The Horse Cusser
by R. Scott McCoy
Good morning. You’ve probably heard of me, they call me the Horse Cusser. You heard me right, I said Cusser. I’m not that other guy that comes in all cuddly coo and whispers sweet nothings to those dumb oversized vermin. I’m the guy that brings your horse back because it got out of its corral. Again.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly hate the dumb animals, but at 5:00 a.m. on a weekend, I’m not exactly thrilled to see anybody. Except maybe my wife, and only then if she’s in the mood to mambo, which at 5:00 a.m., she ain’t.
Even my dogs have the common decency to know it’s the weekend and to let me sleep until at least 6:00 and sometimes as late as 7:00. But they don’t wait when there’s a big lummox in the front yard digging up the lawn.
I suppose I should start at the beginning and not the end. The beginning started ten years ago when I moved away from the city.
I felt the itch to move further out, despite the fact I had grown used to the sound of gunfire and Harleys at 2:00 a.m. I grew up in the north, out in the country. Did I mention I had just met my wife Jane? That’s another long story I don’t have time to tell. Let’s just say I fell hard and fast and she had no desire to live in gangland.
Jane and I started looking for a place, and we got out about an hour from downtown Minneapolis, which is where I work, and found a spot in the beautiful river valley east of Forest Lake. The development had five-acre lots, and there was one left. As I stood there with Jane, looking at the land, I remembered the northern country homestead of my youth. A loon flew over singing its song and I got a little misty. Men can get misty; there ain’t anything funny about a man having feelings. It wasn’t like I was crying.
Where was I? Horses. That’s right, damned horses. The first time it happened was our first summer at the new place and this horse came down our street without a rider. There are a lot of regular farms and horse hobby farms in the area, a fact not lost on my wife.
Did I mention she loves horses? No? Well, she does. She’s been riding since she was a kid, so of course we had to help round up the horse and try and find where it belonged. Some of the neighbors helped, but most just watched. I was running up and down the street after this horse, and just when I got close enough to grab him, he spun toward me and knocked me down. I must have blacked out for a second, because the next thing I saw was my wife chasing the horse back toward where I was still spread out on the road. She hadn’t even noticed I got smacked down!
I got back up and made a grab for him. That’s when I heard a laugh. I looked around, thinking one of the neighbors was enjoying the show a bit too much, when the damn horse looked me right in the eye and laughed. I could hear the whinny, which wasn’t so strange, but in the whinny, I could hear it speak.
“You sure look funny running around after me.” The horse said, and then laughed again. “You aren’t very good at this are you?”
There I was, getting all sweaty trying to help this dumb animal get home and it was laughing at me.
“Hey buster, I’m doing the best I can. You sure aren’t helping.”
It stopped running and stared at me. “You can hear me?” he asked.
I thought at the time I was just a little dazed, you know, imagining it. It felt unreal, but I kept talking to him.
“Yeah I hear you, you big brute. Why the hell did you knock me down?”
He laughed again, came up and bumped me in the chest with his big head. Grassy snot from its oversized nostrils smeared across the front of my shirt and it laughed harder.
“I’m just having some fun,” he said and then bumped me again.
He didn’t have a bridle on, but he was wearing a nylon halter, so I hooked the dog leash I’d been carrying. My wife and the rest of the group caught up to us then and Jane came up and patted me on the back.
“Good job, Sweetie, you got him,” she said.
The horse let out a low chuckle this time, bumped me right in the chin, and almost knocked me down again.
“Good job, Sweetie,” the horse mimicked.
“At least I still got my nuts,” I whispered, to which the gelding reared in response. Jane spoke to him all calm and comforting, and the big brute settled back down. It had been a low blow, but I’ll be damned if I was going to apologize. We got the horse back to its owner, and as a parting shot he said, “We’ll be seeing you, Sweetie.”
I flipped him the bird and walked back home with Jane.
Having a horse talk to you is a bit odd, but I was convinced it was some kind of hallucination from my concussion. Just to make sure, when I got back home and I was alone, I tried to talk to my dog. She tilted her head at me, perked up her ears and licked my face.
