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Life, the Universe, and the Large White Object

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

by Caitlin Brennan

There’s something about a horse. You can share your life with a dog and worship your cat, but the horse is as close to a mythical creature as any of us is likely to get. Here is a large, powerful animal that has done everything from carrying armies to war to plowing fields and pulling logs out of the deep woods—and these days, hauling loads of fiber-optic cable where more modern forms of transport can’t go.

He’s not just transportation, either. He’s quite intelligent, but in a different way than a predator or a pack animal. He’s a herd animal and a prey animal, and he’s wired for cooperation. A good horse is a working partner, a loyal companion, and, in the right circumstances, a strong protector.

In sf terms, he’s a sentient alien with a sometimes inexplicable fondness for humans. In fantasy terms, he’s magic. Sometimes unicorn, sometimes dragon, and always Not a Tame Lion.

I’m a smallish-horse person myself. I like one I can see over, and I’m not tall. I’m quite content with one who runs below 15 hands (60 inches at the shoulder). Easier to groom and saddle, and much easier to climb aboard.

So once upon a time in the barn, a friend bought a horse off a video. “Big and calm,” the seller said, quoting a height that was not excessive–the “big” had more to do with mass than altitude. Perfect general-purpose vehicle for the non-riding husband, we agreed, and my friend arranged to ship her to my farm in Arizona.

We had warning. The compartment in the van was too small; she needed a larger one. We were expecting a widebody; we were not alarmed. The driver was in love. Wonderful mare, he said.

What came off the van was huuuuuuuge. A good three inches taller than advertised, and half again the mass. Friend’s expression was straight out of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

This white mountain of a horse rolled right past her alleged owner, parked in front of me and looked me in the eye. Pure Star Trek moment. “I. Am for you.”

Human economics mean nothing to a horse. I was not her owner. Didn’t matter. She had made her choice, and the person who had bought and paid for her was not it.

That much horse standing straight up on her hindlegs refusing with prejudice to be handled by a human is impressive. And damned scary. (Feet the size of salad plates. Not exaggerating.)

For me she was a complete sweetheart. Followed me around like a 1400-pound lamb.

We yielded to the inevitable. Friend traded her for a much smaller, gentler mare who liked her quite well. The Big Girl stayed with me.

I look like a tweenager on her. My legs come halfway down her sides. She masses like an Imperial cruiser and handles like a Starfury. Riding her is like flying.

Her name is Pandora. She’s a yoga master as well as a riding instructor. As long as I’m there, she doesn’t care who rides her—and she’s a wonderful teacher. She has a large and devoted fan club.

Of course she has her own book. She gets to have adventures and visit alien worlds and save the universe. She’s a Magical Being, after all. It’s only right and proper.

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From the Tor/Forge November newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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