A Horse Of A Different Flavor
am Slagle and Rick Harvis are, for the most part, exact opposites. Sam is a skinny cowpoke who works just enough to keep himself in beer and cigarettes, and to pay for a room when no bunkhouse is available. Rick is a big, strapping, clean-cut rancher who raises Angus cattle on over 2,000 acres he owns, in addition to running livestock on Forest Service ground in the mountains.
Both men, however, do have one thing in common. They love horses.
Sam works for Rick from time to time, especially during the fall round up when extra hands are needed to gather the animals in the high country and take them to lower ground.
Nobody calls Sam by his given name. Everybody calls him Catnip. Sam hates cats, especially if they come around his porch while he’s sleeping off a binge from the night before. He’s sent more than one stray, yowling tabby to cat heaven after being prematurely awakened from an inebriated torpor.
In spite of not having, as they say, “a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of”, Sam somehow manages to own a horse. He works in places where it’s no problem keeping the animal nearby, and he always makes sure his horse is well-fed, even if it means going hungry himself. Sam’s cayuse is a little, quarter horse mare named Miss Behave.
She’s a perlino, a creamy color, what they call “double buckskin.” It’s the rarest of quarter horse colors. She has pink skin and blue eyes. Sam says she’s “feisty, hard-headed, and unpredictable, just like a woman, which is why I’m still single.” People who know Sam will tell you that he’s actually single because he’s more unreliable than the Cleveland Indians batting order, perpetually hung over, and too broke to pay attention most of the time. But he takes good care of his horse.
Rick Harvis, on the other hand, has a sizeable remuda consisting of many, different breeds of horses. He owns quarter horses, thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, Arabians, and Shetland Ponies, to name a few. His favorite is a black, thoroughbred stallion officially named My Missile Toes. Rick just calls him Blackie.
Being a proud man, and someone of high standing in local and regional cattlemen’s and horse breeder’s associations, Rick took it personally when Sam Slagle commented on Blackie one day. Rick was unable to overlook the fact that Sam was obviously pie-eyed when he said, “if we ever raced our horses, you’d need ten-power binoculars to see how far ahead of you I was.”
Red in the face, and more than a little angry, Rick challenged Sam to a race right there on the spot. “I’ve seen that spindly, sway-backed hammerhead you call a horse in action, Catnip. It prefers to let other horses go ahead of it. She’s too lazy to take the lead. I’d bet you a thousand dollars that I’d beat you, but you probably don’t even have a thousand pennies.”
After additional slanderous remarks were made by both parties, it was agreed that there would be a race, and if Rick’s horse won, Sam would work one month for Rick at no pay.
If Sam’s horse won, Rick would pay Sam $1,000, which was a crack-brained fantasy of Sam’s that Rick knew would not happen. Blackie was probably the fastest horse in the county.
Word spread fast about the less-than-gentlemanly behavior that led to the wager, and by the time the day of the race arrived, more than 30 pickups were parked in a big meadow on Rick’s ranch property. Odds had been established, and numerous side bets were being made.
Rick pointed to a tall, lone pine tree standing approximately 500 yards away, near the dirt road that runs adjacent to the meadow. “We’ll race from here to there. Get somebody down there to declare me the winner.”
By the time both riders were mounted and ready at the starting point, hooting and hollering onlookers were scattered the length of the road between the start and the finish line. Somebody yelled, “One, two, three, go!”
Both riders kicked their heels, urging their mounts forward and the race was on, the horses’ hooves sending dirt and rocks flying behind them as they galloped down the road.
One hundred yards ahead, none of the onlookers noticed a man pull something from his pocket, jiggling it animatedly. Miss Behave not only saw it, she smelled it, and she instantly found another gear, beginning to put distance between herself and the big thoroughbred. As the race ended, her lead was almost nine lengths.
Shortly, the man who’d been standing on the road arrived at the finish line, and as people came running to congratulate Sam and console Rick, the man discreetly gave Miss Behave her reward.
Rick Harvis appeared to be in a mild state of shock after the race. He was, suprisingly, a gracious loser. Pulling out his wallet, he handed Sam 10 crisp 100 dollar bills.
Sam’s little secret remains safe to this day. He made sure the man who jiggled the unknown object kept his mouth shut by paying him $100 from his winnings.
Sam’s secret is linked to a little-known hobby. Oddly, he likes to read. Remembering a book he read several years ago named “The Reivers” by William Faulkner, he recalled that Ned got his horse hooked on sardines and bribed his steed with the smelly, little fish whenever he raced in order to get him to run fast. That was the unknown object that Sam’s accomplice jiggled. Miss Behave, being feisty and unpredictable, had taken an instant liking to sardines, and Sam used the trick to win his race with Rick Harvis.
...If there’s a moral to this story, it’s probably that you need to be careful when making a bet because you never know when you might be dealing with a horse of a different flavor.
Don E. Webster is, at heart, a writer. In his heart of hearts, he’s an outdoor writer. Aside from working several years for the California Department of Fish and Game as a young man, he worked primarily in automotive sales and management prior to retiring. He would have written much more, except that he’s spent entirely too much time hunting and fishing.
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