I tried again a couple of times over the next few days, figuring I had become some kind of Dr. Doolittle. Every time I was sure no one was watching I tried to talk to any animal I could find. All I got were a bunch of odd looks from the birds, squirrels and a couple of rabbits, but none of them said a word.
I convinced myself it had been my imagination, till one morning, a few months later, I was heading to work and heard this loud whinny. It was going to get very hot that late August day, but at 6:00 a.m. I had the windows down and a cool breeze was gently pushing the grass. I was deep in thought and only partially registered the sound until I heard the follow-up.
“Hey, I’m talking to you!”
I turned and saw a horse galloping along the road in the ditch. He was looking toward me and bobbing his head. “Are you going to help me get back home or not?”
I pulled over and the horse stopped. Still eyeballing me it said, “My name’s Dancer. Jake told me you were kind of a jerk, but that you would help me get home if I ever needed it. Said your wife would kick your butt if you didn’t. So make with the help, I’m getting hungry.”
I got out of the car and looked up into the brute’s face. “Who are you calling a jerk? And if you got out by yourself, why don’t you get back in by yourself and leave me the hell alone? I’ve got to get to work.”
“I can’t find my way home, genius. If I could, I wouldn’t need you now, would I?” he asked.
Damned thing had me there. He didn’t even have a halter on and I was fresh out of dog leashes anyway. I thought about heading back home and getting Jane out of bed, but I was sure a truck would hit this big dumb brute while I was gone.
I went back to my car and popped the trunk. The only thing I could find that was even close enough to work was a lightweight spring jacket. I took it out and looped the sleeves around the horse’s neck.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Is that the best you can do?” he asked, bobbing his big head up and down. He was a big horse, at least sixteen and a half hands high and wouldn’t be easy to lead with only a jacket around his neck.
My main problem was trying to figure out where the hell his home was. There were four places within a mile that had horses. Most places had at least two. Since I had no idea, and the horse didn’t seem to know, I picked the closest place with a fence. There were no cars coming, so I pulled him across the road and into the other ditch, getting wet grass and other crap all over my wingtips.
Ten minutes later, I managed to get the damned thing in the fence and a bunch of poop on my shoes in the process. I walked up to the house to let them know I had dropped off the horse. Whether it was theirs or not, I was done.
“Thanks, jerk,” said the horse. And then it started to laugh.
“Bite me,” I said.
I went up to the house and rang the doorbell. I couldn’t hear if it was working so I hit it again and then knocked on the door, not sure if anyone was home. I was about to leave when the door opened and a short, chunky, angry-faced woman looked up at me.
“Whatdoyawant?” At least I think that’s what she said.
“Is that your horse Ma’am?” I asked pointing to the pasture and she looked at me like I was crazy.
“Course it’s my damn horse, it’s in my fence ain’t it?”
I was about to uncork on her when I realized how it must look from her point of view. I heard the horse laughing from where it was pooping and eating at the same time and behind my back, I flipped it off. It laughed louder and the woman glared at me.
“Sorry to bother you Ma’am, but that horse got loose and I found him about a half mile down the road walking in the ditch.”
I held up my jacket, now covered in wet horsehair as proof of my claim. The woman was still out of it and mumbled something that sounded like “thanks” and closed the door in my face.
The horse laughed so hard it fell over and started kicking its feet up in the air. I walked back to my car and went to work, smelling like wet horse the rest of the day.
Since then, it’s happened at least four times a year. Horses will find a way out and make their way to wherever I am. I never told anyone, not even Jane. Part of me still thinks it’s all in my head.
Anyway, early this morning my dogs started barking at something. My wife and kids are away for the weekend, I thought I’d be sleeping in until at least seven o’clock until the dogs couldn’t take it any more and wanted their breakfast. Instead, they were barking at five a.m.
I took the stairs two at a time and started to holler at them to shut up when I noticed they were staring at the front yard. I looked through the kitchen window and saw not one, no that would have been way too easy, but two horses in my front yard. They were both digging through the snow to get at the long green grass that I should have cut before snowfall, but hadn’t.
