It takes a certain kind of horse to repeatedly stick his face into a cactus. Some might call that horse an optimist. Or maybe it takes the kind of horse who likes livin’ on the edge: a thrill-seeker. Most of us horses, self included, well, we like to live as far away from the edge as possible. We learn our lesson about cactus the first time around, back when we’re still little squirts scurryin around at our dams’ sides, standin eye-level to a cholla and sidlin up to it like we think it would make a perfect place to scratch an itchy muzzle. And when your dam nickers and tells ya not to, well, then the urge to scratch yourself on a cactus becomes plumb irresistible.
The point to this, other than the very obvious points that cover a cactus from stem to sticker, is that my horse-buddy Original Coors has got himself another nickname that our bucket gal and some of her human friends like to call him, I mean other than Coors, which is my own nickname for him. Once upon a desert trail ride, he earned himself the entirely descriptive yet disreputable name of Cholla Face. The long version is Dances With Chollas, Cholla Face for short.
It hurts me to say it, just thinkin about cholla in my own face, but I still do say it, and pretty often.
So not long after I’d arrived on the County Island, our bucket gal and her guy, who I should probably call the carrot guy ‘cause he always brings us carrots, took me and Coors out for a trail ride in the desert. Coors kept thinkin of me as the new guy, like he needed to show me the ropes even though I’d been accustomed to ropes since long before he was foaled. But I was indeed new to the strange ways of the County Island, so I let him assume the role of trail boss. It’s always wise to get the lay of the land before you stake your claim.
At the first patch of cholla we rode upon, Coors tilted his head toward me, and then toward the cholla, and he grunted with a purpose and champed on his bit, and said to never, ever, ever itch your nose on one of the pokey things, no matter how itchy your nose was. And he added that he got an itchy nose a lot, which made it really hard not to.
“The pokey things bite horses,” he added knowingly. “One of those tall, green, fuzzy, pokey things jumped onto my face, biting the whole time, and wouldn’t let go. Then the people had to pull all the pokers out while the thing kept biting me. It was awful. I’ll never do that again, and you should always keep an eye on the pokey things like I do, just in case.”
I did my best not to chuckle over “pokey things” as we ambled along side-by-side under saddle, with the bucket gal and the carrot guy natterin away up there in their saddles and leavin us horses to enjoy our own conversation. There’s all manner of pokey things in the desert, and a sage ranch horse learns to identify all of ‘em by what us ranch horses have learned through the generations to call their classifications and genus and such. Oh yeah, it’s true. We horses know some stuff.
But I just said, “Don’t worry, son. I know better than to stick my head in a cholla. I been around a whole ranch rangeland full of cholla since the day I was born. Didn’t you learn about the cactus, I mean to say the pokey things, when you was a colt?”
“No,” Coors said sadly. And then, “Oh, I’m actually not from a ranch. I’m from California.” Like that explained it.
Well, then a long spell later, Coors Light arrived to live with us. He and Coors are related by way of havin the same stud for a father. But they are far more similar than they are different. Their daddy’s genes must run deep. And I think they likely knew each other for a spell, back when they were young’uns, because when they were introduced to each other here, there was no squealin nor strikin and posturin. They each just gave a quick, knowin nod at the other, and said, “’Sup?” And Coors Light, well, he’s also from California.
“You ain’t gonna warn your brother not to do that?” I asked one day shortly after Coors Light’s arrival, upon watchin Coors Light walk up to a cholla that grows right outside our corral.
Original Coors tossed what little forelock he’s got. “As if!” he chuckled under his breath, and he trotted off.
Well, then I got the kinda bemused look I get sometimes, and I thought, far be it for me to interfere in a family matter.
And Coors Light went to itch the side of his cheek on the cholla, and came up with, not surprisingly, a face full of cholla. And then, much to my disbelief, he looked at me and Original Coors dead-on, like a dare or somethin, and he turned the other cheek, and he itched that cheek on the cholla, too!
Anytime Coors Light’s got a bad itch, he still takes his chances with the cholla. Sometimes, he comes out clean. I have never before, in all my years, seen a horse come out clean from a close-up cactus encounter. Sometimes, he’s on the losin end, but he’ll walk around all day long ‘til the bucket gal comes home to discover his dilemma, with cactus all over his face like he don’t care. I ain’t never seen anythin like it. It’s a touch crazy, but I got to admire it, from way back where I always am, as far from livin on the edge as a horse can be.
On the outward side, Coors Light don’t come across as a horse who likes to live dangerously. But he’s got a streak in him. Me and Original Coors, we both seen it.