I love horses. I love Dressage. I find the combination of formal attire and manure irresistible.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not exactly picky when it comes to horses. Shaun (my wife) thinks we have 500 channels on Direct TV so we can watch The L Word, Showtime, and HBO. The kids think we have Direct TV for Sponge Bob, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and Naruto. I know we have Direct TV for the RFD channel. If you’re thinking, “RFD? Uh, as in…Rural…Federal…Delivery?” and your heart is beating faster, I’ll skooch over. If you have no idea what RFD TV is, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Campfire cooking! Extreme Cowboy Horse Racing! Dressage! Cowboy Poetry! Old Fashioned Low-Budget Hokey Ads with Bad Graphics and John Deere Baseball Caps! Ag Lifestyle! (I don’t know what that is – yet – but I want to live it.) I am utterly, happily, undiscerning. If there’s a horse in it, it’s good. If there’s a horse even implied in it, it’s good.
I’m addicted to RFD TV.
Imagine. Professional business seminars, not in a hotel conference room with all the charm of a cubical, but directed on horseback in a dusty arena lead by a guy in jeans, chaps, and a musical pop-star headset. He’s telling you how to get your horse to leap straight out of the chute after a calf, instead of doing that little hop upward first that (apparently) they all want to do. Did you know you can lose entire seconds that way? Two minutes ago I had no clue the little hop existed. Or that it was a problem. Now, I’m convinced it’s completely unreasonable that they want to take it away. It’s cute. It’s the horse equivalent of YIPPEEE. I’m outraged on behalf of the horse. I’m devastated the hop has to go. Does it really cost you seconds? Dang.
Of course, if I were a roper, not a dressage rider, and that hop cost me a a coefficient, I’d be all over getting rid of it. Who needs the grief?
I love that robotic steer with the swinging hind feet. It looks like a cross between the Lunar Lander and a goofy metal cow. As if some genius engineering geek from MIT visited a childhood friend one beery weekend at Cal Poly, discovered Team Roping, and said, “Hey, I have an idea!”
The Lunar Lander cow adds dramatic tension. You never know what direction it will go. Will the horse be able to follow in time? Is there a heat sensor or something in the robot steer so it veers away from the horse? I’m on my sofa, ready to urge the cushion into a gallop off to the right.
Shaun is in charge of the remote, but because she actually loves me, for reasons I find inexplicable, she hesitates to change the channel when she sees me talking to a cow on the screen. I mean, get real, for her this must be like watching paint dry. “Look at the rear end on that roping horse”, I say, “Can you believe it? I haven’t even seen a Grand Prix horse with a rear like that.” To her infinite eternal credit, she manages not to yawn, look at her watch, or suddenly remember an appointment for a root canal. She indulges me, and I pretend not to notice her trigger finger twitching toward the remote. Marriage, it’s all about the little compromises.
It’s Dressage Hour on RFD TV: “WOW…would you look at the suspension in that piaffe??”…”Aw darn it, that canter pirouette doesn’t have enough impulsion – do we have anymore chips? Thanks – They’re going to ding her on that. Too bad, those Tempi changes earlier were outstanding. I bet she would have hit the high 80’s”
The first time Shaun came across me sitting on the edge of the sofa and talking back to the TV, using the same tone she might reserve for a ref making a bad call on the Pistons, she heard something like “Are you kidding? A SEVEN? You idiots, did you NOT see the suspension in that Passage?!? What about the flying change right into a counter canter?? ARE YOU BLIND?” Maybe I was having some sort of seizure. I was speaking in tongues.
“What’s wrong?” She says impulsively, genuinely concerned, and then belatedly sees a horse on the screen, and is secretly wishing she could snatch the words back into her mouth.
“She’s only going to end up in the 70’s. She could’ve made it to the Worlds…dang it.”
I can see her working this statement through in her mind. She’s going to end up in the 70’s? Is that too hot? Not hot enough? That she would try to work out, for my sake, what is obviously gibberish in her ears makes me giddy in love with her all over again. I adore her.
“You missed the most amazing Half Pass…wait…maybe they’ll do an instant replay…come sit.”
“Uh, ah…I wish I could honey but… I forgot…I think that library book is due…you know….the one about, uh, that thing…the thing we did with the kids for school? I better return it. Uh, I might be awhile, you know with library lines and parking and stuff….” She brightens noticeably. “We might owe a fine or something. I think it’s overdue. Don’t wait for me”
Starbucks and The New York Times are written all over her forehead.
Shaun loves horses. As long as she doesn’t have to be any where near them, see them, smell them, or live with them. She’s a Detroit girl. Horses are great…over there: noble, beautiful, pastoral even. She loves to hear about their personalities, quirks, progress…she can’t wait for the nightly horse story.
