“Blah, blah, blah”
It is no secret that I dislike horses. Let me restate: I strongly dislike horses. I am not a horseman, never claimed to be, and have no interest in becoming one. That dislike probably flows from the fact that while growing up, I was stuck behind a horse on a buggy in summer, winter, frost and heat, while all those shiny cars on the road zipped by, the riders sitting in comfort from the elements and getting somewhere fast. And now, living in Lancaster County, I cringe every time I see a buggy sitting at a stop sign, the wild frothing horse all but lunging out into traffic every two seconds, the often helpless woman driver hanging on for dear life. These Lancaster Amish love their spirited horses. And they can have them. Horses are big, smelly, mean, and can eat a person out of house and home. And the stuff they eat, well, it comes out the back end and must be spread around on someone’s field, a mucky and dirty job if there ever was one. And talk about air pollution.
Of my ten siblings, only two know horses. My sister Rhoda could be a horse whisperer, she’s that good. And my brother Titus, when compared to the rest of us, is practically a horse guru, which is not saying much because he’s compared to the rest of us.
Our dearth of horsemanship stems from our father. He was a man of many skills and passions. In my memory, he has been, among other things, a purebred hog farmer, nursery stock grower, bookseller, author, founder and publisher of several successful magazines, farmer, and metal dealer. But he was never a horseman.
All through my childhood, I remember a long string of raggedy and unkempt horses; driving horses and the usual rag-tag group of riff-raff draft horses we worked in the fields. Dad actually fancied himself somewhat knowledgeable about horses, which made the situation all the more fraught with danger when Trader Don, the local horse dealer, stopped by with his latest offerings. After we moved to Bloomfield, Iowa in 1976, Trader Don was our good friend. With his great booming false laugh and “well, David, I’ve got a good horse for you today, har, har,” he was a way-too-frequent presence on our farm. Unfortunately, Dad had a particular weakness for Trader Don’s loud and easy flattery, and often took the bait. The quality of our horses actually deteriorated, a fact any real horseman would have considered impossible.
Trader Don was not easily deterred. I remember one winter day after about six inches of snow had fallen. Our half-mile long farm lane was impassible. Trader Don parked his truck and trailer on the ice-covered gravel road and trudged in leading two sleek, lately-fattened chestnut brown draft horses. Money must have been tight right then, because Dad firmly told him he was not interested. After some discussion, Trader Don conceded with a great show of defeat and began the long trek through the spongy snow back to his truck. It was almost dark, some light snow was spitting, and he had walked about 200 feet, when he stopped and turned.
“David,” he said, his loud voice carrying to the barn where I was watching and silently chortling, “what if I…..?”
Dad, walking back to the house, should have pretended not to hear. Unfortunately, he stopped and turned to respond, and so was lost. The horses stayed, and Trader Don tramped triumphantly back to his truck with a nice check in his pocket. The team, of course, turned out to be broken-backed smooth-mouths and less than worthless.
Somewhere along the line, in the early to mid-1980s, my oldest brother Joseph, whose farm was located halfway out our long lane, acquired a fat lazy white pony from Bishop Henry Hochstetler. A few months later, one fine spring day, the fat lazy white pony had a little white pony colt. Everyone was surprised. No one even knew that the fat lazy little white pony was pregnant. Everyone cooed and commented about the cute little white pony colt.
After some months, the little white pony colt was weaned from his mother. He ran wild with Joseph’s horses for about a year. Around that time, it happened that Joseph owed Dad a small sum of money for something or other. Craftily, behind our backs, he offered Dad the little white pony colt to pay for the small debt. Without consulting us, Dad agreed. And so the little white pony colt arrived unannounced one day. The details are foggy, but I think Joseph sneaked up with the pony and tied him to our hitching rail and “forgot” to take him home. My brother Nathan and I were shocked and outraged and voiced strong protest. We had no use for the pony and did not want him. But the deal was done. No going back. The pony stayed.
We immediately discerned that the little white pony colt was a vile-tempered little fiend. He seethed with pure evil and viciousness. He lurked about the other horses and caused much discord. He was ill-mannered and very bossy. All the other horses, though much larger, were terrified of the pony. We never even named the little pony colt. We just called him the “visht glay pony,” the wicked little pony. Maybe that’s why he had such a bad temperament, because he was insulted at having no name. Nathan made an attempt or two to break him, but was unsuccessful. And so the little pony colt remained wild.
That fall we harvested the corn from the thirty acres of river bottom along the road. Joseph harvested his little ten-acre patch across the lane from our field. As was the normal custom, after the harvest, we installed a temporary single-strand electric fence around the corn field so we could turn out the livestock to forage for fodder before we plowed.
Nathan and I installed the electric fence one bright sunny late October morning. The fence was very simple; a skinny little metal rod stuck into the ground about every thirty feet with a plastic attachment on which we hooked a single strand of plain wire. Animals respected the fence because it was hooked up to a battery-powered electric shocker. Anything that touched the wire received a strong jolt. Across the lane, Joseph was busy puttering about installing his fence as well that morning. Nathan and I finish-ed up just before lunch. We decided to turn out the horses before going in to eat. We kept back one riding horse on which to fetch the other horses after lunch.
The horses, a herd of about twenty, were milling about in the barn yard, agitated to a nervous pitch by the wicked pony. Somehow they sensed that they were about to be freed into a new field. They milled and stomped and snorted. Then Nathan opened the gate.
