Ed Wilson: My Kingdom for a horse

I read Richard III over the weekend. This play is like the Casablanca of Shakespearean writings as it is chock full of famous quotes: “Play it again Sam” … wait, that was Casablanca. But how about “Now is the season of our discontent.” Or my favorite, “A horse, A horse. My kingdom for a horse!”

After reading the line, that effectively draws to a conclusion this really interesting English monarch, I sat back closed my eyes, and thought about this. “My kingdom for a horse…” Maybe dear old Richard III was not such a bad guy after all. He loves his horse.

In my mind’s eye, I saw Smokey … the solid black Quarter horse of my youth. The endless summer days we spent together. Smokey was clever, playful, ornery, and always unpredictable. He was without a doubt the smartest horse I knew … and I was proud to be his friend … and to have him for my big brother. As we rode on the mountain trails around our small village in the hills of Kentucky, I just knew that Smokey would protect me from wild dogs, rattlesnakes, and any coyote or wildcat that might happen across our path. Bears were uncommon but not unheard of in our area, and as long as Smokey was with me, I had no doubt that I would be safe.

Our relationship was not one of Elysian bliss however, as Smokey loved to torment me. One of his favorite tricks was to sight a tree ahead on our projected path of travel. If I did not guide him out of the path, he would walk right next to the tree so close that the bark would scratch his legs and shoulder. Of course, with no clearance between the horse and the tree, the net effect was to scrape the rider right off of his back like a squeegee removes stray water drops from a freshly cleansed windshield.

During the summer I would keep the halter about his big intelligent and noble head, to facilitate catching him so we could take our afternoon rides. This daily roundup turned into one of Smokey’s favorite games … it was not one of my favorite games, but for a stubborn and hardheaded horse I imagine it was good fun.

I tried everything I could think of to catch my erstwhile friend. Jumping the fence and trying to chase him down so I could put the saddle on him did not work well because he was much faster than I. Therefore I tried psychology. I knew that Smokey was an appleholic. Try as he might, he could not resist a nice shiny red mountain apple. Strategically, his corral was outside the reach of all the apple trees on the farm. I went over to one of the apple trees and filled my pockets with the ripest, most succulent red apples that ever entered an equine dream, and thus armed, I climbed the fence into Smokey’s corral.

“Smokey,” I shouted with my prepubescent youthful voice.

“Pbbbleh,” replied my friend as he turned his head and cantered in my direction.

“I have an apple for you Smokey,” I said as I held the apple in my flat and outstretched hand.

My goal was to catch his halter as he bent over to take the apple from my hand, and therefore my other arm was at the ready, coiled, and ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

Smokey, with his four feet firmly planted refused to budge. He maintained strict eye contact as he stretched his neck out. Out. Out. Out. Ever still his neck continued to crane outwards toward the shiny red apple that rested temptingly on my little flattened hand. Agonizingly the apple remained just out of his reach. Smokey’s lips trembled, and I was tempted to take a step forward and give him the apple. However, we were supposed to go riding, and if Smokey grabbed the apple he would gallop away and laugh at me … it was after all Smokey’s favorite game – not mine – I wanted to go riding in the woods.

“Smokey, you are going to have to take another step forward to get your apple--and when you do, I will grab your halter and we will go riding. You cannot get the apple from where you are.” I laughed in a pathetic Dr. Evil sort of way.

Then to my amazement, Smokey began to stretch out his lips toward the apple. It was as if his lips were made of rubber. Onward and outward they stretched, until he looked like Mick Jagger. Finally, he grabbed the apple with his lips, and like a slingshot, he pulled the apple into his mouth, retracted his neck, jumped into the air, and galloped off laughing as he ran to the other side of the corral.

“You stupid horse,” I shouted--and like King Richard III I sat down on the grass and cried “A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse.”

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