Tales from the NEIGH-borhood

"Tales from the NEIGH-borhood" is a bi-weekly kid's column that I write for our local paper, The Citizen News. Each of my five horses takes turns telling the reader a little bit about what it's like to be a horse: why they wear shoes, how they sleep, what they eat and what frightens them. They also share a story about some of their exploits and give a bit of advice to help the reader solve their own problems. After being sold to new owners several times, Platinum shares his hopes of finding "a forever home". Cherokee reminds kids to always take care of their pets. It doesn't feel good at all to be hungry, thirsty or feel unloved. With his zest for life and bold attitude, Trinity is always interested in learning something new. Sonny is so sweet you could get a cavity just looking at him. Too bad he isn't as brave as he is lovable. Beau means "beautiful" or "handsome" in French and he deserves the name. Sometimes he needs to be reminded that: "Beauty is, as beauty does".

Proud to Be a Morgan!

 

Platinum and Beau think they’re hot stuff because they’re related to famous racehorses. Big deal! What’s their claim to fame? Running fast? They're lucky I wasn't there. I would have left them in the dust, crossing the finish line miles ahead of the whole pack.  

Sonny’s always yapping about his famous great-grandsire, Sonny Dee Bar. Oooh! A show horse! Whatever. My ancestors are famous for much more important feats than racing or winning blue ribbons—although we’ve done that too.

The entire Morgan breed was founded by one stallion named Figure. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789, he quickly gained fame as an intelligent, versatile, and spirited horse who excelled at every task put before him. Today, there are over 150,000 registered Morgans who resemble their famous ancestor in appearance and ability.

We’ve earned our racing reputation as great “trotters”. Trotters pull a lightweight cart and driver around the track. We’ve also made our mark in both the Western and English show worlds; competing in Pleasure, Hunter, Jumper, Eventing, Dressage, Reining, Cutting, Endurance and Competitive Trail classes.

Even better, Morgans have earned a place of honor in our country’s history by serving as cavalry horses. In the Civil War, the First Vermont Cavalry, an impressive fighting unit, was mounted entirely on Morgans.

Rienzi/Winchester - General Sheridan's mount

One of my famous Civil War-era ancestors was named Rienzi. He was tall for a Morgan—17 hands—high-spirited and black as the night. He carried the Union general, Philip Sheridan, through many battles. Rienzi was braver than many soldiers; never failing his master even though he was wounded four times. His name was changed to Winchester after carrying General Sheridan to victory in the battle of Cedar Creek, near the town of Winchester, VA.

After the war, Rienzi was put out to pasture for a well-deserved retirement,until his death in 1878. He was so revered, he was mounted and placed in a museum on Governor's Island in New York. Today, he can be viewed at the Smithsonian Museum.

Little Sorrel - Stonewall Jackson's partner

Rienzi wasn’t the only famous Morgan to serve in the Civil War. In the spring of 1861, Col. Jackson—who later became a general known as Stonewall Jackson—captured several horses from the Union army near Harper’s Ferry, VA. He gave a small chestnut Morgan to his wife and kept a bigger horse for himself. Unfortunately, being big doesn’t automatically make you better, smarter, or braver. The big horse turned out to be a major wimp on the battlefield—although I don’t blame him. War must be horribly scary.

Desperate for a replacement, Jackson took back the horse he’d given to his wife. (I wonder if she was angry at him or if she understood that everyone has to make sacrifices during a war.) Little Sorrel bravely carried the General through many battles without ever showing signs of fear or fatigue. His aide often had to remind the general that the other horses needed a rest. Ha! See I told you Morgans are awesome! Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall Jackson” when, mounted on Little Sorrel, he stood “like a stone wall” during a heavy Union onslaught at the battle of Bull Run. Can you imagine how quickly Sonny or Beau would have left a battlefield. That  would probably be the only time he'd be able to run faster than me!

Although General Jackson did not survive the war, Little Sorrel did. He became a celebrity appearing at hundreds of fairs and exhibitions. Many Southern women would snip little pieces of his hair as a souvenir. Eventually he was sent to live out his days at the Confederate Soldier’s Home. After he died, he was mounted and put on display at the Virginia Military Institute.

