Pet Profile - By Author and Horsewoman, Tawny O’Hara
It is the last end of winter here in the high desert of New Mexico. The air is crisp but not cold but I put my jacket on anyway. I knew as the day goes on it’s going to end up in the back seat and soon there will be that usual clean out of all the hoodies and jackets and coats from the back seat of my truck.
Driving up my road, I surveyed my land and thought about when I will get the money to fix the fencing and replace the barbed wire with smooth wire. However, I love those old gnarled and grey cedar posts put in there years ago by someone long dead and gone, but I hate the barb wire that is now limp and swaying between them.
I turned onto the paved road and headed towards town. Usually I honk when I get to my friend Roy’s homestead and if he’s out he waves back, but that day was different. He had a new resident in his front pasture and I had to slow down to stare at this animal. It’s a Pinto horse. I’ve never been that drawn to Pintos; and I don’t know why this one seemed to grab at me.
Instead of just honking and driving on, I pulled up to his gate and honked a couple of times. Roy came up from the back of the house waving his usual big cowboy hand at me. Getting out of the truck, I leaned on the fence not wanting to go in uninvited because of the three blue heelers ready to take on any intruders. They don’t seem to care if they’ve seen you a million times; until you are invited in by Roy or his wife, Vickie, you just don’t go in.
“What’s that in your pasture there?” I pointed towards the Pinto horse.
Roy ambled up to the gate opening it as he speaks. “Well I’m boarding him for a while for a crazy woman. Come on in and take a look at him.”
The dogs retreat but stay ready just in case. Roy opened the gate and left me to close it after I came in, and went over to the gate to the pasture expecting me to follow him.
“What do you mean by crazy?” I asked. That’s the thing I like most about Roy. He tells it like it is and I guess we get along because I do too.
“Oh I guess she ain’t too bad for an easterner. She rescued this horse from some Mexican cowboys. He was sold at auction as a wild mustang from the Apache reservation. They couldn’t break him but they did a lot of beating to get him down and he never went down I guess. But she’s really afraid of him. She comes and throws apples at him and when he comes up to get corn she gets back.”
He opens the lid of the metal trash can and took out a handful of cracked corn. “He loves this stuff and that’s the only way I can get him to come over here, besides feeding time. I throw out the hay here,” He indicated a small feeding trough, “and that horse waits until I leave before he comes over to eat. He don’t trust no one.”
Roy lets out a whistle to get the Pinto’s attention and holds out his hand with the corn. I was watching the horse and saw he was also watching us and has been watching us all along. I think there really wasn’t a reason to try and get his attention as he was already pretty aware of what was going on, just pretending to not notice us.
Finally the Pinto put his head up and stood there staring at us for a moment then moved with small slow steps towards us. Roy is encouraging him calling his name, which is Domino, and wiggling his hand back and forth.
“Why is his name Domino?” I ask thinking that a strange name for a horse.
“Look on his left side there’s a picture of a domino on it, you know, the kind you play dominos with.” Roy said indicating towards his right with the corn filled hand.
As Domino gets closer he gets bigger. I don’t believe I have ever seen a painted horse that big in my life. His legs are thick and he looks strong. Good looking horse except for the massive matting in his mane and tail. Although I don’t know that much about horses, this horse looks strong and healthy.
“Geez, Roy, that horse needs a good grooming!” I comment as the horse stopped far enough away so no one can grab him around the neck and stretched to eat the corn, then backed up. He didn’t leave and I knew it’s because there could possibly be more corn.
“Yeah,” Roy says and reaches in for another handful of corn and offered it to Domino. “No one can get close enough to him to do that. I’ve been around horses all my life but I’m too old and brittle to tangle with him. Why don’t you try and feed him?” Domino stretched his neck out again to get the corn in Roy’s hand.
I reach in and got a handful and stuck my arm out as far as I could and offer the corn to Domino. Then I saw something different from when he was taking the corn from Roy. He was staring at me and not in a mean way. He was just looking hard at me. I looked him in the eyes, something you aren’t supposed to do with any animal, but it was more like contact and not like dominance. We stood there in silence just looking at each other, sharing thoughts. I have never seen nor felt such an inner connection like that to a horse before.
