Dad got a new horse for training yesterday. He's a beauty, a bright bay with a blaze that looks
sorta like a seven. His name is Some Kinda Smarty and he belongs to Mr. Krupper, a guy from Elko, Nevada.
Years ago, Mr. Krupper saw Dad and his old horse Banjo win a reining competition at the Reno Rodeo. Right then and there, he told Dad, he became an admirer of Dad's training and when he came up with a colt he had trouble handling, he just naturally thought of Dad.
"I can't get my mind around why he'd ask me," Dad said after he and Mr. Krupper shook on their agreement that Dad would teach Smarty the sliding stops and perfect circles he needed to be a prize reining horse
"Because you're good, Dad," I told him, but I have to admit I was sort of wondering, too, because the trailer Smarty had backed out of looked more luxurious than my bedroom. So, you know, Mr. Krupper could probably afford a better known trainer than Wyatt Forster of Riverbend Ranch.
It only took a few minutes before we realized Smarty was a little different from other horses.
Neighing after the trailer that had brought him to a strange place was normal. So was neighing
at the saddle horses in their pasture. But then, after he'd trotted seven or eight laps
around the barn pen, Smarty eased up to the fence and, when I offered him my hand to sniff, he licked it.
"What'cha got on your hands?" Dad asked.
"Nothing," I told him, knowing I'd washed my hands after mixing Blaze an unaccustomed morning treat -- a handful of dry dog food mixed with bacon scraps.
"Step away," Dad said, "Don't you be making a pet of him."
I did as Dad asked, though I didn't really see any harm in a licky horse.
Next, Smarty inspected the corral. Head lowered, nose scanning back and forth, his sleek neck
glinted like polished redwood.
"What's he lookin' for?" Dad crossed his arms and frowned.
Smarty followed his nose to the base of a fence post, then raised his right front leg and pretended to paw.
I say pretended, because his hoof didn't touch the ground. He was doing sort of an air paw.
I've seen lots of horses paw. I mean, wild horses use their hooves as tools, digging for fresh water, clearing away snow or opening up a waterhole that's frozen in from the edges.
Strawberry paws when I cross the ranch yard with a bucket, letting me know she's pretty sure its tasty contents are meant for her.
Most of Slocum's horses pawed -- at least before Ryan came home -- because they craved exercise.
"He looks like he gets worked," I said, tilting my head toward Dad without taking my eyes off the young Quarter Horse.
"He does," Dad agreed, squinting at Smarty's muscles, and it was just about then that Smarty reared back on his rear hooves and then rocked forward and hit the ground with both front hooves. And started digging.
First he used both hooves to dig. Then, his right one. Next, his left one.
"What in the world?" Dad muttered.
"Blaze found a ground squirrel burrow over there a few days ago," I suggested.
"Never had a horse go after ground squirrels," Dad said, but he didn't tell me I was wrong. "Let's give him something else to think about, all the same. I don't want him to bang himself up when he just got here."
Just then, Blaze came rocketing across the ranch yard, headed for that fence post as if Smarty had trespassed on his private property.
Blaze was a black and white flurry of fur as he came at the young horse, but Smarty didn't shy.
Instead, he -- it's weird to even write it -- wagged his tail.
Smarty whisked his coarse black tail from side to side. Then, he bounced his front hooves toward Blaze, teasing him.
Blaze just barked at Smarty and I have to admit the muscled red colt seemed to shrink.
Poor baby, I thought. I didn't say it, because I knew Dad would sigh at such silliness, but I could tell that Blaze had hurt Smarty's feelings by treating him like a horse.
Dad was thinking the same thing, though, because he slid his hand into his back pocket and pulled out Mr. Krupper's business card.
He held it so that I could read it.
"Prize winning Quarter Horses and Golden Retrievers," I said, reading the fancy lettering beneath Mr. Krupper's name.
"Well, I'll be," Dad chuckled, "No wonder they sent him away to school. That silly colt thinks he's a dog."