Commanche - Survivor of Custer's Last Stand

Commanche was the only cavalry horse to survive the Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. He was found badly wounded two days after the battle by troops searching for survivors of the battle. He was brought back to Fort Lincoln, headquarters of the 7th Cavalry and nursed back to health. He was given the honorary title of Second Commanding Officer in Chief of the Seventh Cavalry and retired from further service. No one was ever allowed to ride him again and it became every soldier’s duty to see that he was always well-cared for. When he died, he, too, was mounted and exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair. Today, he can be seen in the museum at Kansas University.

As impressive as our military records are, we’re also gentle. We’re used in 4-H Pony Clubs and therapeutic riding programs. Obviously we're gentle and kind because I rarely took advantage of Mom when she was learning how to ride me. Trust me; if I wasn't willing to be cooperative, she would never have stayed on my back for more than a second. In fact, she would never have even gotten the chance to mount up!

If my brothers weren't impressed already by my stories of Morgan fame, I reminded them that I was Mom's inspiration for Midnight Magic - Be Careful What You Wish For!  I felt pretty proud of myself as I watched Sonny, Beau, and Platinum hang their heads, although Cherokee didn't seem all that impressed. I guess I convinced them that Morgans are by far the best horses on the planet. Then Cherokee spoke up. "Don't let that little squirt make you feel bad. We can all be proud of who we are and where we come from. Trinity, I think you forgot to mention something else you're good at." 

 

I was surprised. I thought I'd just about covered it all. "Really? What's that?" I asked.

"Showing off!"

 
 

THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL

Isn’t winter the pits? I guess you wouldn’t mind it if you were a polar bear or you could escape to a tropical paradise. None of us like it because we’re not polar bears, we don’t ski and Mom is way too poor to ship us off to some nice warm, place.

If we were wild horses we’d live outside 24-7. There’d be no electric lights to brighten our nights, but that wouldn’t bother us. We can see everything, even when the moon is hiding and the sky is as black as licorice. If humans could see as well as we can they wouldn’t have bothered to invent light bulbs. Although we’d have to search for shelter and huddle together for warmth, we wouldn’t stay in Sherman all winter. We’d head off to Florida where there’s plenty of sweet grass and warm sun. Since we are domesticated horses, we're not free to escape the bad weather or search for the sweetest grasses that only grow in secret places. We’re at the mercy of our owners. Luckily, we live in the NEIGH-borhood where we’re always sheltered and fed. But that still leaves the problem of the ice and snow.

Trinity and Cherokee don’t wear shoes, but the rest of us do. This presents a problem when the ground is covered with ice. Can you imagine if your shoes were made out of metal? I bet you’d spend more time on your backside than on your feet! Thankfully horse owners have a solution to this problem.

In late November or early December, the blacksmith puts special shoes on us that have little spikes on the toes and heels. These sharp metal points dig into the ice when we walk, which prevents us from slip, sliding away—most of the time. The blacksmith also inserts a rubber pad with a bubble in the center between our hoof and the shoe. These pads are called “snowball pads”. When the snow gets packed into our hoof, it depresses the bubble until it suddenly pops up, pushing the snow out. Without this handy invention, we’d be walking on giant snowballs until the spring thaw.

I looked outside this morning and saw that everything was covered with a new helping of snow—including the paths leading to our paddocks. We can easily tromp through deep snow, but ice is dangerous in spite of our handy dandy winter shoes and snowball pads. Neither Mom nor I knew what evil lie waiting under that fresh coating of marshmallow fluff as she led me out of the barn. Mom is cautious of her footing and encourages us to be as well. She said, “Be careful Plats. It’s veeery slippery. Walk slowly and don’t do anything dumb. You don’t want to fall.” (She thinks rearing up when she’s leading me is dumb. I don’t. Sometimes a horse just has to be a horse.)

I took cautious mini-steps and didn’t even think of playing, “Hey, look at my belly button!” because she’s right; I don’t want to fall. I’m petrified of breaking a leg. The next time you see a horse, I want you to compare the size of his body to the delicacy of his legs. One wrong step and they could snap as easily as a dried twig.

We were inching our way to the back paddock when all of a sudden my legs started skittering, slipping and sliding. My left front leg went right; my right front leg went left, and both back legs collapsed. I crashed to the ground. Both of us were stunned. Mom’s face crinkled up with concern as she watched me struggle to my feet. Luckily my winter shoes did their job. I dug the spikes into the ice and hoisted myself upright.

