“So what’s the name of my horse?” I asked the young wrangler guide. “I’d like to say it along with my commands.”
I was trying to seem more in charge since my wife had told me I looked Quasimodo-crooked on the horse and that I was falling so far back in our line that her horse was trying to bite my horse and then me. So I straightened up and rode up to our guide.
“I’ll tell you the reason for the name later.”
“I’ll tell you that later too.”
I hadn’t wanted to go on the ride, but my wife begged me. She had scheduled it three days before, but four other riders had cancelled and Mr. “I’ll tell you later” would not go if at least one other person besides my wife didn’t ride along (and pay). I hadn’t been on a horse since my twenties, when drinking several beers made it a breeze. I had given up riding and beer partly because both caused me terrific heartburn. But trying to be a good husband, I Tumsed-up, ate a very light breakfast, and hoped for the best.
We were at a buffalo ranch in southern Colorado, really a dude resort with a small buffalo herd. I was still a little nervous as we rode out past part of that herd when Killer seemed too interested in the buffalo. And then the crooked back comment, which wasn’t unusual from my increasingly blunt and cranky wife.
We rode out into the dunes of Colorado, and I thought we could as easily have been in North Africa. The beauty stunned me. Both my wife and our guide stepped it up to a canter and then a run, the guide saying it was the “sweetest part of a horse.”
“Come on, sissy, pick it up,” my wife yelled back.
I was just trying to stay on. I watched her and thought she was becoming as terrific a rider as she was a bitch. They raced ahead with insolent ease and were talking close together when I came up in what seemed like an hour.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, except for the vast sway of astonishing dunes. I was almost sorry when we were coming back to the barn. When we were close enough, clattering over a barn draining ditch, I asked again.
“So, the name, Killer?” I said.
“Some drunk guy was trying to get the horse to rear up, make him feel like John Wayne, and kept pulling on the reins until your horse just fell on his back. Killed the guy. His own fault. You can see he’s a perfectly nice palomino. I didn’t want to make you nervous”
“Thanks for waiting to tell me.”
It took me nearly an hour in the hot tub to relax muscles, some I didn’t even know I had. As I was soaking, my wife explained how we would go down to Santa Fe and what we would do there. And how I should avoid overeating red meat and not sit out in the patio tonight to watch the stars and should spend the time with her. How it would be more “romantic.”
I was starting to wish that she had been the drunk on Killer. And wondered at any possibilities. She had stopped haranguing me about riding tomorrow since others had signed up, and thus she “wouldn’t be slowed down” by my “timid riding.” She finished by saying with a cheeky laugh, “I’ll ride Killer.”
Having given up on romance again that night, I was gazing at that beautiful, unpolluted Colorado heaven — like my own planetarium. Restful, meditative. About ten o’clock, after my wife came back from who knows where and announced she was going to sleep, I was told I should be extra quiet when I came to bed. I decided to walk down to the barn and say hello to good old Killer. I’d seen a lot of cowboy movies growing up; some included inciting a horse to rear and buck. So on the way down, I picked up some rough vegetation that could pass for a burr.
For a city guy like me, barns are primitive in daytime. At night they are prehistoric. And the smell: Ugh. But there the horses all were, neighing softly to each other. Made me think of my daughter and her girlfriends at a sleepover.
My burr plan was collapsing since it could only be effected when the horses were saddled the next day. I felt foolish coming up with such a stupid plan anyway and remember actually hitting my head against a splintering post. But I was still angry at my wife. Had she winked at the guide? My rotten mood dissipated the longer I stayed in the barn. The animals seemed to be emanating a more pleasant, peaceful scent, horse and leather overtaking the manure. I didn’t see Killer, but was close to a big roan mare, and wished I had a carrot or something to give her Wondering if I could pull it off without getting bitten.
I’m not crazy enough to think the horses were talking to me, but the peace of the scene was having an effect. I started to quiet my fantasy that my wife was doing something fast, other than riding, with a good-looking young wrangler. And maybe I should be connecting to other women. We really had married as sex and drinking partners. Both of those favorites had run their course.
“Looking for Killer?” Our young horse guide nearly made me jump.
“Yeah, and maybe a carrot to give him.” I tried to sound like this would be a normal thing for me to do.
“It’s a little late for rustling up food for the animals, but I’m glad you are feeling more comfortable with them.”
“I guess I was a little tight today. Wasn’t comfortable making him run.”
“You didn’t have to make him. He would have loved to just be let go.” He smiled. “It’s really good advice for much of our lives,” he added.
“Aren’t you the philosopher,” I said, more as an accusation.
“Psychology. Going back next week for the last trimester of my master’s degree. Maybe that’s why I feel I can talk to the guests.”
“You think I try to rein in my wife too much.”
“More like reining in yourself.” The wrangler then, almost rudely, turned and walked away. He must have felt confident.
The next year, after our divorce, I was telling the story of Killer and how he finished off that drunk guy to a seasoned rider. He said it never happened.
“Horses just don’t do those things, especially dude ranch horses. Nobody got killed,” he reiterated.
“Something did,” I said.
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