuckin’ hook.” And, “Where did you learn how to fold a fuckin’ blanket? From a fuckin’ homeless person?”

It was very unlike Norah to abandon a broom carelessly. In a horse’s stall, no less. I decided to mention it to her the minute she returned from her ride, lest I be blamed for it.

I was nearly tacked up when Norah and her sister returned. Immediately, I introduced the topic of the broom— left in Hershey’s fuckin’ stall, and but not by fuckin’ me.

Her response:

“Are you a fuckin’ idjit? Of course there was a fuckin’ broom in the fuckin’ stall. You always put a fuckin’ broom in the fuckin’ stall to keep the fuckin’ harse company. Don’t you know fuckin’ anything?”

For the record #1: My previous knowledge of horse old wives tales includes the following:

Never buy a horse when you can see the whites of his eyes.

Never buy a horse with four white socks.

Changing a horse’s name is bad luck.

Mares are moody.

Copper pennies in drinking water cure moodiness in mares.

Many horses hate men.

A horse that steps in a wolf print will go lame.

Inhaling a horse’s breath is cure for whooping cough.

Horse bones placed under floorboards improve the tone of the piano above.

For the record #2: My worst-ever riding accident occurred on a white-eyed mare with four white socks whose name I had changed and who never drank water with copper pennies in it. You may call that piling on. But I also owned two horses that hated men. Truth be said, I have not had the opportunity to tread, mounted or otherwise, in wolf tracks, nor, thankfully, been subject to whooping cough. And, though I can’t think of a way to test the theory about horse bones and piano tuning, I will now faithfully place a fuckin’ broom in Hershey’s fuckin’ stall whenever he is alone.

Do you know someone with an interesting favorite word?

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