After Mom got me safely into the paddock, she headed back to the barn. I guess the ice was still having fun with us because she took about three steps and then began wobbling back and forth like an over-sized Weeble before landing in a heap. Now it was my turn to crinkle my face. Her legs are twig-like too and I was afraid they would snap.

She spent the next three hours shoveling snow and spreading salt and dirty shavings all over the paths. After settling into the melting ice, this lumpy, smelly stuff provides skid-proof footing for all of us. She never gave up working until she was sure no one would fall again.

Florida might be nice and warm and I bet the sweet grasses that grow in those mysterious places are tasty, but there’s a lot to be said for living in a place like the NEIGH-borhood. Nothing beats having good friends and a mom who will take care of you no matter what.

                                                                                                                                      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Platinum Decision

 

                                 

 

Platinum Decision

     My name is Platinum Decision and I’m a thoroughbred; the fourth horse to join the herd. Platinum is a valuable metal so I guess Platinum Decisionmeans it was a great decision to buy me – and I agree. Even people who don’t know much about horses have heard of thoroughbreds, because many of us are famous racehorses. We start our training at the track when we’re two, but we only stay there if we’re very fast. Most of us are sent off to new homes and new jobs. I was pretty fast, winning seven races before I left.

     All thoroughbreds are registered with an organization called, The Jockey Club. We’re given a name and a number which is tattooed inside our upper lip. You can find out our birth date and racing record by researching this number. My Jockey Club name was Sicilian Lover, which I think sounds like a pirate’s name. I prefer Platinum Decision. I’m too fancy to be a pirate.

   After I left the racetrack, I learned how to be a “hunter”, which is not the same thing as a person who tracks down animals. A “hunter” is a horse who is taught to move in an elegant style called, English riding- but you don’t have to be from England to do this! Even a Martian could be an English rider with the proper training. Hunters also jump, which is a job I really like. I feel like I'm flying as free as the birds I see high up in the sky when I soar over a fence. Mom only rides me over little jumps because she’s a chicken - like Sonny. I’ve tried to convince her to go over something higher but she says, “No thank you Platinum. I’m afraid I’ll fall off.” Since I have good manners and don’t want her to get hurt, I resist the urge to go too fast or jump too high. I save that for bolder riders.

NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME

   I am the second biggest horse in my barn. At 17 hands, Beau is the tallest. I have great “conformation” which describes how I’m built. All my parts, like my neck, shoulders, back and haunches - or what you might call my hips - are the perfect size and shape, which makes me strong and fast. I have a white mane and tail and hundreds of rust and gray freckles sprinkled all over my white fur. I really stand out in a crowd since most horses are chestnuts or bays. A horse with my coloring is called, “a flea-bitten gray”. Even though it’s not a pretty name, it’s still a pretty color. Remember, it doesn’t matter what someone calls you. It doesn’t change who you are.

MY MINI-ADVENTURE

     Even though it was winter, with snow covering the ground, it had been pouring rain for two days. Mom kept us in the barn so that we wouldn’t catch a chill. We may be big and strong, but we get sick easily.

       I had plenty of hay, so I was content. Not Trinity. Mom says he has “ants in his pants”. There’s bound to be trouble if he gets bored. When he reached over and opened my door latch with his teeth, I couldn’t resist the temptation to leave the barn. Uh, oh. I felt guilty because I knew I was being naughty.

     I must admit it felt pretty good to be free to go wherever I wanted to, but I wasn’t dumb enough to go near the road. That would be dangerous. I took my time exploring our property until Mom spotted me standing near the barn. I pretended I’d been standing there the whole time, but the hoof prints in the snow told the real story.

   She frowned and asked, “How did you get out Plats?” I didn’t tattle on Trinity, but she figured it out pretty quickly. Since I wasn’t wearing a halter, I knew she couldn’t force me to go back into my stall and I was tempted to ignore her. Then I thought, “That’s silly. Where would I go? Who would feed me? Who would love me?” Cherokee has told us scary stories about owners who didn’t take care of their animals. Frightened that Mom might sell me to someone like that, I walked quietly back into my stall.

