All For a Drink of Water
As I entered the stall, the Percheron stallion's nostrils flared and he danced to the side, his feet slamming into the floor. Moving closer to his side, I nervously coiled the leather strap and chain in my hand, trying to build the courage to approach his head and enter into range of his pawing hooves. At 2400 pounds, glistening black, with a long unkempt mane, he was the perfect model of his breed. Nearly wild and unbroken, his only purpose in life was to service the large herd of mares.
When my grandpa Jake asked me to water his herd sire, Chief, when he was gone to the store, I said I would. All twelve year old boys long to be accepted into the world of men, but as I moved ever closer to his head, I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew. With shaking hands and weak legs, I grabbed the side of his halter and slid the end of the stud chain through the side ring. Sensing my fear, he jerked away, the chain and strap hanging from his halter as he moved to the other side of the stall. Moving quickly to his head, I pulled the chain under his chin and snapped it to the opposite side ring. This was just the way my granddad did it, or so I thought. When leading a draft horse stallion, the chain should have passed through the mouth, allowing the same measure of control you would get from a bridle.
Thirsty and eager for water, I had to run hard to stay ahead of him as he trotted quickly through the stall door and out onto the barn floor. As we passed through the outside door and rounded the corner of the barn, I had to lean back on the strap and dig in my heels to pull his head around and keep him from running away on me. Gathering myself, I ran for the water trough, the stallion trotting beside, eager to quench his thirst. As he buried his nose in the water, some of my fear began to melt as I watched the rhythmic pulsing of his throat as he gulped the water. Just when I thought things were coming under control, he jerked his head out of the water, sucked in a great breath of air and snorted sharply, spewing the air with a great mist of water. Following the direction of his gaze, I saw what had got his attention, the mares had left the pasture and were walking, single file, into the barn yard. Moving closer, they passed upwind and he caught their scent.
With a herd of fourteen mares, the chances were that one of them would be in season. Chief dispelled any doubts I might have had. Somewhere in that large herd, was the scent of love, or I should say, a scent that Chief dearly loved. With a high squeal from the back of his throat, he leapt to the side and started running back along side of the barn.
If there is one thing I was born with, it is the ability to hang on, I just don't know how to let go. So as he ran off along side the barn, I was dragged through the grass, hanging on for dear life. Perhaps he lost their scent, or maybe I was just too much weight hanging from his head, but before he reached the other side of the barn, he pulled sharply to a stop. Before he had another idea, I jumped to my feed and ran him away from the barn, towards the large Box Alder trees that grew alongside the house.
As fast as I could, I wrapped the strap around the tree, snubbing him close. The leather strap was thick and tough, but it was no match for a 2400 stallion with the scent of love in the air. It parted with a snap and off he went, a runaway freight train, headed for the barn yard. Thinking that he would pull up short before the heavy wooden and barbed wire fence, I sat there stunned as he hit the fence at a full gallop. Boards turned into toothpicks and wire into broken guitar strings as he hit the fence. Just when he was almost through, the short length of strap and chain caught in the fence, pulling him sharply around and dropping him to his side.
As he laid there stunned, I heard the sound of my granddad's car pulling into the gravel driveway. Gone were my hopes of getting Chief into his stall and the fence repaired before anyone got home.
As Jake was calmly leading the horse back to his stall, he asked me, "Why the hell did you take him out of his stall"? "He needed a drink of water", I replied.
"I meant bring a bucket full of water". he said.
Bob Skelding, Muir, Michigan, USA - 1971. I was twelve years old and not too bright, but I never let go.
Post Script: I currently have three Percheron Mares, but no stallion. Jake is 95 years old and still keeps a stallion and a large herd of mares. He says he's slowing down, but then again, I've heard that story before.
Copyright, Bob Skelding - 2008