There was thought and feeling in that moment, between us that I can’t describe. I just know I felt an extreme sadness and loss. Then he stepped a step forward and took the corn from my hand. He gave me a final look and then turned and went back to the other end of the pasture.
“Now that’s a spark if I ever saw one.” Roy said breaking the silence. “That horse likes you.”
“Now how can you say that?”
“Well there’s something there I’ve only seen a few times in my life and that was a strong connection you two just had. That horse is meant for you.”
“Nah,” shaking myself back to reality. “There ain’t no way I can afford a horse and besides I don’t have a corral or money to build one.”
“Ah, Tawny, you know if you set your mind to it you could find the money. I know you pretty well,” Roy said as he placed the lid back on the can and we walk back to the entrance gate. We small talked a bit and I got back into the truck and drove on.
Something inside of me bothered me really bad. The horse had reached in and taken control of my soul for just a moment, and I had taken control of his, and for some reason I felt that more than a little disconcerting. Over the years I have rescued many dogs that didn’t read me as well as that. Sure I had loved those dogs, and I loved the ones I have now, and we connected – but somehow this was different, although I couldn’t explain it. I puzzled, I pondered, I wondered and daydreamed about Domino all the way into town.
The next day I had to go to the doctor in town and while driving home, I slowed down going by Roy’s homestead, but this time I didn’t honk. I saw Domino in the small pasture and, as God is my witness, he looked my way. He seemed to recognize my truck.
Several days passed before I had to go to town again. This time I took a few carrots to give to Domino. I pulled up to Roy’s gate and got out of the truck, but he wasn’t at home. I felt a little disappointed. As I was getting ready to get back into the truck, I heard a small snort coming from behind me. I looked around and there was Domino, standing at the corner of the fence, looking at me.
“Hey there, Domino! How you doing? You want a carrot?” I walked slowly over to the fence, and he thought better of it and stepped back. And yet he didn’t leave, so I stretched my arm across the fence. He stretched his neck up to the carrot and took a small bite. He stood there watching me as he savored the piece of carrot. Then he took another bite, leaving me with just a small stub of carrot.
“You are going to have to get closer to get the rest,” I told him, “because I’m not holding this little stub while you take a finger with the next bite.” Domino stopped chewing and looked at me, like he was trying to figure out how to get the carrot without moving closer; or perhaps he was wondering just how safe I was. He walked slowly up to me and, using only his lips, gently picked the rest of the carrot out of my palm. Then he stepped back just as quickly. I think he appreciated the fact that I hadn’t made a move to pet him.
I turned and got into the truck, while he stood there chewing on that last bit of carrot. He watched me closely as I drove away towards town. I don’t know why, but I looked in my side mirror and saw him leaning his head over the fence, to better watch me leave. I couldn’t help myself. Every day I made an excuse to go to town, just so I could see that horse. Or perhaps I would go visiting someone who just happened to live past Roy’s, making it necessary for me to drive past his homestead so I could stop at the gate.
As it happened I always seemed to have a carrot or two, or sometimes an apple to give to Domino. On one of my random visits, Roy opened the little gate leading into Domino’s ¼ acre corral, and he said with a knowing smile, “Why don’t you go inside to give Domino that apple, Tawny? He ain’t gonna hurt you. He’s your horse.”
I didn’t really believe him, but I went in anyway. There was no fear inside of me, as there perhaps should have been. After all, this was is a big, wild, angry horse. He could have decided to take out and run me over or rare up and stomp me to death without giving me a minute’s warning.
Domino was watching from the other end, and suddenly he started walking towards me with his head slightly down, and yet he was watching my every move. He stopped about ten feet in front of me, and I stopped too. It was a showdown! More like a quick draw of minds. Who was going to draw first? He gave a snort and then pawed the ground. I snorted back and then I, too, pawed the ground with my foot. Domino quickly raised his head, his ears standing up straight and pointing towards me like satellite dishes. He took a step back. I turned around and held the apple in front of me so he couldn’t see it.
