Charlie Horse

I spent a year living with my brother Rod, taking care of his kids, helping around the house, and I susspect, giving my parents a break.  Rod’s place was super cool, and I went there every summer anyway because he had 56 acres of Michigan forest land, and had about a dozen horses.  In the summers, he was a jockey, and would travel from faire to faire racing the best of his lot.  The rest of the year, it was just nice to be able to ride.


When I first started going there, Rod taught me skills to allow me to join him at the faires.  I became adept at barrel bending, and retrieving.  Barrel bending is a short-races skill where you run the horse in a cloverleaf pattern around 3 barrels.  Retrieving means to run straight at a standing man, pick him up while turning around him, then race back to the beginning.  I also “ponied” him into the gates.  This requires a very mellow horse and just some basic leading skills.


My extended stay at the farm included hunting, caretaking of the animals, farming on a small plot he’d set aside, and as mentioned, wrangling his two kids.  Situated exactly 5miles from nothi9ng at all, that was pretty much life day in and out, when school wasn’t running.  Fremont High was about 7 miles away, so naturally, we were bussed there.  Our nearest neighbor was over a mile away, so we didn’t talk much.  Mostly, the farm and animals soaked up all the free time we had.


One hot afternoon, I was doing some maintenance on the mares.  This is pretty much like any other animal, wash, dry, brush, clean the fingernails check for wounds, slip ‘em a carrot, and back to the gals.  The scale is just a bit bigger with horses.  And, you’d get arrested trying to brush people in the same areas you have to brush a horse.


Unbeknownst to me, one of the mares had ‘gone into heat.’  That’s a pretty way to say she was ready to breed.  This isn’t like heat for a cat with weird vocalizations and strange body positions.  Horses tend to be more like dogs in that you don’t notice the “heat” until someone with the right nose tells you.


Enter Charlie.  Charlie was a quarterhorse that Rod had bought to run short races.  Most of his runners were thoroughbreds, and they tend to prefer the longer, mile races.  One of them was even comfortable running 5 miles. Quarters are bred for short bursts of speed, like rabbits.  I don’t know if they’re all twitchy, but Charlie sure was.  Charlie was also breeding stock, he hadn’t been castrated, so he had the full benefit of male-hood coursing through him.  This is generally believed to make them better runners, but Charlie never won a thing.


Because he was a stallion, the previous owners had kept him in a private stall all his life.  He never learned approprite socilization skills, so we hd to build a special stall just for him.  Rod didn’t believe in stalls, he preferred to let the horses run wild in one of several paddocks about an acre in size each.  This both socilized them, and acclimatized them in one shot.  So, Charlies stall was the only one we had.  It was built of cinder blocks with household door to let him out.  It was also right next to the path I was taking the mares.


If yout think about how strong a really big guy can get, liike those pro-wrestler types, then imagine a critter twice that size, full of adolescence, and in tip-top physical condition.  Now imagine them going up against a stack of cinder blocks… no morter, just a stack of bricks.  Yup, it took Charlie about 5 seconds to level his stall one he got a whiff of Tammy in heat.  Suddenly, there was a bull in the china shop.


Bulls are actually quite gracefull creatures, and could, in fact, be trausted around racks of your best china.  But you’ll be chewing your nails the whole time.  This was Charlie.  Once out, he enjoyed the full use of his body for possibly the first time.  He chased down Tammy and I in short order and she was having none of him.  Tammy was my barrel bending partner, so she could both out-maneuver him and out-distance him.  She cut right (on my foot), bolted, cut left, circled back and lead Charlie into a tree.


This distracted him for a minute.  Tammy returned to me and we got her into her paddock, behind and electric, barbed-wire fence.  I figured that would keep Charlie away.  I was wrong.


I tried to capture Charlie, by reaching for his halter, he reared up out of my reach and headed for the females.  The electric fence stopped him, or so I thought,  He was just standing there taking jolt after jolt of the short but powerful bursts of energy running down the bare wire.  I could see his front legs tremble with each jolt.  I slipped through the fence and reached for his halter again.  He leaned forward.


