by Larry Brody
Huck the Spotless Appaloosa has been after me to spend more time with him. He read me the riot act for spending all summer either in the house or out of town.
“We’re brothers,” he said. “But where’s the brotherhood when you only come outside to throw hay over the fence? What happened to the good times? I miss playing tag.”
His words took me back a decade, to Huck’s childhood. To say he was a frisky young colt would be an understatement. He was, in truth, a demented wild man of a colt, always bobbing and weaving as though shadow boxing with himself, rearing and kicking and running, running, running—
Huck was so wild that for a long time I was convinced that his purpose on this planet was to kill me. Not out of head-lowered, ears-flattened anger but with head-high, ears-up enthusiasm. As a colt, Huck had a lot in common with young Emmy the Bold, whose favorite puppy activity was running to the edge of a mountain…and then throwing herself off it like a chuteless skydiver.
Except that Huck outweighed Emmy by over a thousand pounds and seemed more likely to shove me off a mountain if he could.
Our game of tag was the perfect example of what every horse trainer tells you to never do with a horse. I would climb into the corral and Huck would run at me, then stop and wait for me to rub his head. When I stopped rubbing and turned away, he would reach out with his super long neck and bump me on the butt with his nose. I would whirl back to him, and he’d take off, racing away.
His enjoyment was so wonderfully obvious that from the first time he did it I was hooked. I would run after him, and he’d slow down just enough for me to reach his rump and smack it. Then he’d do an about-face and run after me, smacking my butt and starting the game all over again.
Back in the day, Huck and I would play like this for hours. His testosterone was high, and my adrenalin matched it. And, believe me, my adrenalin was in control. The fact is that when Huck was “it” I always was terrified that he would run right over me instead of settling for just swinging his head.
But even pure, primitive, hormonal fear can be exciting, and I loved our game more than anything else we ever did.
When I finally did stop playing it wasn’t because of a sudden jolt of good sense on my part. On the contrary, I stopped because here in the steamy Ozarks running full speed ahead takes a lot more out of a man than it does back in arid L.A. I just plain couldn’t hack it anymore.
I explained all this to my hoofed brother. He listened closely, then let out a long, horsey sigh.
“In other words, I beat you, didn’t I?” he said. “We played until you couldn’t play anymore. And you know what that means, right?”
Huck’s face had that look a horse gets when he’s messing with you. The look of the practical joker right before you sit on a whoopee cushion or catch a pie in your face. But he’s my brother, so I played along.
“No, Huck, actually I don’t know. Are you going to tell me what it means?”
“It means you’ve lost your place in the herd. I’m the boss now.” His head bobbed up and down, and he made the braying sound people call a horselaugh.
“And what does being the boss of the herd mean?” I asked him.
Huck looked over at Rosie the Romantic Arabian. She stood, as she always stands, about four feet beside and slightly behind him.
“Means I get all the girls!” Huck said.
He neighed emphatically, another joyful laugh. I turned my back on him to show my disdain—
And he bumped me in the butt.
I turned, and so did he, taking off across the corral at full speed. Rosie whinnied and reared upward in terror, then took off after him.
“No!” Huck cried. “Not you, baby. Him. Larry! Larry! Chase me! C’mon!”
And chase him I did. Smacked him on the rump just like in the old days.
I don’t know how long we played, but I’m sure of this: It was an afternoon of pure, adrenalized terror…and I can’t wait to do it again.