Finally I heard a shuffling sound. I felt his breath on my hair as he smelled me. Turning around very slowly, I glanced at his face and he took another step back. He was so close to me that I could have reached out and touched him, but I didn’t. I offered him the apple and he took it in small bites, chewing each one before coming back for more. He watched me intently as he took each bite of the apple, our eyes locked together. Neither one submitted, and yet neither one dominated. I think he understood that it was a connecting eye-lock, not a battle. I think, from that moment on, I was almost certainly in love with that horse. My heart was beating fast out of love, not fear, not mere excitement – it was that steady thump, thump, thump you feel when you’re in love. I knew this horse, and he knew me. I turned on my heels and went back to the gate, and Roy was standing there smiling.
“Yip, that’s your horse,” he said as we walked. Then his voice turned into a serious tone. “You know, I bet that woman would sell him for the right price.”
“Yeah, bet she would,” I said with a laugh. “Do you think she’d take twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents, cause that’s about all I have right now?”
Roy laughed and followed me to the gate as I got back into the truck. This time I simply turned the truck around and went back home, as I felt I didn’t need any false reason to go on. The reasons for my visits had clearly been found out, and I was confused. How could a woman my age take care of a horse like that? I had no money, I had no place to put a horse, the pasture wasn’t fenced; I already had a goat I had bought from Roy when it was only a three-week-old kid, plus my two rescued Great Danes and a coy dog. No, I just couldn’t afford to keep a horse.
A sudden feeling of anger came over me as I turned onto the dirt road leading to my property. “Why can’t I have this?” I asked. “I never ask anything of you, God! Well, I seldom ask anything from you. And when I do, it’s for food or money to pay bills. But this is totally different. You said you would give me all the desires of my heart. Maybe … maybe I just don’t deserve this horse. OK, Maybe I can’t afford this horse. I’m just being stupid and self-centered again. Besides, he ain’t even broke – and I sure as hell can’t break him. I mean, why have a horse you can’t even ride? This is just stupid.”
A small tear welled up in my eye, but it was quickly suppressed. I knew the total impossibility of this foolhardy desire. The good times I had spent with horses were several lifetimes ago and I was now sixty years old. That was way too old for me to try and break a big horse like that. Besides, I didn’t know that much about horses. I know dogs, so I will just stick with what I know. By the time I pulled into the house I had pretty much talked myself out of the idea of inviting Domino into my life, into my world. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, my dreams wouldn’t let up on him. I awoke the following morning feeling free and yet really sad. I had dreamt that I was riding Domino across the desert – we were fighting bad guys together! There he was, rescuing me from one disaster after another! I was a young girl again with my long auburn hair flying back in symmetry with his mane as we flew in a steady gait across sand and cactus and over mountains. It was just Domino and me escaping, always escaping. I simply couldn’t stand not seeing that horse.
I finally gave in and going to the refrigerator, I fetched one carrot, got into the truck and drove over to Roy’s without trying to think of excuses. As I pulled up to the gate I couldn’t see Domino, so I honked a couple of times before getting out. The racket of barking dogs announced my arrival, and Roy’s wife came out onto the porch. “Hey, how are you doing?” I yelled as she wove her way through the dogs, yelling at them to shut up.
“Oh, we’re fine,” she said as she leaned on the gate. “I don’t know where Roy has gone, but he should be back soon.” Her voice sounded disgusted. I didn’t know whether she was disgusted at Roy, or at me.
“Well,” I said in a rather shaky tone, “I just came to give Domino a carrot. Where is he?” I looked towards the small pasture. Roy’s wife turned around and followed my gaze. Then she leaned back on the gate gently pushing a dog aside with her foot.
“That woman brought the sheriff and said Roy was abusing the horse and she wanted her horse back. So she took it owing Roy around $500 in hay bills.”
