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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Topsy and the Ten Shilling Notes...... [Part 2]

[continued from Part 1]
I certainly noticed, I can tell you. I filed that right away in the part of my brain that said, ‘Things never to forget when dealing with Topsy. Stay well clear of back legs. Always. Take no chances.’

….because, at least in her frame of mind at that moment, it was clear that Topsy took no prisoners.
   Topsy actually pouted at her misjudgment. Her bottom lip, trembling slightly, stuck out and stayed there. If the kick aimed at the horsebreaker was intended to be her parting shot for the indignities he’d put her through over the weeks she'd endured the breaking-in process, she’d missed her chance, but not by much. Never in the years I owned her did I dare walk behind her, even though we did come to an understanding about manners eventually, with some compromise on both sides.
   Dad decided right then that she was a bit flighty, and that he better ride her back to our place rather than put me on her. The original plan was that I would ride this smart but docile little filly home bareback, and he’d ride Juno. Given that 'docile' didn't seem quite the right adjective from what we had all just witnessed, I was happy with the switch, even though Juno was a massive horse for me to handle, and had a hard mouth. She liked getting her own way, which was far easier for her to do with me than with Dad – but with Dad nearby, Juno wouldn’t try to pull any stunts on me. 
   ‘I’ll pick up the saddle when we come into town,’ Phil Long said to Dad. ‘Probably better than trying to ride her bareback right now.’ 
   He was pretty inscrutable with his feral moustache and flowing beard, but clearly the lightning kick that sailed past the back of his head had registered with him, a kick that would have shattered any bone in its path, or her hoof would have acted like a biscuit cutter on any soft tissue.
   Dad made no protest. In a saddle, he could handle Topsy no trouble, but funny things happen when you’re riding bareback and your horse throws a tanty, especially a newly broken-in one with what our American friends call ‘attitood’. Trust me. I’d already been thrown from a horse more times than I cared to admit, and well understood the literal meaning of the phrase ‘bit the dust’. Dust is very dusty when you’re speared into it head first, and often stony as well when you’re spitting it out, hoping that the teeth-sized stones aren’t actual teeth. 
   Juno was looking good to me as my preferred mount for the trip back. I climbed up on her [I mean that literally, because with our relative heights I needed several vertical hand and footholds on the saddle to get there]. Dad shortened the stirrup leathers to the last hole to suit my length of leg, and I luxuriated in the comfort of sitting in a real saddle high above the world as if I were on an elephant. Well... let's say, your average Dromedary camel.
   We rode home quietly, side by side. Topsy's legs were very short compared with Juno's, so she broke into a trot now and then and Juno ambled along at a fair to middling walking pace. Dad had a tightish rein on Topsy, slightly in front of me. I dug both my heels into Juno's ribs as hard as I could, so we could ride exactly abreast, even though Topsy’s breast was about half the height of Juno’s. It was then that we discovered a characteristic of Topsy that would be the bane of my existence all my pony club riding days.
   Topsy did not like any horse, whether 17 hands tall or 10, to be a fraction of an inch ahead of her. Not even the width of a cigarette paper. The moment Juno ambled up and stuck her nose in front, Topsy's ears went back, she turned her head and nipped her sharply on the neck. Juno looked surprised at this upstart little filly’s rudeness but tossed her head and once again poked her bib slightly in front. 
   This time Topsy's nostrils flared and her ears flattened so tightly against her head they almost disappeared from view. She squealed in fury and bit Juno on the ear – quite a feat considering their difference in height. Neither Dad nor I saw that coming. Obviously, neither did Juno.
   It was not unlike at the end of Jurassic Park, when the little velociraptor took on the T-Rex. Oh come on, everyone knows that bit. Juno let out a battlecry, not dissimilar to that of the T-Rex come to think of it, and was about to dismember Topsy then and there, but my father was on Topsy’s back, and his roar was even more impressive than Juno’s furious whinny. Juno respected Dad. No, let me tell the truth here, she was as scared of him as everyone else at our place when he had that tone in his roar, and, lucky for Topsy - and Dad - Juno refrained from the attack on his pint-sized mount. ‘Back her off!’ Dad shouted at me as he booted Topsy firmly in the ribs. Juno’s mouth was hard, as I said before, but I reined her in as Topsy took the lead once more by a good half-head, and settled down into a sharp trot.

What might have happened
Illustration by Watto
   You could see the triumph in her eye, though. ‘I have won,’ she almost smirked, looking sideways and upwards at Juno's eye. ‘Don’t mess with me, bitch.’
   It was Juno’s turn to pout. Did you know mares could do that? I never saw it demonstrated so starkly till that morning, twice in an hour with different horses. But in Juno’s eye I could clearly see what she had in store for Topsy. ‘You’ll get yours, sweetheart, the moment these bridles are off us.’ If we could have looked under her back hooves right then, hooves as big as dinner plates - the man-sized ones - I swear we would have seen a very large 'T' on both of them.
   She didn’t get her chance right then, as Dad wisely let Juno go in the paspalum paddock, making Topsy pout once more, even though separating the two had saved her from a right bollocking from Juno, or whatever the equine female equivalent of a bollocking is. I walked beside him as he rode Topsy to the little cowyard paddock and unsaddled her there.
   Dad, Topsy and I were going to have a bit of sorting out to do in the next little while, that much was clear. Important parts of her education had been neglected by Phil Long, or consigned to the too hard basket in the weeks she was with him. But this advice to Topsy was running round in my mind: if you want to have a battle of wills with my Dad in terms of sheer stubbornness, you’d be wise to save yourself a lot of grief and meekly stand second in the queue, starting right now. I might be third in that queue, but I'll guarantee, you won’t be first.
   She had to find that out the hard way. Dad took no prisoners either, specially not an upstart little bay filly used to getting her way from that moment I first saw her, just a week old, mercilessly bullying her mother for milk.
Topsy's Dream
Illustration by Watto

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