Written by: Susan Stafford. Excerpted from Volume 1 of the "Horse Tales for the Soul" series.
Many years ago - about 4 B.C. (Before Children), to be exact - my husband and I had a Big Adventure. After years of city living, we had just purchased our first home in the country, a run-down cottage in the middle of a swamp on a dead-end road. The basement was constantly under water (we cheerfully called it our indoor swimming pool), the septic system was always backing up and the mosquitoes were so ravenous that we could have benefited from regular blood transfusions. We were often without power, got snowed in every winter, and the roof leaked. But the place was ours, and it was heaven. To satisfy a lifelong dream, we bought a couple of horses to complete the picture. Now, knowing very little about horses at the time, we just scooped up the first likely prospects that came along. Luckily, my little black gelding, Buck, was trustworthy and quiet most of the time. His only major flaw was that he was an escape artist. There was not a stall latch designed that could keep him in.
There was, of course, the unfortunate incident when Buck let himself and his barn mates out one night, then proceeded to the neighbor’s stable to release all their horses as well. The police informed us in the morning that the small herd of hoodlums had been terrorizing the surrounding farms and frightening motorists all night long. They implied that “the black one” appeared to be the ringleader. It was all very embarrassing - much like the authorities showing up at your door to tell you that your teenage son had been caught joyriding in a stolen car.
My husband Frank’s horse was the complete opposite of Buck. Dubbed Ahab the Arab, he possessed every vice known to the equine world. He hated to be caught, brushed, saddled, bridled and ridden. He tried to kill the vet on several occasions. He refused to pick up his feet to be picked out. He rolled his eyes and spooked at everything on the trail. In short, he was totally neurotic.
Nevertheless, for our first Christmas in the country, we decided it would be oh so romantic to ride off into the bush one moonlit winter night and cut down our own Christmas tree. We saddled up and moved off down the deserted road and into the forest, with the moon casting dark shadows on the blue-tinted snow and the horses’ breath suspended in the frosty air.
Deep into the forest, we found a lovely, full spruce and Frank set about cutting it down. As he rode western, it was agreed that he would tie the tree via a long rope to the saddle horn and drag it home - just like the pioneers did.
At least, that was the plan.
As we moved off towards home, Ahab rolled his eyes and stared at disbelief and horror at the Giant Tree Monster dragging behind him. The faster he went, the faster the tree went, shushing and cracking over the snowy ground. This was obviously more than his pea-brain could handle, and he just snapped. It was not a pretty sight. Within seconds, he was bolting flat-out through the trees, with Frank cursing and hauling uselessly on the reins. As they were swallowed up by the darkness, I heard a thud, a single strangled cry . . . then silence. I was alone.
Buck, in the meantime, was extremely unhappy that his friend had so rudely departed back to the stable without him, and was digging holes in the snow at a stationary gallop. We headed back at a barely controlled pace, and shortly came across Frank lying face up on the trail, close lined by a low-hanging branch. Together we walked home, being dragged by a frantic Buck, following a trail of pine needles and spruce branches.
Back at the stable, Ahab was waiting. Steam rose from his sweaty flanks, and his sides heaved after his exertions. Miraculously, he was unhurt and the rope was still attached to the saddle horn. At the end of the rope was. . . a stick.
It took us over an hour to cool the horses out. My husband had lost his glasses in the fray, and torn his good coat. We figure the entire caper had set us back well over $200.
The following morning, I meekly drove to the local grocery store and forked over $10 for a tree. To this day, whenever I see a charming Christmas card featuring happy folks dragging home their chosen tree, I still get a little twinge of nostalgia. But trust me, it quickly passes.
Susan Stafford Biography Susan has been the editor of Horsepower Magazine for Young Horse Lovers since its inception in 1988 (www.horse-canada.com). She has owned a variety of equines - from ponies to racing thoroughbreds to a Trakehner stallion - but is currently (and hopefully temporarily) horse-less due to the time constraints of her numerous jobs. She has three children and lives on a small acreage north of Toronto, Ontario Canada.