Vickie was noticeably upset and frustrated, apparently with life in general at this point. “Roy knew she was a kook and he was the last person who would take that horse. But he’s got a soft heart for horses and I guess he did it more for the horse.” Vickie stops to yell at the dogs to quit barking. “She does that with every place she boards him. When the payment comes due she goes and gets the sheriff to help her.”
My horse was gone. I felt like my heart had been pulled out of my chest and lying helpless on the ground barely beating. But I tried to suck it up and maintain.
“Do you know where she lives?” I ask not knowing what I can do as I have no money to buy him and no place to put him.
“Nope,” she as she at the soft sugar sand soil at her feet kicking up a small cloud of dust.
“Why is the sheriff’s office doing that? Don’t they recognize the horse by now and know he continues to look the same every time they help her pull him out of a place?” I was puzzled at this scenario as it didn’t seem to make sense.
“Tawny!” Vickie looks at me with surprise and a smile on her face. “Don’t you know the sheriff’s department round here by now? She must have a sheriff friend she calls every time, to help her. I doubt that she calls the dispatch.” I have to concur that Vickie is right and she was gone, gone, gone with my horse.
I bade my friend goodbye and got back in my truck with my carrot, I sat in the truck for a moment and watched Vickie yell and kick her way back to the house. Heading home I didn’t blame God I didn’t even yell at God that day. I couldn’t shed tears I couldn’t speak. I just felt hollow inside. Pulling up to the house I turned the truck off and just sat for a moment. There’s the carrot lying quietly beside me on the passenger seat. We were just sharing a moment, me empty and the carrot probably ecstatic that it wasn’t going to be eaten that day. But it didn’t move just laid there. Looking at the carrot I felt we shared the same feeling… nothingness.
I picked the carrot up and started to go into the house but then stopped and walked to the north side of the house. I could see a corral just here and the shelter, well that would be here, I calculated stepping off the area. I realized I was being just as kooky as that woman in a different way, although, sort of the same. She rescued a horse and had no money or place to take him. But she rescued him, the thought was there. I’m not being that much different. There is something special about that horse and I will never know what it is. I raise my face up towards the sky and then a tear comes to my eye. “I guess, God, it’s pretty evident the promises in the Bible aren’t meant for me.”
I guess my preacher uncle who pulled me up to the podium to preach about bad seeds was right. I remember that day. There to his right were my three girl cousins who were around my age about 6-8 years old. And I was standing on his left and kind of pleased to be chosen to go up to the podium. Then he started preaching about the farmer who sowed his seed on bad ground and some on good ground. The bad seeds reaped no good harvest but the good seed sprouted forth… or something like that and he indicated my girl cousins as the good harvests and me as the bad harvest. Then I saw my Grandpa pull his lanky frame out of the pew and walk angrily up to my uncle right in the middle of his sermon. He grabbed my hand and almost yanked me off the podium. Turning he said, “I love this child more than my own children!” Then we walked down the aisle and out of the building with Grandma struggling to get her heavy set frame up to go with us. She knew Grandpa, when he was angry he was more apt to just get in the car and leave not thinking of who was with him. I remember some of the conversation on the way home as she was angry at what Grandpa had done. She referred to me as a bastard and Grandpa stepped on the gas and yelled, “Be quiet woman.” And she did. That was the first time I heard the word ‘bastard’, but not the last time.
I went into the house with that lonely little carrot and replaced it with its buddies in the refrigerator. The dogs pranced around me wanting to know what I brought them so I gave them each a treat and hugged my babies who are there, first and foremost. The apples were sitting in the fruit bowl arranged nicely so I sliced one up, put it on a plate and sliced some cheese, added some crackers, then poured a large glass of chocolate milk. I walked into the living room and the dogs followed just in case I decided I might want to share.
Panda jumped up on the sofa on one side of me and Oscar on the other. Panda kept barking at Jojo that he wasn’t getting any of this; it’s just for the Danes not coy dogs. We watched a DVD of ‘Hildalgo’, and it made me wish I had lived back then. The dogs finally gave up trying to beg for more than two crackers with cheese each and went to sleep leaving me to watch the rest of the movie alone. I put and arm out to touch each Dane and rested a foot on Jojo. Then I joined them all falling asleep with Jojo at my feet and two Danes at my side.