    

                                                            

 

 

                          

 
 

Trinity aka The Meenster

 

 Mom named me Trinity because I am her third horse, but most of the time she calls me by my nickname, The Meenster – as in Mini-Monster. She doesn’t think I’m a bad monster; but when I’m bored, I get into trouble. Like the time we had to stay in our stalls for two whole days because it wouldn’t stop raining. Booorrrring! When I discovered that I could reach the latch on Platinum’s door, I unhooked it with my teeth. I knew I was in trouble when he slid his door open and left the barn. Uh, oh. 

I belong to the breed of horses called Morgans. All of us can trace our ancestry back to one very special horse named, Figure, who was born in Vermont in 1789. He was owned by a schoolteacher named, Justin Morgan, which is how we got our name. My great-great-great-great, well, I don’t really know how many “greats”, grandfather was the fastest, strongest and bravest horse around. He excelled at everything he tried to do: pulling a wagon, dragging a tree stump out of a field - even winning races. He loved having a job and always tried to do his best. He had amazing genes, because even though he lived over 200 years ago, all of his descendants resemble him and we’re just as talented. We have strong, thick necks and hold our heads up high. You can tell we’re proud of ourselves.

 Because of our bravery, good health and tough hooves, we were used by the cavalry during the Civil War. In fact, two famous generals rode Morgan horses. Rienzi was owned by Philip Sheridan who was a union general and the Confederate general, “Stonewall” Jackson, owned a Morgan named, Little Sorrel.

 You might think a horse this special must have been really big. Surprise! He wasn’t. Most Morgans are small compared to other horses. (Technically, I’m a pony, but don’t tell anyone. They think I’m a horse.) Remember: you don’t have to be the biggest to be the best! You can be smart, athletic or artistic no matter what size you are and you’ll always be a winner as long as you try your hardest to succeed. 

I’m very handsome - I’m not bragging; I’m just repeating what I hear. I have shiny black fur, with just a hint of dark gold on my sides. My mane is black and so is my tail, which is thick and so long it touches the ground. I have dark brown eyes, like most horses, and long black lashes. A horse with my coloring is called a bay.

A Halloween Horse Show

Lots of horse owners compete in shows to test their riding skills and their horse’s abilities. My brothers are afraid to go to shows or ride in the trailer. Not me. It’s exciting to see new places, new people and new horses. It’s better than staying home and being bored!

One day Mom took me to a Halloween horse show. Just for fun, the riders and their horses were supposed to wear costumes. It’s a little tricky finding a costume that will fit a horse and still allow him to do his job. How could I trot and canter if I was dressed up like a mummy?

Mom decided to make a devil costume for me – probably because she didn’t think I’d make a very believable angel. She attached sparkly red horns to my bridle and clipped a red devil tail on top of my own. She put gold glitter on my hooves and painted flames on my saddle pad. At least my costume didn’t make me look dumb. One horse was forced to wear a silly hat and a giant polka dot bow tie around his neck. I could tell he was embarrassed. I didn’t make fun of him, because I knew he already felt bad enough.

You might be wondering what a “bridle” is. It’s made of leather and fits around my head and face and holds the “bit” in my mouth. A “bit” is made of metal or hard rubber. It doesn’t hurt. In fact, I kind of like to chew on it. When my rider moves the reins, it moves the bit, which tells me what she wants me to do: like stop or turn or tuck my chin and arch my neck, which makes me look pretty fancy.

I’ve been to other shows too. I didn’t have to wear a costume, but I did get the full beauty treatment. Many English show horses have very short manes which are braided and then twisted into tiny knots. Since I’m a Morgan, I’m allowed to keep my long luxurious locks, but I still have to look neat. Mom braids the end of my mane into a French braid. I must admit I look pretty snappy. Even Mom has to dress up in breeches, boots, a show shirt and a jacket. I thought she looked nice until she put on a hairnet! I didn’t want to tell her that it wasn’t her best look, because I love her and didn’t want her to feel bad. Luckily after she put her helmet on, nobody could see it. 

Cherokee was the next horse to move into the NEIGH-borhood. He’ll tell you a story about himself soon. I think you’ll like him. He’s old and very tired, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his little shaggy old body.

 
 

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