I was utterly unprepared for what happened next.  His weigh snapped the barbed wire off the carefully positioned insulators and allowed it to return to it’s natural shape… a coil.  The coiling wire wrapped around me at waist height.  Charlie, sensing this and no longer receiving the jolts sallied forth at top speed.  This spun me like a top as the wire pulled around me, leaving multiple lacerations on my torso.


This. Meant. War.


I ran back to the equipment shed and grabbed a cattle prod.  It looked like a short walking stick, about 8 D cells high, with a rubber handle at one end and two fangs on the other.  In street terms, it was an extra-strength hand taser.  On a dare, I activated this on myself once.  I woke up in 5 hours.


I got back to find that Charlie had either given up on Tammy, or liked the idea of the new, young philly even better.  I’d heard that this appaloosa/thoroughbred mix was a little high strung, but the next thing I saw I still can’t quite raster in my mind.  Carlie approached Roddan (named afer my brothers Rod and Dan since breeding her was a joint venture), with a cartoonish “hooba-dooba” look on his mug.  Roddan looked down her back like she was seeing targeting sites.  Then her rear end poped up a little bit, and I swear, she sprouted two extra pairs of back legs.  She kicked Charlie in the knees, chest and head at exactly the same moment.


I think this took everyone present by surprise.  I certainly didn’t expect that.  Her slow, mellow mother, Shawnee didn’t, and Charlie, well, he did something that I’ve never seen a horse do willingly before or since: he backed up.  Yeah, you can train a horse to walk backwards, they can even get good at it, but they’re incredibly vulnerable in that state and almost never try it on their own without sufficient provocation.  Apparently getting away from a multi-firing, rear leg sprouting, medusa with white spots is sufficient provocation.


I took the opportunity to go for his halter again.  Unfortunatly, that was exactly what it took to shake Charlie out of his reverie.  He angled towards me and kicked me in the knee.  It wasn’t a strong kick like their back legs can produce, but Horses hooves are essentially a giant fingernai weighing sometimes several pounds, so even the weakest of bitch slaps can produce some damage with them.  In short, it hurt.


But I wasn’t crippled.  I also remembered that I had a cattle prod in my hand.  I flipped the switch and gave a jab.  Right at that moment I thought back to the electric fence.  The device that charges the fence is run off household current, not batteries, it’s capable of producing much more power than any battery driven device,  Charlie had withsood at least a dozen bursts from the fence.  What exactly was a weaker child version gonna do to him? Piss him off.\


Charlie went full rampant.  He rose up to his full 15 feet on rear legs, kicked the silly pain stick out of my hands, came down with his full weight onto my legs and bit me in the chest.  Later I would discover that he had actually eaten the cross I always wore at the time.  I was afraid that this single clash had crippled me.  My chest was bleeding, my legs numb and inopperative my hands frozen in shock.  Charlie pranced off to do more damage, and left me for dead.


Tony, our Shetland pony, nuzzled me awake.  The shock was over, my hands were free to move, the bleeding had stopped, I recalled a conversation with someone at a race, how they had an unruly horse and took a bridal leash to them.  These leashes tend to be 6-8 feet long with a short chain on the end and a snap-hook for clipping to the bridal.  Once the shock was over, I was mad enough to give it a try.


Apparently, the kids had caught some of the eaction and called the neighbors.

as I came out of the shed with a leash and baseball bat, they rolled up, with my brother right behind.  Rod cooled me down while the neighmbors got their lassos warmed up.  The two of them had Cahrlie neutralized in short order, they they admit they came close to knocking him over and hog-tying him.


After going toe to toe with a 2200 lb full stallion spoiling for a fight, nothing really scared me as much anymore. High school got easier and basic training was a lot easier that it might have been.  As far as blood and gore, well, Rod let me attend Charlie’s castration.  It was horrifying but strangely gratifying at the same time.

After that, Charlie just wasn’t the same horse.  He wouldn’t run, was little good for riding, and for some reason, he wouldn’t go anywhere he saw white spots… go figure.