The horses erupted onto the corn field like a great whirling cyclone. The wicked pony instantly sprinted to the lead. The herd gathered speed as it galloped out across the river bottom. Specks of mud and foam and chunks of dry cornstalks spattered about. We realized immediately that no electric fence in the world would stop the horses.
Out by the road on his side of the lane, Joseph had just finished a satisfying morning of fencing in his own corn field. He’d harvested a good crop. Now the fence was finished. It was a lovely and cool fall day. Joseph trudged contentedly up the lane toward his house, his head bowed and seemingly lost in thought. He may have had nothing more on his mind than wondering what his wife, Iva, had fixed for lunch. He anticipated a hearty meal and a perhaps good nap afterward.
A distant muted but increasing rumble roused him from his reverie. He glanced at the sky. Rain and thunder on such a cool day? The rumble increased to a dull roar. He could feel vibrations in the ground. He lowered his gaze to ground level and halted in mid-stride. A herd of galloping horses was bearing down on him like a freight train, led by a little white engine, the wicked pony. Joseph stood frozen for several horrified seconds. Then, shaking free from the temporary paralysis of shock and surprise, he did what any sane farmer would do. The horses might still be stopped or diverted. He waved his arms and whooped like a maniac.
“Whooooooaaa, Hoooooaaaoo, Whoaaaooooaaa,” he hollered. He ran frantically to head off the horses.
Grudgingly, like stampeding buffalo, the horses veered slightly to the right to avoid the madly waving and sprinting figure before them. The wicked pony scooted along at least a length ahead of the pack, ears flattened back on its evil head. The bigger horses pounded along behind him. Straight toward the fence we had just built. The earth thundered and shook. Joseph ran frantically toward the spot they would hit, waving and shouting at the top of his voice. All in vain. Just before impact, he gave up and stopped and spread his arms helplessly and groaned loudly and dramatically.
Seconds later, the herd crashed into our fence at full speed. Tiny steel fence posts flew about like sticks in the wind or bowed over like tired trees, flattened to the ground. The single-strand wire, strained to a dangerous tautness, whanged like a pistol shot and parted. It snaked back like a live thing into the field. The horses never slowed even a fraction. They crossed the lane and instantly smashed through Joseph’s shiny new fence. More fence posts flew about and bent over; another wire whanged and snapped and snaked. Only the river could stop them; there the wicked pony navigated a wide looping turn. The herd veered back with him to the left, circled around a wildly excited Joseph and rushed out across the road, destroying his fence on that end of the field. They then circled right back into our field, scattering and demolishing even more fence posts. Several long stretches of wire were dispersed on the road and entangled in a hopeless mass over acres and acres of corn stalks in both fields. Joseph stood there in disbelief and shock, the morning’s work in ruins before him. Gone were all thoughts of a warm noon meal and refreshing nap.
Back at the barn, Nathan and I watched the disaster unfolding with disbelief, then doubled over with wave after wave of helpless laughter. Finally Nathan mounted Traveler, our trusty riding horse, and with our dog Clover, raced across the fields around the now-slowing herd of horses. There was a great confusion of shouting (from Joseph and Nathan), fierce barking from the dog, and minutes later the herd rumbled back at full speed toward the buildings and into the barn yard. Loud snorts and steam from the excited horses filled the air. The wicked pony strutted about, proud of his destructive powers.
After lunch, Nathan and I returned to the corn field and disentangled the mess of wire and posts and rebuilt the fence. Joseph labored away at salvaging his fence as well, muttering under his breath and making many derogatory comments about the wicked pony and all our other horses in general. About mid-afternoon, we released the horses into the field again. They were much calmer and did not stampede. They saw the fence and respected its electric charge.
The wicked little white pony was not among them. A short time before, Nathan had quietly disappeared up the hill behind the house into the woods, leading the pony and cradling a .22 rifle on one arm.
He returned alone. I didn’t ask. And he didn’t tell.
NOTICE to all Waglers and Yoders (Bandys and Fish) from Daviess County, Indiana:
The John Yoder [FISH] ancestry books are now ready. Compiled by Ruth E. Schrock. Order from Olen Schrock: 3939 E 1400 North, Elnora IN 47529
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WE WELCOME NEW LIFE………
Last fall, someone recommended that I read the book “Tobias of the Amish,” by Dr. Ervin Stutzman. Dr. Stutzman is Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA. I enjoyed the book and wrote Dr. Stutzman afterward. Last week, Dr. Stutzman called and said he would be in the area over the weekend and would like to meet me. The only time that suited us both was Sunday afternoon. We met at the Park City Mall. We sat and talked for over an hour and Dr. Stutzman discussed the task of writing the book and the sequal, which will be published soon. He also encouraged me in my own writing goals. I very much enjoyed visiting with him and appreciated that he took the time from his busy schedule to meet with me.
With Dr. Ervin Stutzman at the mall
On Saturday evening, Aug. 25th, I hosted the annual “Ira’s Great Garage Cookout.” And no, it was NOT in honor of my birthday, it just happened the day after. We had a jolly time. A widely diverse group of friends from many backgrounds attended.
I grilled sausages and served basic side dishes. A wicked thunderstorm interrupted the festivities for about half an hour, then cleared up. The air cooled dramatically after that.
College football season kicks off this weekend. Slurp, slurp.
A SAFE AND HAPPY LABOR DAY TO ALL.
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