The Nag, the Cripple, and the Deaf Dog
In 1964 our family moved to the desert east of Tucson. It
didn't take long for a "friend" to give us Taffy, a
crippled palomino gelding. He had taught Taffy to jump into the
back of a stake bed pickup. The repeated shocks of landing on
its metal bed must have been what injured his left hind fetlock.
When he joined our household he could barely limp.
Then my parents bought a stunted nag from Navajo country.
Boy Horse was mud brown with a big nose, rat tail, and a short
mane that frizzed upward. He was easy to ride if you didn't mind
a top speed of one mile per hour. That beat Taffy, who was no
bigger than Boy Horse and pure yard ornament.
Taffy and Boy Horse became instant friends. I became sullen.
All these years I had dreamed of our family having horses. Now
we had -- those two.
One July morning I didn't close the corral gate fast enough.
Boy Horse galloped through and disappeared over a hill. I ran
after him. By the time I reached the hilltop, I couldn't even
see his dust. Out there it was open range for miles in every
I reported him to the Arizona Livestock Board. Soon a man
phoned. A mud-colored mustang had turned up in his alfalfa pasture. My
mom drove me there, some five miles west. As we pulled up, a
man was swabbing a mare's fresh cuts. He pointed to an alfalfa
pasture. "He jumped the fence and beat up my Thoroughbreds."
A half dozen mares were milling about, looking anxiously at
Boy Horse. Flies crawled on blood congealing on their manicured
coats. Boy Horse was grazing. I walked over and scratched him
behind an ear. I couldn't see any place that needed swabbing.
I saddled up and we headed back across the open range. Boy
Horse tried to turn back, then took to bucking persistently.
He must have loved that fresh alfalfa and being king over all
those cringing mares. Finally I got off and dragged him homeward
by the reins. Given that the temperature was, as usual, over
100 deg, this was no fun. But after awhile, he stopped resisting my lead. What the heck, I thought and mounted him. He continued homeward but now, for the first time that I had ridden him, he eagerly moved ahead at a good speed. When we got home, I fed him and Taffy their usual afternoon snack, consisting of crimped oats, molasses, vitamins and minerals.
This was a turning point in our relationship. Now
I respected him, and he respected me. When I'd show him his bridle, he'd rush over. We'd trot
off bareback. I'd guide him just by thinking where I wanted to
go and how fast. We would often ride out to where he would graze on the sweet
grass where springs welled out of the Catalina Mountains.