Examples on four legs

Ever had a horse hug you? Personally, I’ve been stepped on by a horse, kicked at by a horse (he missed), body slammed by a horse and fallen off a horse, but never hugged by a horse.

An acquaintance recently told me of a horse he once owned. He taught it to greet him with a hug by passing its head over his shoulder and pressing against his back. Months after selling the horse, he visited it at its new owner’s place. It greeted him with a hug. Horses know how to treat a friend.  

You can learn much from animals. Our poodle-terrier cross, Scamp, taught us about love. Scamp adopted a kitten as his own. He would sleep and eat with it. If it cried out in the yard he would recognize its voice and practically tear down the door to get out to protect it. If a full-grown cat threatened his kitten, he would prepare to attack even though the enemy out-weighed him.

Usually he put on such a good show that the invader fled, leaving him to  lead his adopted kitten to safety. Scamp knew how to back up real love with muscle.

As a teenager, I learned a major lesson from a race horse. We leaned against the wooden fence and watched the thoroughbreds jockey into position on a fall afternoon in the town of Alliance, Alberta.

My much-older half brother Charlie had entered two horses in the race that Saturday. We could see both of them from where we stood: three-year-old Jackie’s Girl positioned near the rail with much older Flash-K in a less-favoured place. Charlie had put Orville on Jackie’s Girl.

He had ridden Flash-K to many victories in the past and now prepared to use his expertise to guide the young filly to victory. An inexperienced family member sat awkwardly on the back of old Flash-K.

“They’re off,” crackled the loudspeaker as the field of four-legged contestants thundered past on the dusty track. Jackie’s Girl moved into the middle of the pack even as they rounded the first turn. Flash-K, loped along in the rear as though out for a Sunday stroll. Coming around the second bend Orville coaxed Jackie’s Girl into third place; Flash-K and the inexperienced rider still trailed hopelessly in the rear.

Into the final stretch, Jackie’s Girl and Orville gained second place and moved against the leader. With victory in sight, the whole Wiseman clan began to scream and cheer. But a horse race is, after all, a horse race. Suddenly, a brown form hurtled two lengths into the lead. We became silent in stunned disbelief, then exploded again when we recognized the miracle winner as Flash-K.

The aging veteran, ignoring the urging of the young rider on his back, had conserved his energy until the last minute, then for a few seconds performed like a three-year-old. He limped badly as he slowed to a trot, then down to a walk to make his victory pass. Flash-K retired that day. He never raced again.

I don’t suppose I understood Flash-K’s message at the time, but now as I grow older, I get it. Give life everything you’ve got; you never know when it’s your last race.


Ray Wiseman