Once upon a time, my dad decided to get a horse.
We don’t call him George. We call him Mikey. Frankly, we should call him Satan, for that is his real master.
He is as ornery as a meth addict suddenly cut off from his supply- but unlike the meth addict he still has functional teeth, teeth the size of small cars. Woe betide the person whom offends him, for they are going to lose an extremity or two.
My family also really doesn’t have the land for a horse. We are forced to rely on the goodwill of neighbors for a place to put him. We have no fence, so we just use an electric one borrowed from my Grandpa. We also have to hand-fill his watering trough. Most of the winters when I was in high school were spent carting GALLONS and GALLONS of water to his container. It was miserable.
But that’s not even the worst part. My dad decided that one horse wasn’t enough, that every man (even a castrated, ornery one) should have a companion. And so he got another horse, named Kate.
Kate is also my sister’s name, and it caused a bit of confusion around our house.
Kate was so mean and moody she made Mikey look like a saint. She also quickly discovered a way to escape from our makeshift pen.
There was no peace in our home after that. Several times we were woken in the middle of the night by a neighbor’s frantic phone call.
This happened all. The. Time. We’d catch the horses, redo the electric fence, pound in more posts, shout angrily at their smug, beady little horse eyes, and stalk off to the house. That evening, they would escape again.
We children were often used as cannon fodder, sent out into to sacrifice limbs and sanity to corral the horses and drag them back to the pen on a daily basis. We grew to hate them. We grew to despise them. We fantasized about wrapping them in the electric fence and setting it to maximum.
My mom didn’t particularly want horses, but while she was irritated she did not yet share our homicidal rage.
That all changed five years ago, on a morning two days before Christmas. Mom was frosting cookies in the kitchen, humming happily to Bing Crosby. I was quietly shaking Christmas presents, divining their contents. My siblings were still in bed.
Then the phone rang.
We knew, we just knew, that the horses were out. And indeed they were but they weren’t just out- they had taken off like demons and were halfway across town, rampaging through yards to the open fields beyond.
Mom dashed to the basement to rouse my sisters. I kicked one of my dad’s presents clear across the room, vengeance consuming me.
I took one car full of surly sisters while my mom took another as we roared towards the horses’ last known location. By now they were wandering lazily through a field just outside of town.
We tumbled out of our assorted cars while mom ran home to pull cookies out of the oven. We circled around them to flank them and cut them off from the road. It didn’t work.
They tore off across the field, streaked through a hole in the fence and crossed the highway (where unfortunately there were no conveniently placed semis to squish them into jelly). We tore off after them, plowing our way through two feet of snow.
By this point my sister Kate, never known to handle waking up easily, had lost her mind.
Their bed hair was a sight to behold.
Emily did not take kindly to being spoken to so, and promptly pushed Kate into a snowbank. An epic fight was in danger of breaking out as Kate emerged from the snowbank holding an icecicle, but I intervened to keep the peace.
Emily agreed to help again as long as she didn’t have to be near Kate, who had turned her rage on my other sister, Larry. Larry at the time was quite short and really struggling to break through the hard, crusty snow. Kate was not sympathetic.
By this point the horses had stopped at the top of a hill nearly a half mile away. Because I was a political science major I reasoned we could apply military tactics to the situation.
We finally decided to come around and encircle them from three different directions. We slunk up on them, circling wide and adding another quarter of a mile to our pursuit. We got to the crest of the hill, huffing and puffing, Larry soaked to the bone. The horses were kicking holes in the snow to get at the dead plants underneath, and seemed not to realize we were sneaking up on them.
It was all a ruse. Once we got within a hundred feet the horses took off down the hill away from town and roared out into the flatlands beyond .
It was too much. Kate started swearing like a sailor while Emily flipped the horses the bird and headed back to the car a mile away, having given up. Larry sank to her knees weeping, only her head visible above the snow.
She probably would have stayed there until succumbing to frostbite, but at that point my mom pulled up in the other car, having failed to save the cookies. You’ve heard the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? The writer of that particular verse has clearly never seen a woman watch four of her children stagger towards her car in various states of distress as a pair of husband-bought horses, horses she never even wanted, vanish over the horizon, whinnying in triumph. To top it all off, the cookies she had been slaving over for HOURS had been BURNED.
My mom’s ancestry is primarily German, and at this particular moment of dire need what scientists call the “German Tactical Gene” took over.
The German Tactical Gene quickly informed my mom of several facts: (A) the horses had foolishly gone through a hole in the fence and were back on the highway, walking away from town, (B) there were no other holes in the fence for several miles, and (C) there was a fork in the highway a mile and a half up that if one were to get on it one would end up back in town, not far from our house.
After we got into the car she roared towards the idiot horses at ninety miles an hour, shouting insults out the window with a thick German accent.
The horses, understandably alarmed at my mom’s transformation, started running again. She chased them for a while, then rocketed past them towards the fork in the road. The horses had already ran all morning through town, away from us, and again from our now-homicidal German mother. They were approaching the point of exhaustion when they reached the fork in the road and saw us already lined up, glaring at them with murderous expressions and blocking both lanes of traffic and the barrow pits.
They had no choice. They took the fork back to town, plodding along in defeat. We walked behind them, humming German volk-erm, folk songs.We also had a bucket of grain we tempted them with. Mikey was evil but weak-willed. Kate the horse would never give in, but Mikey eventually got hungry enough he stopped, allowing us to quickly rope him. Kate the horse realized the gig was up, and not wanting to be alone followed us back to the horse pen where we reactivated the fence and staggered off to the house.
Mom was still enraged.
Dad only avoided divorce proceedings by coming home from work with a dozen roses, chocolate and several chick flick movies.
He also promised to sell Kate (the horse, not my sister) to a glue factory in Canada as soon as the snow melted. My mom was sufficiently placated, but we children were not.