Friday, March 04, 2016

"If there is anything I admire more than a devoted friend, it's a dedicated enemy."

That line is from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Big Country. It's one of my favorites because it's one of my mom's favorites. She would play the soundtrack on the turntable while cleaning the house when I was a kid. The score is wonderful, with its soaring themes and dynamic tension. Like I said, it's a great movie.

The line is delivered by one of the two main antagonists in the movie, Maj. Henry Terrill. His old nemesis Rufus Hannassey, has just crashed his daughter's formal engagement party to protest a raid on his home by Terrill's men earlier that day. His speech is about twenty year's worth of built up animosity towards Terrill, all in front of the Major's invited guests. As he finishes, he throws his shotgun down at Terrill's feet. He walks out of the formal party daring Terrill to shoot him in the back.

Terrill is taken aback, and a bit embarrassed, but apologizes for Hannassey's behavior and delivers that classic line."If there is anything I admire more than a devoted friend, it's a dedicated enemy."

Now, I am not one to hold a grudge for the most part. I can't think of a single person who I am holding any ill feelings toward.

Now, animals? Well, that's a different story.

There are a few animals who I have hardened my heart towards, to steal a biblical metaphor.

The mule who ran away with me at full speed for two very interesting, if not terrifying, minutes would be on the list.

I'm not sure why I even threw a leg over that beast, but I must have had a reason.

I could not find a headstall that would fit that suitcase of a head he had, so I rigged up a draft horse bridle for him and that was too big. He just put his head straight up so I couldn't get any leverage on him and decided to launch himself down between the pastures at the ranch. The barbed wire fences on either side of us seemed to blur by as he ran with the reckless abandon of a escaped maximum security convict. At the end of the road we made a very nifty sliding stop and turn back, worthy of finished reining horse, and we ran the gauntlet once again.

As we were coming back to the barn area, where all the people, cars and kids were, I decided to take one for the team and muscle that not-so-guided missile into the side of the plywood covered round pen. Again, with much more grace than I would have thought possible, he came to a sliding stop as he smacked his nose against the round pen wall. I stepped off and led him back to the hitching rail. He followed behind me like milk pen calf.

My wife took that mule to the auction before I could have my rematch. I will never know what great catastrophe would have befallen me if I were to have climbed aboard that long eared rocket again, but I'm sure it would have made for a great story; or my death.

Then, there was Sharky.

Sharky was my real nemesis. That horse had it in for me. Luckily he was not my horse, or one of us would have killed the other in short order. He was our friend Kristen, or KK's horse. KK was a teenager at the time and Sharky was a big 16+ hand appendix quarter horse. He was a two year old, the same age as my new horse Dash, who was similarly built and only slightly less crazy. Dash was a dark bay and Shark was a dappled gray at the time. Big, dumb teenagers is what they were. Doing big, dumb teenage stuff.

Shark claim to fame was as an escape artist. He would chew and play with every latch, snap, lock, and knob within his reach. He could get out of anything. If he had opposable thumbs, he may have taken over and become the dictator of a small Central American country. He was diabolical.

Much like many psychopaths, Sharky could lull you into a false sense of security with his playfulness and seemingly kind disposition. This was all a ruse. He was just waiting for the right time to strike. He wanted no witnesses or physical evidence. He just wanted them to find you dead in a field with him in the next pasture happily eating grass, looking innocent. He almost got away with it too.

One night, I heard the unmistakable sound of horse hooves on the pavement out in front of the house. It must have been about 3AM. I put on my pants and slippers and headed outside to find Sharkey. He was in the barn with his head stuck in a garbage can full of oats. I muddled under breath something about finding him a nice home in France where they eat ill-behaved horses, and took off my belt to use as a lead rope. I wrapped it around his neck and started to lead him back to his stall. As we turned the corner, he bolted straight ahead and fired both back feet at me as he sped off into the night. I could feel the air from those hooves as they skimmed past my head.

Once I was able to stand up without my limbs shaking uncontrollably, I found a halter and lead rope and headed out to find Sharky. He was running all over the park, having a grand time. When I was close enough to swing that rope around his neck, he would bolt off kicking up his heels, and if horses could laugh, I'm pretty sure he would have.

The only way I was able to catch him was when he ran into a cable stretched around the parking area. It hit him about the knees while he was in a full run. He turned a complete somersault and landed on his belly. I thought to myself, I hope you broke all four legs you blankety blank, blankety blanking blank. (I am not proud of this behavior, I am just being honest)

So when Shark made it to his feet with just a minor case of road rash, he must have thought it was time to quit all his shenanigans. I walked up, put his halter on him, walked him back to his stall, put him inside and double locked both doors.

When I came back to the house, my wife rolled over in bed and asked, "Who got out?" I said, "It was Sharky and I'll tell you the whole story in the morning."

Shark mellowed with age. While most people loved the big gray who would eat from your hand, rub his head on you, and enjoyed a good petting, I was not buying his 'reformed' act. I knew in his heart he was still out to get me. I could have been wrong, maybe he had changed, maybe he had turned into a 1,200 pound Labrador retriever. Maybe.

Twenty some-odd years later, my wife sent me a text today saying they had to put Sharky down. He had a bad colic.

I feel bad for Kristen and her mom Sandy. They loved that big lug his whole life and would scoff at my proclamations of his malice towards me.

Goodbye Sharky, my dedicated enemy, I will in fact, miss you.