What happened is, I got “volunteered.” It was supposed to be Coors Light, not me. Coors Light walked up to the gate and said he’d like to go, but the bucket gal patted him and walked right past him. It started with breakfast, like it usually does, and then I got led away from my breakfast — instead of Coors Light — to go get brushed for work. Only there ain’t no real work to be done here on the County Island. What there was was my tail bein sprayed and combed and such for a real long time, with kinda a funny smell waftin from it that ain’t fly spray, and the bucket gal fussin with it for even longer, and it all gave me flashbacks to the time when I got pinked for a good cause.
Then I got loaded into the rollin white horse-box, and taken to camp where the prancin lady lives, only it wasn’t camp that day, and I didn’t get put in my usual pen where I go to camp, and Coors and Coors Light never showed up at all. I got saddled, and fussed with some more, with one of them silly people-things set upon the top of my bridle like happens at different times of the season, such as lion ears, devil horns, or anythin else silly that can be set upon a horse’s head.
It was the day of the summer games. I knew about the games before, as an observationalist, and I told what I knew about ‘em here, back when I got my first case of bad hawks.
All the horses was saddled and assembled in the ring to play games, too. Red horses! Blue horses! White horses! With anythin a person could think of to paint on, or glue to, or attach to any part of a horse. An Ayrab horse feathered like a bird with red plumes in his mane, and another whose bridle reins had been made all red and blue feathery. Seemed like feathers was a thing. A plain brown horse all sparkly-spotted like a bonafide and sorrowful patriotic Appaloosa. A white horse painted in red stripes and blue stars. A geldin crowned with an abominable thing called a princess tiara on his browband. I was the sole ranch horse representative in a whole sea of patriotic Ayrabs and other sundry prancey horses.
One of the younger horses rode by, turned and gave me the hairy eyeball and snorted, “Bro – your tail!”
Huh? Oh, hell… Pardon my french.
I learned there and then what it means for a horse to be a “patriot.” A patriot is a horse who’s made to be red, white, blue and sparkly all over — from head to tail. That’s what “from head to tail” means. I never could see my own tail, but I suppose it was extra patriotic. And a proper patriot horse, like a proper ranch horse, has got be extra hard-workin and self-sacrificin, too. Even fun and games ain’t all fun and games — that’s the work ethic I was raised with.
But this ain’t about patriotism, nor games.
It’s about hunger. And sacrifice.
This may sound like I’m bein a whiny, ungrateful, prancified, pampered pet County Island horse, but I ain’t.
Most of the games were about food, specifically the lack thereof.
Forthwith, twelve buckets was laid out in a line in the arena. I couldn’t help but nicker under my breath at such an astonishing sight. But they was empty. And the game wasn’t to find out which horse could eat the most buckets in the least time, but to jump horses over ‘em. And the people kept takin buckets away, and not bringin ‘em back filled with grain, until there was only one bucket left to jump. Or, like I did, to step over without kickin the bucket, which I likely could’ve done for real with such an entirely empty belly. If you kicked the bucket, you was out of the game. Some of the horses protested the lack of food by refusin to go toward the empty buckets. A couple had to be backed toward ‘em, and at the last minute, turned around and jumped over without lookin. I finally kicked a bucket on purpose so I wouldn’t have to lay my eyes upon their empty promise again.
There were also “flowers” in the flower boxes around the prancin arena that was “fake” and we couldn’t eat.
There was a “egg and spoon race,” but no horse got to lick the mixin spoon. And since they had spoons and buckets, there was no excuse not to feed us. And maybe I woulda liked an egg in my desperation, but I never got to try one. One of the horses said it wasn’t even a egg, it was a “golf ball,” which sounds particularly distrustful. That horse also said “golf” is where people use up a horse pasture that horses can’t graze.
There was a “potato race” where we had to race so the bucket gal could get a potato and run back and drop it in a bucket. Three potatoes, three bucket drops. And maybe I woulda liked to eat a potato, who knows? By then, I woulda eaten a golf ball, I reckon. And again — buckets.
Do y’all know was “bobbin for apples” is? It’s racin toward a bucket filled with water. And a apple. I don’t even like apples. I prefer carrots and cookies, myself, but I wanted an apple so bad I’da been willin to wash it down with a fake flower and a golf ball, too. And the horse didn’t get to stick his head in the bucket to bob for the apple. The human had to do it! They wasted so danged much time stoppin in front of the buckets when their horse coulda been chompin on that apple, wranglin off their big ol’ helmets and sunglasses (‘cause they ain’t got proper eyes to see in the sun, along with their lack of proper ears to hear their horses’ bellies growl) and fussin about gettin wet and slimy, especially the people-fillies fussin about gettin their forelocks wet. Y’all know who’s happy to get wet and slimy for some fast food? Horses. And then they had to hold the entire apple in their tiny people-teeth and run with it and their good horse. And then finally, at the “finish line,” their horse got to eat the apple, after all that.
But I didn’t get to eat a bobbed-apple ‘cause my bucket gal wasn’t willin to stick her head inside a slimy, slobbery, cloudy bucket to bob one for me, irregardless of that fact I don’t generally care for apples.
In the end, though, I reckon my patriotic sacrifice for the hunger games was worth it. I got all the rest of my hay, along with lots of crunchy cold carrots. And I got a sham poo bath and then I got to roll, and roll some more. And I got a tale to tell, which is always a good thing, too, especially when I get to tell it on a full stomach on a lazy day of bein a mostly retired horse right here on the County Island.