Up close however, horses turn into very very large Rottweilers mutated by radioactive uranium: guard dog escapees from Three Mile Island, with big teeth and evil glints in their eyes. They want to kill her. She rarely visits the barn. The barn is where THEY are housed. “How much barbed wire is out there, really?” she asks “You know, like in miles?” “Uh, none” I say, knowing it’s the wrong response. Then the answer comes to me in a heralding of trumpets… “But there’s TONS of electric fencing.” This is even better than barbed wire.
“With real electricity going through it? Like, LOTS of it?” I can tell she’s thinking Alcatraz.
“Yup, you get totally zapped if you hit it. You get zapped if even your hair touches it.” Check. She’s been out-strategized and she knows it. Gamely she tries to hang on. “Will it be turned ON when I’m there?” And checkmate: “Absolutely. Full force.”
Understand: my Shaun is fearless in the world of business and people. She could take on Donald Trump, not exactly known for his love of butch lesbians, as she delightfully is, without a qualm. An interview with Barbara Walters? No problem. The CEO doesn’t like a decision Shaun has made, she stands in his office and explains why it’s the right one, even if it’s not the one he wants to hear. She’ll argue her point. I’d be cowering under the water cooler. My cubical would already be packed into a cardboard box, and I’d already have shaken hands with my fellow employees. Before the meeting. She is tough, brave, and fierce in her beliefs. Shaun is unwavering in her determination to be honorable, to do the right thing whatever the personal cost. She would have gone to jail during the McCarthy era. I would have crumpled like a tissue the first time I got a stern look and was told I was a bad, bad girl. I would have (tearfully) named names, tarred my non-commie friends red, and fervently made-believe it was the only choice I had. I can lie to myself, at the speed of light, with unbelieving ease.
“That one” she says pointing, her finger shaking, “That BIG brown one wiggling its lips. It wants to hurt me. I think it wants to kill me.”
“You mean Tiny?” I say, unable to keep the eensiest bit of disbelief out of my voice.
“If that’s its name, then that one!” she says.
Okay, this I sort of get. Tiny is huge. Not just tall-huge, but huge-huge, like a Super Bowl linebacker. Think William Perry: The Refrigerator. Tiny is a draft horse.* Tiny is massive. He also has extra large rubbery lips that he loves to touch everything with. Tiny’s lips are the gymnastic equivalent of Groucho Marx’ eyebrows. I can see, sort of, how this might be disconcerting. I’ve lost an entire elbow to Tiny’s lips, until it hit his closed teeth and he thought… “Oops” and let go.
Tiny is endearing. He uses his lips the way an elephant uses his trunk, everything goes in his mouth or is touched by his lips: the lead rope, your hair…one of those white, cheap plastic stack chairs. He likes to pick those up and wave them around. Fling his head up and see if he can catch it. If you put a stack chair in Tiny’s pasture, he’d carry it everywhere, like a retriever with a mashed tennis ball. Never carry a cell phone around Tiny. You’ll look frantically, wondering where you’ve misplaced it, only to hear it ringing inside his mouth. Fortunately, he doesn’t like ring tones, so he’ll spit it out. But he doesn’t bite.
For Shaun, horses smell like livestock, not horses. They roll in dirt. Not beach sand, not Earth with a Green Peace capital E, but real DIRT-dirt, the kind with bugs and twigs. There’s also the matter of the little ripe golf balls: green steaming poop that pop pop pops out of their anus at the most inopportune moments. Like, say, when you are bent beneath a tail cleaning out a rear hoof. Or when you’re trying to make an important point about why you really need a new truck…it’s distracting. Then there’s the anus itself, which after the horse poops, seems to flip half the intestines inside out in an effort to make sure the job is completed. I admit that IS a weird moment, when you see the pink curled out intestine of a horse winking out any remaining green flecks. I can see how this might be very disturbing to someone who’s closest prior encounter with a horse was a Mustang convertible. In Cherry Red.
This is where Direct TV comes in. The horses are Directly over there. In a nice box with a glass front. Only inches high. They can be experienced slouched on our leather couch, toes curled in the spotless Oriental rug, the remote next to the vase of tea roses under the Tiffany lamp. Nice horses. Tidy horses. Tiny horses…smelling like…roses.
Plus, we get The L Word.
*Note to non-horsey people: draft horses the horses in beer commercials. Have you noticed that the ad agencies never place a person next to the horse in those ads? It’s strategic. They’re afraid if you see the human to horse ratio, you’ll be too scared to buy the beer.
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