Being raised in the Oklahoma/Texas Bible belt was not easy for a child of an unlucky birth. But that old man was my rescuer. Must be why I understand thrown away lives. Those lives not considered worth the time. My life was not considered worthy as I was going to hell no matter what because I was a bastard. I remember looking at my body and trying to understand the difference between me and my cousins. There had to be something wrong with me for all my aunts and uncles to hate me so. Later I realized it was that statement Grandfather made from the pulpit that angered them and set them against me. As I turned into a teen and had suffered much abuse, mental, verbal and some physical, at the hands of my aunts and uncles; I was angry. Had I been a horse you would have seen me standing in the corner of the pasture snorting, pawing the ground with my ears back. Domino was and still is, me.
It’s been about a month since I last saw Domino. I still dreamt about him but the pain was going down some. As I drove past Roy’s I saw two donkeys and a big black horse there. I didn’t stop but honked at Roy on his tractor. Turning the corner onto the main road leading to the highway, I once again had a conversation with God. “What did I do so wrong that I must do without while other’s have? I know you could have supplied all that I need for that horse and you could have supplied the way to get him. But you don’t! Why do you hate me? My birthright was not my fault; it was yours for letting me be born! And then you allow me to be in want all the time.” Tears of self-pity began to fill my eyes and I wiped them with my forearm. I can’t stay like this! I have so much that I shouldn’t have. God has blessed me and I should be happy with it and not keep wanting more.
Grabbing the steering wheel I straightened myself up as I saw the intersection coming into view. I have another friend who rescues donkeys, horses, goats, pigs and dogs… she has about 100 plus acres so it’s not a mess like it sounds. I always look that way to see the donkeys. This time was no different but I saw something that made me hit the brakes and turn around. As I pulled into her compound my eyes were glued to the round pen in the middle of the drive. There was a Pinto and it was Domino! He was still angry and uncomfortable in his pen.
While I waited in the truck for Mary I watched him prancing around and snorting at another horse that is leaning his head over the fence snorting back. She came out of the house and was smiling as she met me. Roy had probably talked to her about me and Domino. She tells me the whole story about the crazy lady running out of places to put Domino. When she pulled him out of Roy’s she went down the road to her. The only problem was that this is not a boarding facility, it’s a rescue facility. Animals left here are signed over, relinquishing their ownership.
Mary told me that she figures the woman will be coming back with the sheriff like always but she has her butt covered, so to speak. “I also have to right to refuse a person the right to adopt one of my animals.” She tells me and I am happy he is now safe. He will be taken care of here. I leave feeling better and knowing I can come and visit. However my elation made me forget she does adopt these animals out to other homes. I was once more in good spirits and left a very confused horse to get acclimated to his new surroundings. Little did I know this wasn’t going to last.
Several weeks had passed since I’d driven past Roy’s house, or taken other routes so as not to see the pasture that no longer contained my horse. I was anxious to stop and see Domino and had a nice apple and several carrots by my side. I took the gravel road that doesn’t go by Roy’s because it’s faster. I started to slow down as I approach Mary’s place. The donkeys were lazy in the pasture grazing along with the horses. I began to pull into the compound and notice the round pen was empty. I shut off the engine and sat there once again my heart dropped out of my chest and lay there on the floor of my truck barely beating. Mary came out smiling and waving. I decided not to get out so I leaned out of the window and put on the best smile I can.
“So where is Domino? Out in the pasture?” hopeful I would get an agreeing nod from her.
Mary approached the truck and said, “No I made a trade and he is waiting somewhere else to for his new owner to come and get him.”
Again with the heart dropping! “I traded him for a couple of donkeys and took my gelding back.” All I could think was I will never see him again, never. But this wasn’t about me it’s about Domino.
“So he’s in a good home?” I try to keep the smile but I’m sure it was fading into some sort of cheesy grin.
