Shared Stories: A Horse of Course

Kacie Cooper grew up in Norwalk where zoning regulations permitted horses. Interwoven among the humor, Kacie sheds light on some of the angst common to many adolescents, as well as her own personal challenges. The story is also a tribute to her parents. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Kacie (Kathy) Cooper

“Go right to the horse and ask the horse/He’ll give you the answer that you endorse/He’s always on a steady course/Talk to Mr. Ed…”

When I was a young teenager there was a show on TV called “Mister Ed.”  It was about a man who talked to his beautiful Palomino horse, and his Palomino horse would talk to him.  I loved that show.  What I wouldn’t give to talk with a horse.  Who knew that my young life would turn out to resemble this sitcom?

I met my first best friend, Mary, when I was only seven years old.  But she had many other friends and I was often alone.  When I was twelve my father brought home a little Shetland pony and life got a bit easier.

She was auburn colored and we named her Cindy.  She was perfect.  I think I felt safe around her because she was shorter than me.  I learned to clean her hooves and her cage, and feed her in the mornings before going to junior high school.

She and I had a great relationship.  She never asked too much from me, and perhaps what I gave her was all I could give at that young age.

The day before my 13th birthday I got silly and brave and decided to try talking to Cindy.  I wanted to tell her my deepest thoughts.  It worked for “Wilbur”, didn’t it?

Cindy was expecting a little colt any day and I was ecstatic just waiting for the arrival.  “Cindy! Please! Please, Cindy, if you have a little male pony, we could name him Mister Ed. That would be appropriate since it’s also my dad’s name.  Plus, it’s also the name of a famous TV star horse.  Can you do that for me, Cindy?”

I stared at Cindy, and turned away from her, thinking she’d be more up for talking if I didn’t put her on the spot.  Moments later as I entered my house from the backdoor I heard a snort from Cindy.  I just knew she had heard me.

The next morning I woke up before dawn to feed Cindy. I was so excited; it was my 13th birthday!  

“Now Cindy, I have this juicy, red apple for you.  Happy birthday to me.”  As I reached for the apple in my pocket I told her, “Did you say something Cindy?”   

Then I froze. The apple rolled out of my hand onto the ground. I never actually planted my eyes on her pony, but I knew that she had given birth that morning, my birthday.  

Cincy had done her best for me, but the pony was motionless.  No one had to tell me anything.  I knew he was dead.  I was a teenager now and had to grow up.  I also knew I would never be able to talk to this beautiful, male, Palomino pony.  Under my breath I whimpered, “Goodbye Mister Ed.”  Then I ran into the house to tell my dad.

A few months later I recovered and Dad had traded Cindy for a much bigger, older horse named “Lady.”  I was very uncomfortable with Dad’s new choice.  But perhaps Dad thought there was something I could learn from this old battle axe.  He was always telling me to “talk” to Lady.  I wondered if he had overheard me talking to Cindy.  Taking care of this giant of a mare would be hard, but I’d give it my best shot.

Lady was also auburn colored, but very tall.  At the time I was only five foot one.  I didn’t mind cleaning her cage, but I was very threatened by the challenge of riding her.  My left leg was shorter and smaller due to the polio I contracted at age three.  I was afraid that Lady would crush that little foot because I just knew that Lady did not want to be ridden.

Dad had shown me how to saddle her and put the reins on.  After a couple of times riding her he told me, “Now take her to that open field across from your friend Mary and ride her over there.”

“By myself?” I enquired.  But that was all I said.  I never asked Dad too many questions.  He was always trying to teach me something.

I never told anybody how afraid I was of Lady.  I just felt I was a wimp because of the polio.  Now I wanted more than anything to get tough.  But I would have to somehow talk to Lady in her own language.

A few weeks later I felt more confident.  I walked to the open field across from Mary’s house and rode Lady bareback.  I pulled the reins back.  She acted as though she was going to bite the back of my hand.

“Oh no you don’t!  I’m the boss here.  You will not bite the hand that feeds you, Lady!”  She immediately stopped snapping at me.  But she was trying to tell me she wanted me off when she began lifting her hind legs and kicking them out from behind her.  I decided to share this extra bonus with my best friend Mary.

Mary rushed over to us and quickly climbed up on Lady.  Instantly Lady took off like wildfire.  You would have thought she was in one of those rodeos that my dad had taken the family to.
As soon as the bronco act was over Mary jumped off and angrily ran to her front door.  I sensed that something was wrong.

“What do you think, Mary? Wasn’t that fun?” I asked her as she opened her door and slammed it behind her.

“Kathy, your horse is crazy! And so are you! She’s a bucking bronco!”

“Yeah, I know.  Yeah…wasn’t it fun?”  Mary never replied.’

The day Lady died I watched a big tow truck pull up on the empty lot next to our house.  My mother yelled for me to run back into the house.  I did, but watched from the backdoor window as they hooked Lady up to a big crane and carried her body away.  

The whole time my mom was crying like a baby. I don’t even remember her ever riding Lady.  Years later I realized that she was mourning my loss.  She knew what that horse had done for me during those adolescent years. I really missed Lady, but I got even closer to my mom after that.  We talked more to each other. My mother was the real Lady.