So, there were two shaggy-looking beasts digging into my yard and eating my grass down to the dirt. I called the dogs inside and blocked the dog door, then went upstairs and got dressed. I went back down and grabbed my coat, hat, gloves and a dog leash. Did I mention it was only ten degrees above zero? Well it was.
You’d think after all this time I would have broken down and bought a lead rope, but how would I explain that to Jane? She only knows about the times when she was around, and I never told anybody until you that I could talk to horses. So I grabbed the dog leash and walked up to them. The younger one was actually giggling like a little boy busted with his hand in the cookie jar, but the older one just looked me in the eye as I got closer.
“I don’t suppose you know where home is?” I asked expecting the usual answer.
The young one pranced around a bit, saying between bursts of giggles, “Nope, don’t know where home is; don’t know, nope, nope.”
The older one just kept looking at me, so I walked up and attached my dog leash to his halter. Thank God they had halters, made things a lot easier. The old guy kept staring at me while the younger one pranced around giggling and pooping in my yard.
“That’s just great,” I said, “thanks a lot.”
The old one gently bumped me in the chest and whispered, “We live just over there, on the other side of the big road.” He pointed the way with his nose.
I looked at him for a long minute, expecting a trick or a fit of laughter, but he just looked me in the eye and nodded. What the hell, even if it was a trick I knew the place had a fence so I might be able to drop them off even if it wasn’t their home.
You’d think that by now I would have either met all of the horses around here or at least made a point of paying attention to where they all lived, but I kept trying to convince myself that each time was the last.
I led the older horse down the street toward the house and the younger one more or less followed. He ran ahead, and then ran around behind us chanting silly stuff. “You can’t catch me. You can’t catch me. Nanny, nanny boo, boo.”
I looked sideways into the old horse’s eye. “You don’t seem like the others. Why are you being so helpful? And how come you know your way home?”
He looked up into the cold morning sky as if he was trying to decide something, and then snorted. “All horses know where home is. We don’t often get lost.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but he cut me off. “I know, I know. Some of the boys have been giving you a hard time, but they’re just having some fun. It’s not every day we find one of you that can talk. Jake found you, and even though it was clear you weren’t too keen on horses, you made sure he got home because of your wife.
“So the others come find you with a lame story about needing to get home. Jake can be a pain in the ass, but he’s a good horse. He told the other boys you were a jerk, but talking to a jerk is better than nothing, so the others come looking for you.”
I walked along with him in silence for a bit, then I just had to know. “So why are you being so nice to me?”
He tossed his big head up and down a few times then looked at me sideways.
“I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been around the corral a few times. When I was two, I found a human that could talk, back in Missouri, where I was born. I know what a shock it can be on you people, so I figured I’d give you a chance.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“They call me Dusty, but my first name was... Calico.” He said this last part a little embarrassed. “My first owner was a young girl, you see.”
“So, what should I call you?” I said.
“Dusty is fine by me. You know, the others wouldn’t keep busting your chops if you just took the time to go and talk to them every so often.”
He looked like he was going to say more, but just snorted and shook his head up and down a couple of times. By now, the younger one had run back into the fenced pasture, back through the open section he had clearly pushed down to get out in the first place.
Up the drive I went and right up to your house I came, and now here I am and here you are, with that same look on your face I’ve seen a dozen times. It’s pissed partly because I woke you up, partly recognition, because they are in fact your horses. Then it changes to worry and embarrassment because they got out and could have been hurt.
So yes, it’s me, the one they call the Horse Cusser, because every time I bring a one back, people hear me cussing the horse. Now you know why. I didn’t ask for this, and up till now it sure didn’t feel like any damned gift.
Now please quit gawking at me and come take Dusty here off my hands. And please give him some nice oats. He’s a good horse, and if it’s all right with you, I’d like to come by from time to time to see how he’s doing.
Copyright © 2009 by R. Scott McCoy