“Yeah I think he’s going to be in a wonderful home with someone who loves him very much.” Mary says with a big smile. “Yeah he’ll be spoiled where he’s going.” She laughed and we did some quick chit chat and I turned the key and said a quick good bye and leave. My day had gone back to poor me and empty again.
I was suddenly in the center of town, although I didn’t remember driving there. I guess I had spent the journey thinking about that big-legged, fifteen or almost sixteen-hands-high Pinto.
“Why are you being such a twit-brain?” I yelled out loud, forgetting that my window was down. The man in the car driving alongside mine gave me a sour look and pressed his foot down flat on the accelerator to get away from me.
My shopping done, I headed back home to my wonderful dogs and my friendly little goat. They gave me plenty of love, so I would never be lonely. I forgot that I wanted to go down the gravel road, and I instinctively turned towards Roy’s place. As a force of habit I happened to look over, and there in the pasture was Domino with his head peeking over the fence, his eyes staring accusingly at me. I put the brakes on, shoved the transmission into reverse and backed up, nearly taking out their mail box in the process!
Digging through the grocery bags and spilling most of the contents all over the back seat, I grabbed the apple and carrots and jumped out of the truck. I walked slowly over to Domino, and he didn’t pull his head back while taking the carrots and apple. Once again I amazed at how he took small bites of the apple, chewing each one thoroughly before going to get another bite.
“Hey there! Come to get your horse?” Roy was on the other side of the fence, leaning over it and smiling at me.
“I sure wish I could,” I said, “but I don’t have the money to build a corral, or to pay you for him.”
“Look, I’ll tell you what,” Roy said, smiling his big smile. “I’ll give him to you for the price of the feed she rooked me for. And while you’re building your corral, I’ll keep him here and you can supply his feed. Domino is your horse, and he loves you – he has been waiting here for you to come by. See how he is going away now? Well, he ain’t been doing that with me, or anyone else. He has just been waiting ever since he got here watching the road.”
“Let me think on it,” I said, expecting Roy to agree that it was a bad idea.
“You think on it,” he said, “then you come and get your horse. In the meantime I’m going to cut off his mane and tail to relieve him of some of those matts. He’s welcome to stay here for a while.” Roy waved goodbye and went back to taking care of the goats.
I tossed and turned that night, waking up several times in spite of the sleep meds I had taken. I went into the living room in the middle of the night and lit up a cigarette. I just sat there for a spell, trying to work out a way I could get my hands on that horse. I had no idea why I wanted a wild mustang that I would probably never be able to ride.
As I drove into town the next day, a thought struck me out of the blue. Maybe I could apply for a loan? I guessed there was no harm in trying, although I highly doubted that I would be able to get it as I live on a very fixed income and barely make it through the month. I filled out the papers in the loan company’s office, and the lady told me they would contact me in a few days to let me know. Then I went home and counted down the minutes and the seconds. About the only time I stopped waiting was when I was nose to nose with Domino, and he was taking his tiny bites from the little apples and chewing and looking at me like he was talking to me. Sometimes I would stroke his face, but he wasn’t totally sure about me yet. I think he knew he loved me, but he didn’t know why. We shared the same feelings, and we were confused together.
Almost two weeks went by and finally the phone rang – it was the loan company. I was waiting for the inevitable rejection when, to my absolute amazement, the lady said yes! OK! They then took two brutal months to finally give me the money, but at last I got the call to go pick it up at the title company. In the meantime I had been buying hay and taking it over to Roy’s for Domi. When I got my hands on the money I rushed straight out to buy the lumber for the corral. I wanted it to be large enough so that he could run around in it. I worked hard on it, even though sometimes I didn’t want to pull myself out of bed because of the relentless pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia ravaging my body – but in the end I simply had to do it, because my horse needed me to.
He was my horse!
Thank you, God!
After the corral was built and Domino settled in yet still going to the corner and growling at me, I talked to Mary who was happy I agreed to take him. She had told Roy to give me Domino and that was the happy home he was going to. I was the one she knew was going to spoil him rotten with love. She was right.
Tawny O’Hara is the author of Angels Come with Fur, an amazing story of love and living. Recommended reading for everyone!