Horses I Have Known: Captain

No, there’s no horse-training for a couple of weeks. However, I am with my own horses in CA, and so my cup runneth over with happiness. I’ve missed the boys.

I’ve talked a lot about Big Man and Romeo, who might as well be twins (similar age even), but I’ve not mentioned Captain too much, and that’s a shame.

See, this is a horse of many names. Many, many names. They range from the relatively dignified ‘Captain’ to the not-so-dignified-but-more-apropos ‘You goddamned bastard LUG!’. Yeah.

We’ve technically owned Cap for…almost 11 years. Which means he’s about 18 I think. Getting up there. We actually bought him literally a few days before Sep. 11, two days before my baptism, etc. We paid a grand total of $950 for one of the best horses I’ve ever had.

The official story is that was imported from New Zealand as a harness-racer. He’s got the neck-brand and lip-tattoo (it’s quite fun showing people the lip tattoo, because Cap does not approve.), he’s got the speed, etc. etc. His papers were apparently lost at some point though.

Cap is one of those horses that, taken as the sum of his parts, is one fantastically comical-looking creatures. He’s so slab-sided you could use his ribs for a table. He’s got a Roman nose on a hammer-head, mule-ears topping it off (and those ears never point the same direction). His neck is thin and what is called a ewe-neck: curved underneath rather than crested like it should be. He has thick knees, huge hooves and a big belly. All together, he should be pretty ugly, and to be honest, he was when we first saw him.

Riding him at first was like trying to pilot a twenty-mule wagon by yourself. I seem to recall having to literally drop one rein, grab the other in both hands, and brace against his sides with my knees to turn him. He has the remarkable talent for walking straight ahead while he nibbles at your feet. I could sit and kick him for five minutes before he’d get annoyed and walk off, swishing his tail, and he stopped about half a mile after he was told to. He could sort of coil up his neck and toss his head with the accuracy and lethality of a mace.

Altogether, I remember wondering, how the hell did I get myself stuck with this?. At the time we got Captain, my riding horse was a neurotic Thoroughbred/Quarterhorse cross with more beauty than brains, so Captain’s solid, quick intelligence made them somewhat of a Beauty and Beast pairing.

I remember the first time we started seeing Captain’s real…personality. My grandmother and I were riding out on the extensive roads around our property when Captain just decided to stop and take a nap. We couldn’t budge him. We kicked his sides, pulled on his bridle, slapped his rump, everything we could think of. Nothing. He just stood there and grunted. Of course, being about two miles from home at this point–and trust me, riding boots are not made for walking cross-country–we rather wanted him to move.

I finally broke a twig to use as a switch. Extreme, as I don’t use crops on my horses, but we couldn’t think of anything else. At this point, my grandmother was sitting on his back, holding my horse.

Captain opened one eye. He stared at the switch for a moment, sniffed it, and snorted. Well, that was a start. I handed it to my grandmother, and Cap came alive. He swung off down the trail, dragging my horse behind him. (For the record, he has long, long legs. And about a ten-foot stride, at a casual walk.)

We’d found his kryptonite. From then on, all we had to do was REACH for a bush if he stopped, and he’d snort, fling his head and huff off.

It’s his only vice, stopping.

He’s learned to steer. He jumps amazingly, although he has bad knees and we don’t jump him. He’s only bucked once, because my uncle was riding and decided to try and make Cap run. Cap doesn’t like men telling him what to do, and so he tossed his heels once, and never again.

Captain protects the property. For a while, we had at least one mountain lion living near us. Since we were out in the country, on property with a lot of oak trees, I worried incessantly about our yearlings and our old pony. So we put Captain, big, aggressive, dog-killing Captain, out in the big pasture with the weaker horses.

One night, the dogs were barking. They barked for a while, and we heard a ruckus in the pasture, but couldn’t see anything. The next morning, when I went out to feed him, Captain came strutting in, high-headed and lathered. He wasn’t interested in food, he wanted to see me, which was the first indication that he was upset. Nothing distracts Cap from food. He was muddy, his eyes were rolling and white-ringed, he snorted like he’d just run a race, and he kept circling, staring out over the pasture, rattling his nostrils in an exceptionally aggressive show. He was acting like a herd-stallion with a predator nearby.

And his legs were cut and caked with mud and blood. So were his hooves. Claw-marks, quite a few of them, but only on his lower legs. Mtn. lions lie in trees and drop onto their prey, breaking the prey’s neck with a bite. Most horses can’t get rid of a lion. Captain had been fighting one though, I’d bet anything on it. It was summer. There shouldn’t have been mud on his hooves, and he didn’t bleed that much.

After that, we never worried about the yearling’s safety. Oddly, there were no more mountain lion sightings either. We still call him Killer and treat him like the herd stallion.

Captain has too much story to fit into one post. He loves water. He swims, he drinks from a hose and sprays it at the humans. He chases dogs with the intention to kill, and cats too, but he’s never been the slightest bit aggressive to a human.

But my favorite memory of him is from a few years ago, after I moved out. He was by himself, out in the big front pasture. I went outside, long after dark, because it was summer and I needed to see the stars. I sat down on the driveway that went through the pasture, and he came over to see what I was doing. With a 1200 pound horse nosing around in my lap, lipping at my pockets and nipping at the dog, his hooves literally brushing against my hips, I knew I could trust him not to hurt me. And finally, he stood behind me, his front legs against my back, and his head hanging in my lap, and went to sleep. We must have been there an hour. I was never afraid that he would spook and run me over, never worried about him charging a dog over me, or stomping or biting.

Not many horses you can say that about, and I’d be the first to say, I’m glad Captain made a long, long trip from the other end of the world to come live in my pasture. I like to think he’s happy with the journey too.


2 Responses to “Horses I Have Known: Captain”

  1. Pictures, please?

  2. Very pretty

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